Government again defeated in vote on the Withdrawal Agreement

Posted in The Withdrawal Agreement

The House of Commons has again voted against approving the draft Withdrawal Agreement. The Government’s motion was defeated by a majority of 58.  

Although this was effectively the third vote on the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the vote had had been allowed to proceed by the Speaker on the basis that it was not the same, or substantially the same, as previous votes: the Speaker had earlier ruled that Parliament should not vote on the same, or substantially the same, motion more than once in one Session of Parliament. The difference was that Friday’s vote was solely on the draft Withdrawal Agreement and not the draft Withdrawal Agreement (as supplemented following the first meaningful vote) and Political Declaration as previously.

The Government’s reason for proceeding this way, aside from not falling foul of the Speaker’s earlier ruling, related to the wording of the agreement for the extension of Article 50. This stipulated that the EU “agrees to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week” – it did not specify approval the Political Declaration. Accordingly, the Government’s position was that approval of the Withdrawal Agreement alone would extend the Brexit deadline to 22 May.

However, even if the draft Withdrawal Agreement had received parliamentary approval, this would not have amounted to ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement so far as the UK is concerned. This is because section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 requires parliamentary approval of both the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration. 

In light of the motion’s defeat, a second round of indicative votes is due to take place on Monday, 1 April. This follows Wednesday’s indicative votes, none of which commanded a majority. Legally, the indicative votes are not binding and the Government previously indicated its reluctance to pursue a course of action that was inconsistent with the result of the 2016 referendum in any event. However, to the extent that a particular course of action could command a majority, this could potentially provide a path to break the present impasse over Brexit.

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