Deal or no deal, Brexit will happen at 11pm on 29th March 2019. Under the terms of Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, the UK will then become a third country.
This Report from the Exiting the EU Committee maps out the steps ahead for Parliament and questions whether, even under the most optimistic outcome of full agreement at the October meeting of the European Council, five months will be enough time for Government and Parliament to complete the necessary proceedings.
In what is likely to be the most significant parliamentary debate in a generation, Parliament will need to approve both the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration in a 'meaningful vote.' It will need to complete consideration of the Withdrawal and Implementation Bill and of any delegated legislation and primary legislation required by exit day. And it will have to complete procedures required under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 for treaty ratification.
The Committee does not accept that the UK would leave the EU without a deal if the House of Commons were to refuse to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration. The House would expect the Government to re-submit a motion for approval in circumstances following any renegotiation requested, or having considered any conditions put on approval, by the House. The Committee calls on the Government to provide for a second parliamentary vote in such circumstances.
The Committee also states that in the event of the rejection of the deal or no deal is reached, Parliament must be able to express its view clearly and advise the Government on how to proceed. The country would expect more than that its elected representatives simply "took note" of the situation.
Other recommendations of the report include:
- Parliament should have a minimum of five days to debate the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration and the Business of the House Motion should make it possible for the Speaker to select a series of different amendments;
- A limited extension to Article 50 may be required to prevent the UK leaving the EU in March 2019 without an agreement;
- The Government should clarify how legal provision will be made for any backstop solution for Northern Ireland;
- The Government should secure a simple mechanism in the Withdrawal Agreement for the extension of the transition period if there is insufficient time to finalise a legal text on the future partnership during the transition period;
- The Government must ensure that Parliament is given a meaningful vote on the final text of the future UK-EU relationship.
This Report is published as the Prime Minister joins EU leaders at the European Council meeting. An update on the progress of Brexit talks by Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier is not expected to be high on the agenda. In the next couple of weeks, the Cabinet will meet at Chequers for the next stage of discussions about Britain's future relations with the EU before publishing a White Paper which will detail what kind of future relationship with the EU the UK will seek.
The Committee Chair, Hilary Benn MP, commented:
"It is now more than two years since the referendum and the Government has yet to agree on the customs arrangements it wants with our biggest, nearest and most important trading partner. We are told that most of the work on the Withdrawal Agreement is done, but the remaining issues represent some of the toughest questions the Prime Minister must grasp, and negotiations on the future partnership have yet to start in earnest.
Time is not on our side. The Bank of England is now adding to calls from business and unions for 'pace and urgency' in the Brexit negotiations, saying 'material risks' remain. This follows public warnings about the implications of a hard Brexit from firms such as Airbus and BMW.
While the Cabinet continues to run down the clock as it tries to agree on a plan, it would be unconscionable if the House of Commons was not provided with the time and opportunity both for the fullest debate and to enable a clear expression of its opinion on the most significant decision our country has faced in a generation."