Report stage: further check and change of EU (Withdrawal) Bill

09 May 2018

Six day report stage, a further chance to check the bill and make changes, of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Lords from 18 April to 8 May.

What happened?

Day one: Wednesday 18 April

Members discussed a change (amendment 1) to keep the UK in the customs union. Those backing it were concerned that leaving the customs union would mean a fall in UK exports and argued it would be difficult for the UK on its own to make trade agreements with super powers.

Members against the amendment responded saying that being inside the EU customs union puts the UK at a disadvantage and supporters of staying in it were making a political point rather than one based on trade. Members for the change said they were trying to get the best Brexit deal for the UK and its future relationship with the EU, not undo Brexit.

The government said it would not accept the change, arguing that staying in the customs union would make the UK bound by the EU’s tariffs and in a worse trade position.

The change went to a vote. Members voted 348 for and 225 against, so the change was made. This was the seventh largest House of Lords vote on record.

Debate turned to a change (amendment 11) to protect rights in EU retained law after Brexit. Some members were concerned that ministers would be able to change some rights, for example consumer, employment and environmental protections, and said this change would ‘bubble wrap’ and safeguard them.

Members against the change highlighted that some EU regulations don’t achieve their objectives and could be improved after Brexit. The government argued that change would create uncertainty for business and said it would bring its own changes forward on this subject in later report stage days.

The change went to a vote. Members voted 314 for and 217 against, so the change was made.

Day two: Monday 23 April

Members discussed a change (amendment 15) to keep the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in retained EU law.

Those in favour said that as EU law is being transferred into UK law it is logical to include the charter. They raised concern that the charter’s protections would be weakened after Brexit and said keeping it is necessary to protect and preserve human rights.

Members against said keeping the charter would mean the UK continues to be tied to the European Court of Justice and that it is not required as any rights in the charter could be created in UK law.

The government said keeping the charter had the potential of overriding acts of the Parliament with ‘foreign law’ after Brexit, and that would be a ‘constitutional outrage’.

Members behind the change responded saying that concern about parliamentary sovereignty is no basis against keeping the charter as legislation enacted after Brexit would take priority over all retained EU law.

The change went to a vote. Members voted 316 for and 245 against, so the change was made.

The House also voted to accept changes on technical aspects of the bill in relation to legal challenges (amendment 18) and legal cause of action (amendment 19).

Day three: Wednesday 25 April

Members discussed a change (amendment 31) relating to ‘Henry VIII powers’, which allow ministers to make new laws without Parliament’s full scrutiny.

Members behind the change argued that the bill should not give the government more power: this change moved the government from using these powers when ‘appropriate’ to using them when ‘necessary’. They highlighted the Delegated Powers Committee report that stated although only one Brexit bill is being considered, there is likely to be dozens of exit bills in total and the powers given to ministers in this bill will be a powerful precedent for others.

The government argued that this amendment would constrain ministers: by only doing what is considered ‘necessary’ might stop ministers from doing what is most sensible and therefore lead to worse policy outcomes.
The change went to a vote. Members voted 349 for and 221 against, so the change was made.

The government put forward its own change to remove clause 8, which gave the government Henry VIII powers to make sure the UK meets its international obligations after Brexit. The government said there were better ways than using delegated powers to achieve this and it would use delegated powers only where there is a 'clear and present need'. The change was accepted without a vote.
Debate turned to a change (amendment 40) around animal sentience and welfare. Those for the change emphasised the importance of embedding in UK law the principles in article 13 of the treaty of Lisbon, notably that the government should pay due regard to the welfare of animals as sentient beings. 

The government highlighted that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and undertook that as we leave the EU we will not only maintain existing standards, but enhance them where possible.
The change went to a vote. Members voted 169 for and 211 against, so the change was not made.

Day four: Monday 30 April

Members discussed a change to give Parliament a ‘meaningful’ vote on the outcome of negotiations with the EU (amendment 49).

Those in favour argued Parliament should be able to decide against a ‘poor deal’ or ‘crashing out’ of the EU with no deal as either would be a ‘disaster’ for the UK and this change would guard against it.

Members also said the change would give Parliament, not ministers, the final say and if the Commons disagreed with it they could reject it.

Members against the change said Parliament should not be able to veto Brexit and that it may provoke a constitutional crisis. The government argued the change contained practical and legal difficulties that would hinder it from getting the best deal possible.

The change went to a vote. Members voted 335 for and 244 against, so the change was made.

Members also voted on a change to give Parliament the power to provide for a referendum on the deal (amendment 50). Members voted 202 for and 260 against, so the change was not made.

Debate turned to the UK’s future relationship with the EU as peers discussed a change giving Parliament a say on future negotiations (amendment 51). The change went to a vote. Members voted 271 for and 233 against, so the change was made.

The House also voted in favour of a change requiring the government to reunite unaccompanied child refugees with relatives in the UK, 205 for and 181 against (amendment 59).

Day five: Wednesday 2 May

Members discussed a change (amendment 88) to include the intentions of the Good Friday Agreement as part of the bill, protecting one of the most successful peace processes of modern times. They discussed the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and its impact on broader Brexit issues.

Speakers from all sides, many from Northern Ireland or who have worked in Northern Ireland politics, agreed on the importance of the peace process and safeguarding the progress made, but some members said that describing Brexit as a risk to the peace process was exaggerating the problems.

Supporters of the change described the idea of using technology to manage border arrangements as unworkable, but others suggested that technology should not be dismissed as an option to explore. 

The government confirmed its unwavering support for the agreement but made it clear that there could never be a border in the North Sea. It intends to bring further amendments in a different piece of legislation which it believes would bring more legislative clarity and legal certainty to the issue than the amendment.

The change went to a vote. Members voted 309 for and 242 against, so the change was made.

Day six: Tuesday 8 May

Members discussed a change (amendment 93) on the future relationship with EU agencies. Members backing it argued the UK should continue to participate in EU agencies after exit day and that relinquishing membership could be damaging to the individuals involved and recipients of their services.

The government highlighted that after Brexit, Parliament and devolved administrations can change law where they need to and this bill does not seek to legislate for any final agreement or future relationship with the EU.
The change went to a vote. Members voted 298 for and 227 against, so the change was made.
Debate turned to a change (amendment 95) removing the 29 March 2019 exit date from the bill. Those in favour said it is unnecessary for the government to fix the date and it should not be specified in case it is necessary to have an extension.

The government argued that the Lords should not seek to restore a matter considered at length by the Commons. 

The change went to a vote. Members voted 311 for and 233 against, so the change was made.

Members discussed a change (amendment 110A) on the continued participation in the European Economic Area (EEA). They highlighted that the EEA deals with services like retail, tourism, transport, communications and financial services and emphasised the importance of sustaining services exports after Brexit. 

Those against the change said there will be an opportunity to discuss this at the end of the negotiations and the government’s position should not be undermined now.

The government stated that seeking to remain in the EEA would not deliver control of UK borders or laws and, by continuing to implement EU legislation, would undermine the referendum result.

The change went to a vote. Members voted 247 for and 218 against, so the change was made.

Debate turned to a change (amendment 70) regarding parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit statutory instruments. Ministerial power was discussed and members argued this bill is likely to set a precedent for the other Brexit bills to come.

The government stressed its commitment to rigorous scrutiny of secondary legislation that will come from this bill.

The change went to a vote. Members voted 225 for and 194 against, so the change was made.

Further information

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