Government asked about procedure for Article 50 extension

18 March 2019

Former cabinet minister Justine Greening asked the Government to make a statement on the procedure for extending the Article 50 period.

Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty sets out how a member state leaves the European Union, with a two year period between the member state "triggering" the Article and the day that the state leaves the Union.

The UK Government triggered Article 50 on 29 March 2017 so is due to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. If the Article 50 period is extended, the UK would remain a member of the European Union during this period.

The urgent question follows a vote in the Commons last week to seek an extension of the Article 50 period. The motion - which passed by 412 votes to 202 - pledged to seek to extend this period to 30 June 2019 if the Government's deal was approved by the Commons by 20 March. It also noted that if no deal is approved, the length of the extension will depend on its purpose.

Any extension would need to be agreed by leaders of the 27 other EU member states in the European Council, which meets this Thursday.

Justine Greening asked the Government for a statement setting out the Government’s plans in relation to the article 50 period extension procedure that the Government will follow, following on from their written ministerial statement to that effect on Friday 15 March.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Kwasi Kwarteng, responded to the question on behalf of the Government and said:

"As set out in a written ministerial statement, and in accordance with the motion approved by this House on Thursday 14 March, the Government will now seek to agree an extension with the European Union. The extension process has been set out in a Government paper published last Thursday. While article 50 does not set out how either party should request an extension, the Government believe it would be appropriate for the Prime Minister to write to the President of the European Council.

It is highly likely and expected that the European Council will require a clear purpose for any extension, not least to determine its length. The European Council has to approve an extension by unanimity. With this in mind, we will look to request any extension in advance of the March European Council. It is the Government’s expectation that the European Council will decide whether to agree any UK request at this meeting.

As soon as possible following agreement at the EU level, we will bring forward the necessary domestic legislation to amend the definition of exit day. That legislation will take the form of a statutory instrument. If agreement is reached at the European Council, the statutory instrument will be laid before Parliament next week. The draft will be subject to the affirmative procedure, and will need to be approved by each House. I hope this reassures hon. and right hon. Members about the procedure that will be followed this week and next."

Justine Greening replied to the Under-Secretary and said:

"I question the appropriateness of the Secretary of State’s role in negotiating an extension. We had a free vote in the House last week, and I respect that. I also respect the way he chose to cast his vote; he was absolutely within his rights. However, he voted to leave come what may on 29 March. I take a different view from him, as does the House. It is simply not appropriate or credible for him to be the lead person negotiating on this country’s behalf with the European Union. I say that with some regret, but that is nevertheless the position we find ourselves in.

It is absolutely crucial and urgent that the Government chart this country a way through the next vital 11 days. The House has had a series of votes to express its will. The Government have consistently—I really regret this—tried to frustrate that will by ignoring it. In doing so, they have wound down the clock to leave very little time for Parliament to do its duty by our country, which is what it wants to do. We need clear answers, a clear process and contingency plans, and those need to be set out today, so that the House has a chance to debate whether they are adequate and, if they are not, the direction we want to give the Government to make sure we protect our country." 

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