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Parliament sits on a Saturday to debate the Prime Minister's proposed Brexit deal

19 October 2019

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The House of Commons is sitting today, Saturday 19 October, to discuss the Prime Minister's new Brexit deal. It is the first time since the Falklands conflict that the House has sat on a Saturday.

The House is sitting to debate the Government's new Brexit deal. Yesterday, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, agreed a deal with the European Union.

To comply with the Benn Act (officially known as the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019) the House of Commons needs to agree to this deal or vote for a no deal before Saturday 19 October 2019, or ask for an extension to Article 50.

Making a statement on his new agreement with the European Union, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson pointed out that this is the second deal and the fourth vote since the UK voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016.

The Prime Minister addressed the House, saying:

"This agreement provides for a real Brexit, taking back control of our borders, laws, money, farming, fisheries and trade. Amounting to the greatest single restoration of national sovereignty in parliamentary history. It removes the backstop which would have held us against our will in the customs union and much of the single market."

"For the first time in almost five decades, the UK will be able to strike free trade deals with our friends across the world to benefit the whole country, including Northern Ireland. Article 4 of the protocol states Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom. It adds, nothing in this protocol should prevent Northern Ireland from realising the preferential market access in any free trade deals, on the same terms as goods produced in other parts of the United Kingdom. Our negotiations are focussed on the uniquely sensitive nature of the border Northern Ireland and the Republic, and we have respected those sensitivities. Above all, we and our European friends have preserved the letter and the spirit of the Belfast Good Friday agreement, and upheld the long standing areas of cooperation between the UK and Ireland including the Common Travel Area. And as I told the House on the 3 October, in order to prevent a regulatory border on the island of Ireland, we propose a regulatory zone covering all goods including agri-food, eliminating any need for associated checks at the border."

Responding to the Prime Minister's statement, the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn said:

"He has renegotiated the Withdrawal Agreement and made it even worse. He's renegotiated the political declaration and made that even worse. We're having a debate today on a text to which there is no economic impact assessment and no accompanying legal advice. This Government has sought to avoid scrutiny throughout the process, and yesterday evening made empty promises on workers' rights and the environment. The same Government that spent the last few weeks negotiating in secret to remove from the Withdrawal Agreement legally binding commitments on workers' rights and the environment."

"This Government cannot be trusted and these benches will not be duped. Neither Mr Speaker will the Government's own workers. The Head of the Civil Service Union, Prospect yesterday met the Rt Hon Member for Surrey Heath, and at the conclusion of the meeting he said, and I quote, "I asked for reassurances that the Government would not diverge on worker's rights after Brexit. He could not give me those assurances. And as for the much hyped world leading Environment Bill, the legally binding targets will not be enforceable until 2037. For this Government the climate emergency can always wait."

"Mr Speaker, this deal risks people's jobs, rights at work, our environment and our National Health Service. We must be honest about what this deal means for our manufacturing industry and people's jobs. Not only does it reduce access to the market of our biggest trade and partner, it leaves us without a Customs Union which will damage industries all across this country in every one of our constituencies."

The Scottish National Party, Westminster Leader, Ian Blackford also responded to the Prime Minister's statement, making note of his disappointment at the lack in references to Scotland in the proposed new Brexit deal. Ian Blackford said:

"Mr Speaker, Northern Ireland, thirteen, Scotland, zero. That's the number of references to Northern Ireland in the statement. Not one reference to Scotland. Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister has returned from Brussels to present the deal that he knows, that we all know is actually worse than Theresa May's deal. A deal that would see Scotland shafted by this United Kingdom Government, left at an economic disadvantage, with Scotland's views and interests totally disregarded by this Prime Minister and his government."

"Mr Speaker, the Scottish National Party could not have been clearer. We would support any mandate to approach the European Union to remain in the single market and the Customs Union or simply remain in the European Union altogether. Yet the Prime Minister has made is clear he has not and is not interested in meaningful discussions with the SNP or with our Scottish Government. He and his cronies at No.10 don't care about Scotland. This Tory Government has sold Scotland out and once again they have let Scotland down."

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson also responded to the Prime Minister's statement:

"The Prime Minister's deal removes protections on worker's rights. It put's a border down the Irish sea, and according to the Government's own analysis will damage our economy on a scale greater than the financial crash. Today, hundreds of thousands of people will be outside demanding a final say in a People's Vote. Is it the truth that the reason the Prime Minister refuses their calls is because he knows that if given the option, the people will reject his bad deal and to choose to remain in the European Union."

The House of Commons voted to approve the amended motion on the new Brexit deal agreed between the UK Government and the EU. The Government must ask for an extension of Article 50 under the Benn Act and set out how it intends to proceed.

How did MPs decide to sit on Saturday?

MPs debated the motion on 17 October. It passed without division.

What happens if MPs pass or reject the motion?

For details of what might happen in either scenario, see the Commons Library explainer.

Has this happened before?

It's rare for The House of Commons to sit on a Saturday, but it's happened four times before:

  • 2 September 1939: Outbreak of World War II
  • 30 July 1949: Summer adjournment debates, last sitting of the summer
  • 3 November 1956: Suez crisis
  • 3 April 1982: Falkland Islands invasion

If you want to know more, the House of Commons Enquiry Service will be extending their hours and opening the telephone enquiry line on Saturday 19 October from 10am – 4pm. Email or call 020 7219 4272.

Image: ©Jessica Taylor