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Government loses 'meaningful vote' in the Commons

16 January 2019

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After five days of debate, beginning on 9 January 2019, the House of Commons voted against the Government's withdrawal agreement with the European Union in the 'meaningful vote'. The Government was defeated by a majority of 230, with MPs voting 432 to 202 against their deal.

Day five: Tuesday 15 January 2019

On the final day of the 'meaningful vote' debate MPs continued to make speeches in the Commons Chamber.

Concluding for the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn asked that;

"The House to do the right thing tonight: reject this deal because of the harm it would do, and show that we as MPs are speaking up for the people we represent, who recognise that the deal is dangerous for this country, bad for them, their living standards and our collective future.​"

Closing the debate, the Prime Minister urged MPs to back the Government's deal. She said that her deal,

"It strikes a fair balance between the hopes and desires of all our fellow citizens—those who voted to leave and those who voted to stay in—and if we leave with the deal that I am proposing, I believe that we can lay the foundations on which to build a better Britain."

The Speaker selected four amendments for debate. 

Amendment a – Official Labour Opposition:

The amendment would have rejected the Prime Minister's deal on the basis of Labour's six tests, rejected the prospect of ‘no deal', and said that the House will “pursue every option” preventing the UK from leaving the EU under either of those circumstances. The amendment was not moved at the end of debate.

Amendment k: SNP/Plaid

This amendment rejected the Government's deal in line with the votes against it in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and called for the Government to request an extension of the Article 50 negotiating period. This amendment was not moved.

Amendment b: Sir Edward Leigh

Called for an assurance from the Government that it will terminate the Withdrawal Agreement if the EU refuses to remove the backstop from the treaty at the end of 2021. Following assurances from the Government, this amendment was not moved.

Amendment f: John Baron

This amendment would have given consent to the Government's deal provided the Withdrawal Agreement is amended so that the UK can terminate the Northern Ireland Protocol unilaterally. The amendment was defeated 600 to 24.


The unamended motion was put to the House, and MPs voted against it, 432 to 202. 

Directly afterwards, in Points of Order, the Prime Minister indicated that the Government would be willing to schedule time on Wednesday 16 January to debate a no-confidence motion if  the Opposition wished to table one. The Leader of the Opposition responded in a further Point of Order, tabling the motion of no-confidence in Her Majesty's Government.

Day four: Monday 14 January 2019

The fourth day of debate on the 'meaningful vote' debate followed a statement by the Prime Minister on leaving the EU, in which she spoke about letter of assurances she had received from EU leaders regarding the Northern Irish backstop.

Day three: Friday 11 January 2019

On the third day of the 'meaningful vote' debate, MPs continued to make their cases for and against the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement with a focus on immigration, security and foreign policy.

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, opened the debate for the Government, with a speech focussing on immigration saying;

"For the first time in a generation, we will be able to build an immigration system that is designed in Britain, is made in Britain and serves only our national interest. The deal protects not only EU citizens living in the UK, but UK nationals living in the EU."

The UK's post-Brexit immigration system, along with foreign and security policy, were central to many MPs contributions to the debate.

Speaking for the Opposition, Diane Abbott criticised the security implications of the deal. She said;

"This deal treats the issue of safety and security with a degree of recklessness. As it stands, this deal would potentially abolish the complex and highly effective co-operation that has been established between this country and other members of the EU in the areas of freedom, justice and security." 

Day two: Thursday 10 January 2019

The debate opened with a statement from Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Supporters of the Government's deal spoke of possible compromise, with the Government going so far as to indicate that it would consider Labour MP John Mann's amendment.

Closing the debate, Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said:

"I hope that the tenor of today's debate continues in the days ahead. I say on behalf of my colleagues that hon. Members' contributions will be listened to seriously, taken into account and acted upon, as I indicated in response to the amendment relevant to today's discussions, so that, in the weeks ahead, the whole House can move towards a greater sense of compromise and resolution to implement the decision that the people of the United Kingdom took."

The Opposition remain critical of the proposed deal, and of the Government's ability to liaise with Members across the House to achieve any sort of compromise. The Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Rebecca Long Bailey, closed for the Opposition. She said;

"I share the sentiments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley on the need to work together across this House to deal with the many issues outlined during these debates and ensure we find a deal that provides a consensus that we can all rally around. Unfortunately, we do not have a Government who have been capable thus far of delivering that."

Day one: Wednesday 9 January 2019

MPs resumed the 'meaningful vote' debate, following the Government's decision's to defer the vote on Monday 10 December 2018. The Prime Minister informed the House of this in a statement to the Commons where she acknowledged "If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin."

The first item of business related to the 'meaningful vote' was a Business of the House Motion, which sets aside eight hours of debate over five days, leading to a 'meaningful vote' and amendments at the end of the day on Tuesday 15 January 2019.

Unusually, the Speaker allowed an amendment to this motion to be tabled, which requires that should the Government lose the 'meaningful vote' on its deal on 15th, they will be required to make a statement to the Commons on their intended course of action within three sitting days.

The debates will take place on Wednesday 9, Thursday 10, Friday 10, Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 January 2019.

Motion for debate:


That this House approves for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community' and the framework for the future relationship laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom'.

What is the 'meaningful vote'?

The 'meaningful vote' is the House of Common's decision on the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

Following months of negotiations by the UK Government and European Union, a withdrawal agreement has been agreed in principle. This agreement sets out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and from the European Atomic Energy Community.

A future framework outlining the future relationship between the UK and the EU has also been negotiated. 

House of Commons Library analysis

The House of Commons Library produces briefing papers to inform MPs and their staff of key issues. The papers contain factual information and a range of opinions on each subject, and aim to be politically impartial.

The Library has published the following papers relating to the 'meaningful vote' debates.

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