On 21 January 2019, the Prime Minister Theresa May (TM) gave a statement to the House of Commons (House) following its defeat last week on the meaningful vote on the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

In her speech TM sets out six issues which have been the centre of her talks with MPs to date:

  1. The possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.  TM states that there are only two ways in which to rule out a no deal scenario. The first is to rule out no deal by the House approving a deal with the EU. The second, is to revoke Article 50 which would mean staying in the EU.   The latter would go against the referendum results and something that the Government will not support. In terms of delaying Article 50 TM states that “the EU are very unlikely simply to agree to extend Article 50 without a plan for how we are going to approve a deal”.
  2. In terms of a second referendum, TM states that this would set a difficult precedent that could have significant implications for how the Government handles referendums in this country. TM also adds that, “I also believe that there has not yet been enough recognition of the way that a second referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy.”
  3. On the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop, TM states that “we must fully respect the Belfast Agreement and not allow the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.  She also adds that she will be talking to MPs further this week to consider “how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House. And I will then take the conclusions of those discussions back to the EU.”
  4. The Political Declaration will provide the basis for developing the detailed negotiating mandate for the future. Given the breadth of the negotiations, the Government will consult the House on its negotiating mandate, will look into delivering confidential committee sessions and provide regular updates to the House.
  5. The Government will provide Parliament  with a guarantee that not only will it not erode protections for workers’ rights and the environmental standards but will ensure that the UK leads the way.
  6. The Government will waive the application fee so that there is no financial barriers for any EU national who wishes to stay in the UK when the Government rolls out the EU Settlement Scheme on 30 March 2019.

In terms of the process in the days ahead, TM’s statement makes the following points:

  • In addition to the statement, TM will lay a Ministerial Statement as required by section 13 of the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 and table a motion in neutral terms on this statement.
  • This motion will be amendable and will be debated and voted on in the House on 29 January 2019.
  • In the coming days TM states that she and her Ministerial colleagues  will continue to meet MPs and other interested parties.

During the debate Labour’s chair of the Exiting the EU Committee Hilary Benn asked for a series of “indicative votes” on what Parliament would approve. TM responded by saying that the motion tabled by the Government is “amendable”.

In other proceedings, peers have voted in favour of shadow leader of the House of Lords Baroness Smith of Basildon’s amendment. It means that the Trade Bill will be halted after its committee stage and not progress to report stage (the next stage in the Bill passing process) until the Government has presented to both Houses proposals for a process for making international trade agreements after Brexit.