On 20 December 2019, MPs approved the Government’s EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill by 358 votes to 234 (the December Bill).
The Government announced its intention to introduce the Bill in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019. The Bill is needed to enable the UK to leave the European Union with a deal on 31 January 2020.
In October 2019, the Government introduced the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (the October Bill). The October Bill would have ratified and implemented the UK’s EU Withdrawal Agreement. Although the October Bill received a Second Reading, its programme motion was defeated. In part this was because of concerns about the speed at which the Government proposed to progress the October Bill through the House of Commons. The October Bill fell when Parliament dissolved for the 12 December 2019 General Election.
Three clauses and one Schedule have been removed outright from the October Bill. These were the clauses:
- giving MPs a veto over any Minister agreeing to an extension of the transition or implementation period in the Joint Committee (what was clause 30);
- giving MPs a veto over the start of future relationship negotiations with the EU, an approval role in relation to the Government’s negotiating mandate, and an enhanced Parliamentary approval process for any future relationship treaty subsequently negotiated with the EU (what was clause 31); and
- providing additional procedural protections for workers’ rights that currently form part of EU law, but which would not be protected against modification, repeal or revocation in domestic law once the transition or implementation period has ended (what was clause 34 and Schedule 4).
There are five clauses that have been added to the December Bill that were not present in the October Bill. These relate to:
- reporting requirements to Parliament where the Joint Committee’s dispute procedures are used (new clause 30);
- prohibiting any UK Minister from agreeing to an extension of the transition or implementation period in the Joint Committee (new clause 33);
- prohibiting UK Ministers from using the written procedure to take decisions in the Joint Committee (new clause 35);
- the repeal of statutory provisions the Government maintains are now unnecessary or spent (new clause 36); and
- removing (via clause 37) the Government’s existing obligations (under section 17 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) with regard to unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the EU who have family members in the UK. This would be replaced with a duty to make a policy statement to Parliament within 2 months of the Act passing.
MPs have also backed the timetable for further debate on the December Bill over three days when they return after the Christmas recess – on 7, 8 and 9 January. The Government says it will get the December Bill into law in time for the 31 January 2020 Brexit deadline.