On June 12 and 13 the House of Commons, the lower house of the parliament, is due to vote on the 15 amendments proposed by the House of Lords, the upper house of the parliament. The key amendment – “meaningful vote”, has been rejected by the Commons, avoiding humiliation of PM Theresa May, thanks to her last-minute concessions to stave off Tory rebels. While there are still amendments to be voted today, rejection of Amendment 19 has saved PM May from a humiliation defeat and the concessions she has made have increased the chance of a “soft” Brexit, rather than a “hard” one.
What is the “Meaningful Vote” Amendment?
Contrary to expectations of a government defeat, MPs vote by 324 votes to 298 to back government in the “meaningful vote” amendment. The dramatic victory was driven by PM May’s “11th-hour talks” with over “14 Tory rebels in her Commons office”. The Tory rebels, led by the former attorney general Dominic Grieve, after the meeting indicated that May was “responding positively” to their concerns. Still, Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) and Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) voted against the government. The amendment involves a new clause which says that Parliament must approve the withdrawal agreement and transitional measures in an act of Parliament and – if possible – before the European Parliament has debated and voted on this. The clause also sets out specific deadlines for the Government for agreeing – and legislating for – the withdrawal agreement with the EU. If the Government does not meet those deadlines, the amendment says that it “must follow any direction” approved by a resolution in the House of Commons and considered in the House of Lords. This gives the Commons – not the Lords – the power to decide the next steps for the Government. The amendment seeks to give the parliament unprecedented power to take charge of Brexit negotiations.
PM May promised to allow the Parliament a “meaningful” say in the final Brexit deal, in exchange for their rejection of the above amendemnt. The government is now expected to present the final deal to MPs in October this year. In case of rejection of the final deal by the parliament, ministers would have seven days to set out a fresh approach. Meanwhile, if talks with the EU breaking down, ministers would have until November 30 to try to strike a new deal. While the amendment aims to prevent a “no-deal” exit from the EU, rejection of which might not increase the chance of a hard Brexit. Rather the government’s concessions, although it only hinges on “trust” as described by former cabinet minister Justine Greening and Ed Vaizey, are expected to pave the way for a soft one, as the MPs are given more “say”.
There are more amendments due to voting today. For instance, the enhanced scrutiny amendment (amendment 4), which seeks prevention of EU law on areas such as work, health and safety, and environmental standards from being modified by secondary legislation without the approval of parliament. The EEA amendment (amendment 51) seeks to oblige the government to prioritize staying in the European Economic Area, known as the Norway option. Both proposals have been opposed by the government and the chance of passage by the lower house is low. Concerning the amendment to the compliance with EU principles (amendment 53), the upper house seeks to guarantee the right of challenge to a domestic law if it fails to comply with the general principles of EU law as set out by the European court of justice. The government suggested that would accept this as long as such challenges are limited to three years after exit. It is expected that the government version should prevail.