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The Commons declined to approve the Government’s negotiated withdrawal agreement and framework for the future relationship on Tuesday 15 January 2019. That same day, Nick Boles presented a Bill, entitled the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Bill 2017-19.

This is a Private Members bill, not having been introduced by the Government. Within the categories of Private Members bills, it is neither a Ballot bill nor a Ten Minute Rule bill. As a presented bill, there are limited opportunities for MPs to secure time for debate.

This Bill is now unlikely to be debated, but a modified version of it is expected to be presented on Monday 21 January. The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 3) Bill, to be presented by Yvette Cooper, is expected to remove this Bill’s proposed role for the Liaison Committee. Sarah Wollaston (Chair of the Liaison Committee) had publicly doubted the suitability of the body to take on the role the (No. 2) Bill had envisaged for it.

Should changes to the rules of the House be made, it is possible that the (No. 3) Bill could be allocated time for a debate on a Second Reading.

Relationship to the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018

The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 included a complex Parliamentary approval process for the ratification of a withdrawal agreement. It also outlined some statutory deadlines to structure events in the absence of either a deal or Parliamentary approval for a deal.

This current Bill is best understood as a supplement to the 2018 Act: it seeks to structure the Brexit and Parliamentary timetable in the absence of Commons approval for an agreement by 11 February 2019. The aim is to encourage one of Parliament’s committees to develop a plan of action around which a majority of MPs can coalesce and act before the UK automatically leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019.

This Bill’s key provisions bite in the event that the Government has not secured an approval motion under section 13(1)(b) of the 2018 Act by 11 February 2019. At first instance, the Government would be instructed to invite the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons to “prepare and publish” a “plan of action” by the 5 March 2019.

Extending Article 50

The Bill provides that, in the event that:

  • the Liaison Committee does not publish a report by 5 March 2019;
  • the House of Commons does not adopt a resolution endorsing the Liaison Committee’s plan before 7 March 2019; or
  • the House approves by resolution a Liaison Committee plan containing a proposal to seek an Article 50 extension;

the Government would be compelled to request an extension of the 2-year negotiating period under Article 50. Such an extension request would require the unanimous agreement of the European Council, but the drafters of the Bill specifically contemplate an extension of just over 9 months, from 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2019.

Finally, the Bill makes provision for the domestic definition of “exit day” in the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to be changed to reflect any agreed extension of Article 50. The effect of the desired extension is that the UK would remain a Member State of the European Union throughout 2019, with its existing rights and obligations.

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