1.On 15 January 2019, the House of Commons voted by a majority of 230 to reject the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the Future Framework for Relations between the EU and the UK that were laid before Parliament on 26 November 2018. The following day, we agreed and published a report identifying the four broad options for how the House might proceed, namely
2.The Committee also noted that the UK could seek provision for additional time by requesting an extension to Article 50. Extension requires the approval of all EU Member States and amendment of those provisions of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that set the exit date as 29 March 2019 (this amendment could be achieved by statutory instrument). The only other option identified was to revoke the Article 50 notification. We concluded that
It is vital that the House of Commons is now given the opportunity to identify an option that might secure a majority. We recommend that this is done by holding a series of indicative votes on the options we have set out [ … ] as soon as possible.
3.On 29 January, the House of Commons considered a neutral motion, tabled pursuant to Section 13 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and agreed two amendments. The first, tabled by Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, provided that the House rejected “the United Kingdom leaving the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship”. The second, tabled by Rt Hon Sir Graham Brady MP, called for “the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change.” Further negotiations on the nature of the Northern Ireland backstop were then subsequently undertaken by the Government.
4.The Prime Minister gave an undertaking on 26 February 2019 that she would bring the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration back to the House by 12 March and, if not agreed by that date, that she would table a motion the following day to enable the House to consider whether it supports leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for a future relationship on 29 March. If the House again voted to reject leaving the EU with no deal, she undertook to bring forward a motion for consideration on Thursday 14 March to enable the House to decide whether it wants to seek “a short, limited extension to article 50”. The Prime Minister added that “if the House votes for an extension, [the Government will] seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension”.
5.On 11 March the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Rt Hon David Lidington MP, reported that the Prime Minister had secured legally binding changes that “strengthen and improve” the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration. Referring to the House’s agreement of the amendments tabled both by Dame Caroline Spelman and Sir Graham Brady on 29 January, he noted that
The House spoke clearly on 29 January when it voted in favour of honouring the decision of the British people and leaving the European Union with a deal that works for the UK. The primary issue of concern then was the Northern Ireland backstop. This House said it needed legally binding changes, and today that is what the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have achieved.
6.The Government subsequently tabled three additional documents to be considered alongside the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the Framework for the Future Relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, namely
We took evidence from the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Stephen Barclay MP, on 12 March on the further negotiations that had been carried out.
7.Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, responded to the agreement of 11 March stating that “There will be no further interpretations of the interpretations; and no further assurances of the re-assurances–if the meaningful vote [on 12 March 2019] fails”.
8.On 12 March, the House voted by a majority of 149 to again reject the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the Framework for the Future Relationship between the EU and the UK together with the three new documents. On the evening of Wednesday 13 March, the House will consider the motion
That this House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship on 29 March 2019; and notes that leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this House and the EU ratify an agreement.
If the House again votes to reject leaving with no deal, it will be invited to consider requesting an extension of the Article 50 process. The Prime Minister has argued that this should be a “short, limited” extension, but the House will need to consider what duration of extension it should ask the Government to request and the EU27 will then consider what extension it may consent to.
9.Swee Leng Harris, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, The Legal Education Foundation, and Senior Policy Adviser, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, told us that, for the EU27, “a key consideration [in considering a request for extension] is obviously the purpose of an extension, and therefore whether the time proposed for the extension is likely to be adequate for the purpose”. Professor Alison Young, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, believed that
there will be concerns within the European Union about whether we are just doing this to get extra time with no further purpose. They will be thinking about the extent to which this is a legitimate purpose. Do we have a way forward? Do we know where we are going with the negotiations, or is this just extra delay, extra time?.
10.Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, stated in a letter of 11 March 2019 to the President of the European Council, Mr Donald Tusk, that
the United Kingdom’s withdrawal should be complete before the European Parliament elections that will take place between 23–26 May this year. If the United Kingdom has not left the European Union by then, it will be legally required to hold these elections, in line with the rights and obligations of all Member States as set out in the Treaties.
However, the Committee heard a different view in a recent discussion in Brussels to the effect that there would not be a problem with not holding these elections provided that the UK left the EU by the end of June, because the first session of the new European Parliament will not convene until 2 July.
11.The House voted on 12 March to reject for a second time the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration with the additional provisions relating to the backstop negotiated by the Prime Minister. It has twice rejected the first option that we identified in January - voting again on the deal. If leaving with no deal is rejected on 13 March, the House will also have rejected the second option - leaving with no deal - on two occasions. Following the passage of the Brady amendment, the Government pursued the first of the options that we identified in January for seeking to re-negotiate the deal - seeking changes to the text in the Withdrawal Agreement on the arrangements for the Northern Ireland backstop. The House has now rejected the outcome of those re-negotiations.
12.If the House votes again to reject no deal, which in our Twelfth Report of Session 2017–19 we said “cannot constitute the policy of any responsible Government”, the House will then consider a motion to extend the Article 50 process on Thursday 14 March. It will be necessary for the UK to request an extension of the Article 50 process, but it will need to make clear the purpose to which such an extension would be put and provide the EU27 with some indication of how the UK intends to find a solution to the current impasse in Parliament. We reiterate our recommendation that the House of Commons must be given an opportunity to identify what new approach might secure a majority in the House of Commons. Making provision, therefore, for the House to hold a series of indicative votes should now happen without delay so as to begin the process by which a clear plan can be identified.
13.Any extension to the Article 50 process will need to be sufficient for the purpose of identifying the way forward that the House of Commons can support; negotiating any subsequent changes to the Political Declaration to provide sufficient clarity about the future relationship between the UK and the EU for Parliament and the public, so that the House of Commons can approve the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration; and the complex task of passing the legislation required to give effect to the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law and complete the requirements of ratification required before exit. It is not currently clear what length of extension would be necessary to enable these processes to be completed, and therefore Parliament should propose an extension of sufficient length to reach agreement with the EU.
14.We note the view of the President of the European Commission that, if the UK is to extend the Article 50 process, and therefore remain a Member State of the EU beyond 26 May 2019, it will need to hold European Parliament elections. We believe that it may be necessary to request an extension beyond the end of May and, unless a protocol can quickly be agreed in discussions with the EU which removes the obligation on the UK to participate in the European Parliament elections, the UK should be prepared for the possibility of having to hold these elections at the end of May.
15.Given that there are different views on the question of UK participation in the European Parliament elections and, in the light of existing EU and UK law, the Government should urgently clarify what its understanding of the position is.
1 Eleventh Report of Session 2017–19, , paras 15 to 19.
2 Ibid para 21.
3 Votes and Proceedings, .
4 HC Deb, 26 February 2019,
5 Ibid; an extension of the Article 50 period beyond 29 March 2019 would require both the unanimous agreement of the EU27 and an amendment to Section 20 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
6 Additions have been made to the Political Declaration that was first published in November 2018.
7 Oral evidence taken on 12 March 2019
9 House of Commons Order Paper, .
12 Letter from Jean-Claude Juncker to Donald Tusk,
Published: 13 March 2019