Initial stages of the parliamentary consideration of the Bill for the notification of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the European Union
On 24 January, the Supreme Court handed down its judgment in R (Miller and Anor) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union  UKSC 5 and on 26 January the Department for Exiting the European Union and The Rt Hon David Davis issued the Press Notice, Article 50 Bill process begins. This post reviews the subsequent parliamentary consideration of the Bill.
European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill
Links to the Bill documents and timetable are on the UK Parliamentary website. These include:
- links to the text of the Bill as introduced to the House of Commons on 26 January;
- all Bill documents including an explanatory note;
- updated amendments: and
- the latest news on the Bill, including the latest parliamentary consideration and the expected date of the next.
Content of the Bill
To confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.
BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—
1 Power to notify withdrawal from the EU
(1) The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.
(2) This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.
2 Short title This Act may be cited as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017.
The Glossary on the UK Parliament site states:
“The long title of a Bill is the wording at the start of a Bill that begins ‘A BILL to…’ and then lists its purposes, sometimes at great length. The content of the Bill must be covered by the long title and if the content of the Bill changes before it is passed the long title may also need to be changed. Bills also have a short title which is the more convenient name by which the Bill will usually be known”.
House of Commons Brief Guide: Making Laws adds: “[a]ny changes made to the Bill must conform to the long title”.
The Bill was introduced to the House of Commons and given its First Reading on Thursday 26 January 2017. This stage is formal and takes place without any debate, although there were extended exchanges in view of the nature of its introduction: i.e. a Motion was made and Question proposed:
“That, in respect of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time”.
MPs can table ‘reasoned amendments’ to the motion for second reading, declining to give the Bill a second reading and explaining why. The choice of any amendment to be considered is made by the Speaker. Any amendments that have been tabled are published in the Order Paper. Five reasoned amendments were tabled.
The Second Reading debate took place on Tuesday 31 January 2017 and concluded on Wednesday 1 February 2017.
Second Reading, Day 1
The debate on the first day is reported in Commons Hansard 31 January 2017 Vol 620, Col 818. At the commencement, Mr Speaker stated:
“I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of Mr Angus Robertson. No fewer than 99 Back Benchers are seeking to catch my eye today, without regard to how many might seek to contribute tomorrow. There will have to be a tough time limit on Back Benchers, the severity of which will depend on the level of consideration shown by Front Benchers, so there is of course no pressure”.
However, there clearly was pressure, as part way through the debate he further informed Members [Col 838]:
“Just before I call the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), I must appeal to Members not to keep coming up to the Chair and asking where they are on the list, either explicitly or by the back door by asking, “Is it all right if I go to the loo?”, “May I have a cup of tea?” or “Am I permitted to eat a biscuit?” I shall do my best to accommodate everyone in the substantial amount of time available, but I appeal to colleagues to show a little patience and some regard for the Chair needing to concentrate on the debate. I will get you in if I possibly can, and so will all other occupants of the Chair”.
Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con) gave a speech strongly in favour of remaining in the EU [Col 828]. At 1.42 pm, Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP) moved the amendment tabled in the name of Mr Angus Robertson:
“That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill as the Government has set out no provision for effective consultation with the devolved administrations on implementing Article 50, has yet to publish a White Paper detailing the Government’s policy proposals”.
At 4.01 pm, Sir Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con) observed: “After more than three hours of debate, a great deal of what needed to be said on either side has been said, and I do not intend to bore the House by repeating it”. Day 1 of the second reading finally concluded at 11:56 pm with a remark from David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): “The people have spoken. This House must now act accordingly”. Whilst intended as an encouragement to MPs to progress the Bill, this choice of words will have reminded many of the legendary dictum of Dick Tuck: “The people have spoken, the bastards”.
Second Reading, Day Two
The debate on the second day is reported in Commons Hansard 1 February 2017 Vol 620, Col 1030. The debate resumed at 12.55 pm with a reiteration of the proposed question (That the Bill be now read a Second time) and proposed amendment, both of 31 January. Prior to calling upon the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), to open the proceedings today, the Speaker informed the House that there would be an initial, but short-lived, time limit on Back-Bench speeches of eight minutes. This time limit was flexed throughout the day.
At 6.58 pm, the House divided and the Amendment was defeated Ayes: 100; Noes: 336. At 7.12 pm, the House agreed the Second Reading of the Bill: Ayes: 498; Noes: 114.
The Bill is to be considered in Committee on Monday 6 and Tuesday 7 February 2017, concluding in Committee on Wednesday 8 February 2017 when the remaining stages are also due to take place. The following timetable was agreed, [Col 140.
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
|New Clauses and new Schedules Relating to parliamentary scrutiny of the process for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union||Four hours from the commencement of proceedings on the Bill on the first day|
|New Clauses and new Schedules relating to devolved administrations or legislatures||Seven hours from the commencement of proceedings on the Bill on the first day|
|New Clauses and new Schedules relating to a vote on the final terms of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union||Four hours from the commencement of proceedings on the Bill on the third day|
|New Clauses and new Schedules relating to impact assessments||Seven hours from the commencement of proceedings on the Bill on the second day|
|New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the priorities in negotiations for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union; clauses 1 and 2; remaining new Clauses; remaining new Schedules; remaining proceedings in Committee; any proceedings on Consideration; any proceedings in legislative grand committee||Four hours from the commencement of proceedings on the Bill on the third day|
|Proceedings on Third Reading||Seven hours from the commencement of proceedings on the Bill on the third day|
On 2 February 2017, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, made a statement in the House of Commons on the publication of the White Paper setting out government’s 12 negotiating objectives to build a Global Britain with a strong new partnership with the EU after the UK’s exit, viz.
- providing certainty and clarity where we can as we approach the negotiations;
- taking control of our own laws and statute book;
- strengthening the Union by securing a deal that works for the whole of the UK;
- maintaining the common travel area and protecting our strong historic ties with Ireland;
- controlling immigration from the European Union;
- securing the rights for European Union citizens already living in the UK and the rights of UK nationals living in the European Union;
- protecting and enhancing existing workers’ rights;
- ensuring free trade with European markets, forging a new strategic partnership with the EU including a bold and ambitious free trade agreement and mutually beneficial new customs agreement;
- forging ambitious free trade agreements with other countries across the world;
- ensuring the United Kingdom remains the best place for science and innovation;
- co-operating in the fight against crime and terrorism; and finally
- delivering a smooth, orderly exit from the European Union.
During Day 2 of the Second Reading debate, Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab), stated [Col 1072]:
“…We are voting today, with the White Paper promised for tomorrow; it was not in place before this debate. We have no risk assessment, no financial assessment and a total lack of clarity on the Government’s policy. We have nothing bar the thin promise of the sunlit uplands—this is not in the Prime Minister’s gift anyway—of a passporting and tariff-free agreement that means that costs will not rise for financial services, or for my Ford engines plant and for Tata Steel next door in Aberavon, both of which send over two thirds of their output into Europe”.
An initial reading of the White Paper suggests that Mrs Moon and those who supported the Bill, have been provided with little further certainty. Such a document might have been acceptable six months ago, shortly after the Referendum vote; but after the Second Reading debate, it is clearly inadequate.