Countdown to Brexit: 66 days – MPs have asked Parliament to consider a request to delay Brexit – but is that even possible?

Nick Boles, MP, presented a Private Members Bill requiring the Government to request an extension to the Article 50 Brexit process in certain circumstances. 

This Bill has been superseded by another in the name of Yvette Cooper, MP - with the difference that it does not provide a statutory role for the Liaison Committee - giving it much more chance of success after next week’s return of Theresa May’s Brexit deal - “Plan B” - to the Commons for debate and vote.

Boles’ and Cooper Bills have the same aim of giving Parliament greater control over the Government's negotiations with the European Union – especially if a no-deal Brexit is imminent.

Cooper’s amendment is signed by members of five parties including Labour, the Conservatives, the SNP, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru. Signatories include former Tory ministers such as Nicky Morgan and Dominic Grieve, though Labour MPs make up 25 of the 32 total.

Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey, a frontbench MP and Jeremy Corbyn loyalist described the amendment as “fantastic”, in a sign that Labour could support it. With the support of Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru, it would only need a handful of Conservative rebels to pass.


The Commons rejected the Government’s negotiated Withdrawal Agreement and Framework for the future relationship on Tuesday 15 January 2019.  That same day, Boles presented a Bill, entitled the “European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Bill 2017-19”.

This is a Private Members bill with limited opportunities for MPs to secure time for debate – and this Bill is now unlikely to be debated.

A modified version - the “European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 3) Bill” presented by Yvette Cooper, is expected to remove this Bill’s proposed role for the Liaison Committee.  Sarah Wollaston, MP, Chair of the Liaison Committee, had publicly doubted the suitability of the body to take on the role that the No. 2 Bill had envisaged for it.

There is a higher possibility 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.

The amendments seek 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 leaves the EU in the default no-deal Brexit scenario on 29 March 2019.

This Bill’s key provisions would come into effect if Government has not secured an approval motion under section 13(1)(b) of the 2018 Act by 11 February 2019.  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.

The full text of the amendment Proposed amendment to Section 13(6) motion

At end, insert “and is conscious of the serious risks arising for the United Kingdom from exit without a withdrawal agreement and political declaration and orders accordingly that –

1. On 15 February 2018 –

a. Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order) shall not apply;

b. a Business of the House motion in connection with the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 3) Bill in the name of at least ten Members, including at least four Members elected to the House as members of at least four different parties and at least two backers of that Bill shall stand as the first item of business;

c. that motion may be proceeded with until any hour though opposed, shall not be interrupted at the moment of interruption, and, if under discussion when business is postponed under the provisions of any standing order, may be resumed, though opposed, after the interruption of business; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) will not apply;

d. at the conclusion of the debate on that motion, the questions necessary to dispose of proceeding on that motion (including for the purposes of Standing Order No. 36(2) [questions to be put following closure of debate]) shall include the questions on any amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; and e. the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 3) Bill shall stand of the first order of the day; and

2. In respect of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 3) 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.”

Who signed the proposed amendment?

Yvette Cooper (Labour) Nicky Morgan (Conservatives) Norman Lamb (Lib Dems) Stewart Hosie (SNP) Ben Lake (Plaid Cymru) Hilary Benn (Labour) Nick Boles (Conservatives) Liz Kendall (Labour) Oliver Letwin (Conservatives) Dominic Grieve (Conservatives) Chris Bryant (Labour) Rachel Reeves (Labour) Harriet Harman (Labour) Seema Malhotra (Labour) Clive Efford (Labour) Ian Murray (Labour) Shabana Mahmood (Labour) Gareth Thomas (Labour) Jack Dromey (Labour) Lucy Powell (Labour) Anna Turley (Labour) Helen Goodman (Labour) Richard Burden (Labour) Stephen Kinnock (Labour) David Hanson (Labour) Vernon Coaker (Labour) Alex Cunningham (Labour) Rosie Duffield (Labour) Roberta Blackman-Woods (Labour) Ian Lucas (Labour) Diana Johnson (Labour) Alex Sobel (Labour)

John ShuttleworthComment