Countdown to Brexit: 82 days – What happens next?

The Brexit ‘deal’ spelling out the terms of the UK's exit and the negotiating framework for future relations was agreed between the Prime Minister and the EU in October 2018.  Parliament had already made it a condition that a majority of MPs in the House of Commons must vote ‘accept’ the deal in order for it to apply to Brexit on 29 March.  This is known as the ‘meaningful’ vote.

Theresa May has said the Commons vote on her Brexit deal will "definitely" go ahead next week as she vowed to redouble her efforts to win MPs round.  This meaningful vote is scheduled for either 14 or 15 of January.

The House of Commons was originally scheduled to spend five days debating the EU Withdrawal Agreement ending with the meaningful vote on Tuesday 11 December.  On day four of debate - Monday 10 December 2018 - the Government chose to defer the planned vote to a future date.

The debate on the EU Withdrawal Agreement will resume on Wednesday 9 January.

May in a BBC interview stated that: "The deal is on the table. We've got people who want to see their perfect Brexit. And I would say don't let the search for the perfect be the enemy of the good. The danger there is that we end up with no Brexit at all."

Warning of "uncharted" territory if MPs rejected the deal, the Prime Minister declined to rule out holding more than one vote.

Background – Summary of the Withdrawal Agreement debate until its suspension

The first thing debated on Tuesday 4 December was a Business of the House Motion which set aside eight hours of debate on five days, leading to a 'meaningful vote' and amendments at the end of the day on Tuesday 11 December.

Debate Day one: Tuesday 4 December 2018

Debate was opened by the Prime Minister, who made her case for why MPs should support her withdrawal agreement - "this deal deserves your support for what it achieves for all of our people and our whole United Kingdom".

The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, responded, arguing against the Prime Minister's proposal. He claimed that "the deal before us would make our country worse off", and stated that its only achievement was that it "has united Conservative remainers, Conservative leavers and Members of every Opposition party in an extraordinary coalition against the deal."

Further speeches were made by the Westminster Leaders of the SNP, DUP, and Green Party and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats. Other speeches included former Foreign Secretaries Margaret Beckett and Boris Johnson, and the Chair of the Brexit Select Committee, Hilary Benn. Many other backbench MPs from across the House of Commons also spoke in the debate.

Day two: Wednesday 5 December 2018

Debate was opened by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Sajid Javid. He urged MPs to join him in supporting the Prime Ministers' deal, saying "the deal protects not only EU citizens living in the UK, but UK nationals living in the EU".

Responding on behalf of the Opposition was Diane Abbott, who referred to the deal as "botched" and claimed that "The more we examine the deal, the more it becomes clear that the House cannot vote for it."

Other speeches on the second day of debate included, the recently resigned minister Sam Gyimah, the SNP Spokesperson on Home Affairs - Joanna Cherry, and many others.

Day three: Thursday 6 December 2018

Thursday's debate was opened by Chancellor Philip Hammond who defended the Government's Brexit deal, saying, "We have to make our choice as a nation, and it falls to this House to act on the nation’s behalf, setting aside narrow party interests and focusing on what is in the national interest of our United Kingdom".

His opposite number, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, responded to Hammond, telling the House, "Let us accept that the Prime Minister’s deal will not protect our economy and has to be rejected. Let us work together to secure the long-term interests and future prosperity of our country and our constituents".

The debate was closed by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and his Shadow, Labour's Barry Gardiner. A wide range of backbenchers made speeches, including former Brexit Secretary David Davis, former First Secretary of State Damian Green and the Commons' newest MP Janet Daby.

Day four: Monday 10 December 2018

The Government chose to defer the 'meaningful vote' until an as yet unspecified future date. The Prime Minister informed the House of this in a statement to the Commons where she acknowledged "If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin."

The Prime Minister's statement was followed by a statement from the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, who outlined the changes to business on Monday 10 December and Tuesday 11 December.

Many MPs, including the official Opposition, argued against the Prime Ministers' decision to defer the vote, and have called for an emergency debate on Tuesday 11 December on the Government's handling of the meaningful vote debate. This emergency debate has been granted by the Speaker of the House.

Parliament has defined what it means by the ‘meaningful vote’

“Following months of negotiations by the UK Government and European Union, a Withdrawal Agreement has been agreed in principle.   This Agreement sets out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and from the European Atomic Energy Community.

A future framework outlining the future relationship between the UK and the EU has also been negotiated.  [The ‘Political Declaration’ that forms an integral part of the ‘deal’ sets out a negotiating framework for the future relationship between the UK - as a ‘third country’ – and the EU.  It sets 31 December 2020 as the date by which agreement has to be reached – otherwise the Irish ‘backstop’ will come into effect].

The 'meaningful vote' is the House of Common's decision on the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

The motion on which MPs are to debate and vote as out to the House by The Prime Minister


“That this House approves for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’ and the framework for the future relationship laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom’.”

Key dates

23:00 GMT on 29 March 2019:  The UK’s two-year notice expires and the UK is due to leave the EU.

21 January 2019:  If no agreement has been reached on the Withdrawal Agreement and/or Political Declaration, a Minister of the Crown must make a written statement within 5 calendar days.  The motion must then be moved within a further 5 sitting days - meaning Parliament would be asked to debate the Government’s intended course of action no later than Monday 4 February.

February-March 2019:  European Parliament votes in plenary on the Withdrawal Agreement.  This would then be concluded by the European Council of Heads of Government acting by a ‘super qualified majority – that is at least 20 of the EU27 remaining states and comprising at least 65% of EU27 population. There is a European Council meeting scheduled for 21-22 March 2019.

March 2019:  If Parliament accepts the deal before 21 January – in accordance with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, the ‘EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill’ becomes UK law in order to provide the necessary legal framework to cover the transition period to 31 December 2020.

30 March 2019:  Transition/implementation period begins.  Trade and future relations talks between the UK and EU begin.


John ShuttleworthComment