PM aims to push Brexit bill through in three days

  • Published
Withdrawal Agreement Bill

The government has published its 110-page bill to turn Boris Johnson's Brexit deal into law.

No 10 will ask MPs on Tuesday to approve its proposals for three days of intensive debate over the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).

The PM urged MPs to back the schedule, saying: "The public doesn't want any more delays, neither do other European leaders and neither do I."

But opposition MPs said there would not be enough time to scrutinise the bill.

Repeating his calls for MPs to "get Brexit done", Mr Johnson said his deal allowed the UK to leave the EU "without disruption" and provided a "framework for a new relationship based on free trade and friendly cooperation".

"We are leaving the European Union but we will always be European," he said.

"I hope Parliament today votes to take back control for itself and the British people and the country can start to focus on the cost of living, the NHS, and conserving our environment."

Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said that if MPs did not back the intensive timetable it could result in the UK missing the government's 31 October Brexit deadline.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said ministers have planned for sittings in the Commons until midnight - with one suggesting they could sit through the night to stick to the prime minister's deadline.

However, Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, said: "Ministers are trying to bounce MPs into signing off a bill that could cause huge damage to our country. We can't trust this prime minister."

Mr Johnson agreed a deal with the EU last week, but it needs the approval of both the UK and EU parliaments to come into force.

The PM tried to get the deal signed off in the Commons on Saturday before moving onto consideration of the bill.

But instead, MPs backed an amendment withholding their approval until the WAB had faced the scrutiny of both the Commons and the Lords, and been passed into law.

Here it is. And here we go. The government has now published the pages and pages of new laws that need to be passed to make our departure from the EU happen.

Forget the meaningful vote, to get Brexit done - as the prime minster never tires of saying - this whole bundle of legislation has to pass.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is a document of 110 pages that details exactly how Parliament is expected to put the deal that the prime minister agreed with his counterparts around the continent into UK law.

For Brexit watchers it is a big moment.

Boris Johnson's Brexit deal

Image source, AFP

The amendment worked alongside the so-called Benn Act, which required the PM to ask the EU for an extension to the Halloween deadline to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Johnson wrote an unsigned letter making the request on Saturday evening, along with a signed letter saying why he did not agree with any further delays.

But there has been no official word from the EU yet on whether they would grant a proposal or what length it would be.

BBC Brussels correspondent Adam Fleming said the European Parliament would only vote on the Brexit deal when it had reached a stage where it could not be modified any further at Westminster.

The government also tried to bring forward a "yes" or "no" vote on its Brexit deal on Monday, but Speaker John Bercow said it would be "repetitive and disorderly" to debate it again.

Image source, JESSICA TAYLOR
Image caption,
Speaker John Bercow told the government they could not hold a vote on their deal

What is in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill?

The WAB will give legal effect to the withdrawal deal negotiated by Mr Johnson.

His plan ditches the backstop - the controversial "insurance policy" designed to prevent a return to physical checks on the Irish border.

Instead it essentially draws a new customs border in the Irish Sea, as goods which could travel onwards to Ireland will have to pay a duty tax.

It also will see the whole of the UK leave the EU customs union, meaning it could strike trade deals with other countries in the future.

The WAB will also turn any agreed transition period into law, fulfil requirements on the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, and allow ministers to make "divorce payments" to the EU foreseen under the current deal.

But MPs will be able to vote on amendments - changes or add-ons - to the bill.

If the government cannot get the bill through Parliament, the default legal position is for the UK to leave without a deal on 31 October, but that will change if the EU grants an extension.

I know reporters like me love prattling on about crunch points.

And I know there have been one or two instances of it being crunch point postponed.

But this really now is it for the government trying to deliver Boris Johnson's proposed Brexit deal by 31 October.

The time frame is mega tight - passing a new law, through the Commons and Lords, by a week on Thursday.

Some want to crack on with it, some want to tweak it and some want to wreck it.

What happens in the next few days will determine whether the UK leaves the European Union a week on Thursday and in what way.

And it is likely to shape when the next general election is.

And, perhaps, who wins it.

Mr Rees-Mogg announced the so-called "programme motion" - outlining the timetable for debating and passing the WAB - on Monday.

He said if MPs backed it, it would allow the bill to be debated at second reading and committee stage on Tuesday, with further discussion on Wednesday, before concluding with a report stage and third reading on Thursday.

Image source, JESSICA TAYLOR
Image caption,
Jacob Rees-Mogg presenting the programme motion to the Commons

The BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the government hoped to push the WAB through by getting MPs to sit until midnight on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But MPs will have to vote to agree to that timetable on Tuesday before the second reading, and the bill would also need to be approved by the Lords before becoming law.

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Labour's shadow Commons leader, Valerie Vaz, criticised the proposal, telling MPs: "At every stage the government has been running scared of this House and democracy, and it's now attempting to force through a flawed Brexit deal which sells out people's jobs, rights and our communities."

The SNP's Pete Wishart also condemned a lack of economic impact assessments of the deal ahead of the attempt to pass the legislation.

"Three days to consider a bill [that] somebody suggested is 100 pages... how on earth are we going to have the chance to assess that properly?"

But Mr Rees-Mogg said other acts - including the Benn Act - had been brought and passed with short notice.

"A king emperor left in 24 hours, and we are removing an imperial yoke in over a week," he added.

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