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Tonight’s Brexit debate: What happens and when

6 February 2017

4:56 PM

6 February 2017

4:56 PM

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that Parliament must have its say on Brexit, it seems MPs are determined to make the most of it. After last week’s mammoth debate, today’s session on amendments to the Government’s White Paper will drag on until the early hours of tomorrow morning. It’s expected to finish up at around 1am – keeping Brexit aficionados, as well as MPs from all sides and the Government busy. But what will they be discussing? Here’s the Spectator’s guide to tonight’s Brexit session:

After Theresa May’s Commons statement on the European Council meeting, tonight’s Commons session will essentially split into two parts. The first, expected to last from 4.30pm until around 9pm, will consider what role Parliament should have in holding the Government’s feet to the fire during negotiations for Brexit.

After this session finishes up, MPs will then move on to considering what role the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales should be given in having their say on the triggering of Article 50. MPs will also debate what involvement the likes of the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon should be given in Brexit talks with the European Union.

First up this afternoon, MPs will get down to business by debating an amendment put forward by Jeremy Corbyn. This calls on Parliament to be given full oversight of the Brexit process as it unfolds. If the clause gets the go-ahead, the Government will have to publish reports updating Parliament on its Brexit progress at least every two months. A separate clause being debated tonight will also compel the Government to come to Parliament once every three months to keep the Commons informed on ‘progress in negotiations on Article 50’.

Next, MPs will turn to the matter of financial services and discuss whether the Government should have to keep Parliament informed on what steps are being taken to ‘defend and promote the access to European markets for the UK financial services sector’ after Brexit. Chris Leslie, Stella Creasy and David Lammy are among Labour MPs to put their names to this clause.

Later on, an amendment covering a range of potentially sticky subjects for the Government will be discussed in the Commons. This includes the demand that the White Paper should spell out what tariffs would potentially be imposed on goods and services entering and leaving the UK once Brexit has happened. It will also cover ‘the terms of proposed trade agreements with the EU’ as well as an ‘expected timeframe’ for when these trade agreements will actually be in place by. MPs will then move on to discussing the controversial issue of the status of EU citizens living in the UK, before also considering what Brexit means for Brits living on the continent and their right to continue doing so once Britain has left the EU. Theresa May has been steadfast in her refusal to budge over this issue, despite staunch opposition – some of which has come from the Tory backbenches – urging her to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. Last week, it was reported that an early deal – guaranteeing the rights of Brits living in Spain – was due to be reached. But given the PM’s insistence up until now, it seems likely that the Government will be particularly keen to stand in the way of this amendment.

After this, the small matter of whether the Government should be allowed to end Britain’s membership of the single market without the say-so of Parliament will be up for discussion. A host of Labour MPs – as well as Nick Clegg – say not, and are demanding a clause in the White Paper which guarantees Parliament be allowed the chance to properly debate and scrutinise whether Brexit should actually entail leaving the single market or not.

From around 9.30pm onwards, MPs will then turn their attention to what Brexit means for the devolved assemblies of the UK, and the Commons will debate and vote on amendments which affect what – if any – say the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments should be given on Britain leaving the EU.

One amendment, put forward by the SNP, demands that the Government should not be allowed to trigger Article 50 without the direct say-so of the devolved assemblies. Another amendment up for discussion, which has been put forward by the Labour party, calls on the Government to consult with the First Minister of Scotland, the First Minister of Wales and the First Minister of Northern Ireland on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. In particular, this would mean that Theresa May must consult the Scottish government on any decision which would mean the UK leaves the single market.

A separate amendment put forward by SNP MPs says that Brexit cannot happen until a month after the Government has reached agreement with the first ministers of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on Brexit and ‘agreed a UK wide approach to, and objectives for, the UK’s negotiations for withdrawal from the EU’. Another amendment being discussed tonight will also consider whether Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales should have representatives involved in the Brexit negations with the European Union.

With these amendments expected to be considered up until the small hours of the morning, tonight’s session in Parliament will prove the first big Commons test for the Government. Will Theresa May be able to stick to her self-imposed deadline of triggering Article 50 by the end of March? We’ll have a much better idea by the end of tonight’s Brexit session in the Commons.


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