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MPs reject House of Lords EU Withdrawal Bill amendments

MPs in the House of Commons have rejected a series of proposed amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill following reported concessions by the government.13 Jun 2018

They will continue to debate amendments made to the government's main piece of Brexit legislation by the House of Lords today. The most significant of these, which would require the government to demonstrate to parliament that it had attempted to negotiate a new customs union with the EU, is now expected to be rejected, the BBC has reported.

The government won all 11 votes in the House of Commons yesterday, on topics including the use of 'Henry VIII' powers to make changes to domestic legislation after the UK leaves the EU by way of regulations and one whether the date of departure should be given statutory effect. In particular, MPs voted 324 votes to 298 to reject a Lords amendment which would have strengthened parliament's statutory 'meaningful vote' on the final deal between the UK and the EU.

Public policy expert Richard Bull of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said, however, that the MPs would have another opportunity to defeat the government if the promised concessions did not materialise.

"For all the excitement generated by yesterday's parliamentary manoeuvres, the gap between the government and the pro-'Remain' Conservative Party backbenchers on the issue of a 'meaningful vote' is not vast," he said.

"A government amendment was passed requiring the negotiated withdrawal agreement to be approved by resolution in the House of Commons. The Lords' amendment, which MPs rejected, went further in requiring the withdrawal agreement to be placed on a statutory footing. It also provided that, if there has been no withdrawal agreement reached, the government must then follow any direction approved by resolution in the Commons on the next steps the government should take," he said.

"The vote rejecting the Lords' amendment does not dispose of the issue. Both Houses of Parliament must agree on the form of the EU Withdrawal Bill, and if the Lords insist on their amendment then the Commons will again be invited to reject it. This affords Conservative pro-'Remain' MPs another opportunity to defeat the government if their discussions with ministers do not yield the tangible concessions they seek. Yesterday perhaps only postponed the government's real test on a meaningful vote," he said.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill provides for the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act, which gives recognition to the superiority of EU law in the UK. It also transfers any legislation applicable in the UK through EU law at the point of exit directly onto the UK statute book.

The bill would also grant ministers extensive powers to 'correct' the statute book through the use of regulations, known as 'Henry VIII powers'. These regulations would need to be "approved by a resolution" of both the House of Commons and House of Lords under the bill as currently drafted. The government has estimated that between 800 and 1,000 statutory instruments will be needed to make all the necessary post-Brexit amendments to UK laws.