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Westminster weekly update: Commons votes on amendments to Brexit motion

04 February 2019

On Tuesday, the Commons voted on a series of amendments to the prime minister's motion on Brexit.


The amendments, selected by speaker of the House John Bercow, included the official Labour and SNP policies and suggested alternatives from Labour and Conservative backbench coalitions. Of these, the pivotal amendments were tabled by Yvette Cooper, ex-shadow minister and chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and Sir Graham Brady, chair of Conservative backbench association the 1922 Committee.

Cooper's, which was supported by Conservative ex-minister Nick Boles, sought to delay the UK’s departure from the EU if a deal cannot be reached by 26 February, and the Labour party whipped in support of it. However, 14 Labour MPs, including eurosceptics Caroline Flint, Kate Hoey and Dennis Skinner, rebelled, which mitigated the 17 Conservative rebels voting for the amendment and ensured it did not pass.

The Brady amendment, which expressed conditional support for the Withdrawal Agreement if 'alternative arrangements' to the Northern Irish backstop could be negotiated, passed due to widespread support from the Conservatives, their confidence-and-supply partners the DUP, and from the aforementioned small bloc of Labour rebels.

A number of statutory instruments relevant to civil judicial co-operation were discussed in the House of Lords, and the Law Society was mentioned seven times during the debates.

The government also announced this week that the planned two-week February recess would not be occurring.

Next week in Parliament

Monday 4 February

House of Commons

  • Westminster Hall debate - e-petition 224908: 'Article 50 must not be stopped/suspended under any circumstances'
  • Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee - The Companies, Limited Liability Partnerships (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018
  • Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee - Draft Recognition of Professional Qualifications (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018
  • Fifteenth Delegated Legislation Committee - Draft Solvency 2 and Insurance (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018; Draft Insurance Distribution (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018
  • Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee oral evidence session on Leasehold Reform - Heather Wheeler, minister for housing and homelessness

Tuesday 5 February

House of Commons

  • Justice oral questions
  • Eleventh Delegated Legislation Committee - Draft Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018
  • Science and Technology Select Committee oral evidence session on the Work of the Centre for Data Ethics
  • Home Affairs Select Committee oral evidence session on the Macpherson Report: 20 years on

House of Lords

  • Oral question - Pausing the Article 50 Process

Wednesday 6 February

House of Commons

  • Westminster Hall debate - UK as a Financial Services Hub
  • Thirteenth Delegated Legislation Committee - Draft Mutual Recognition of Protection Measures in Civil Matters (Amendment) (EU Exit)
  • European Scrutiny Select Committee oral evidence session on UK Exit from the EU - Dominic Raab MP; Suella Braverman MP

House of Lords

  • Orders and Regulations - Intellectual Property (Exhaustion of Rights) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018
  • Orders and Regulations - (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2018; Employment Rights (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2018; Employment Rights (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019; Employment Rights (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Thursday 7 February

House of Commons

  • Women and Equalities oral questions
  • International Trade oral questions
  • Fourteenth Delegated Legislation Committee - Draft Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2018

Last week in Parliament

Tuesday 29 January

House of Commons

European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 debate

The government’s neutral Brexit motion (relating to section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) and amendments were debated and voted on on Tuesday.

The key amendments are detailed below:

Sir Graham Brady’s amendment i.e. amending the backstop - Passed

  • This amendment, tabled by prominent and respected Conservative backbencher Graham Brady, required the backstop to be replaced with ‘alternative arrangements,’ and marks support for the withdrawal agreement ‘subject to this change.’ Many Conservative MPs expressed their support for this amendment, including some members of the European Research Group.
  • Proposed by Conservative MP Andrew Murrison and seconded by chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady, it aimed to provide a majority for Theresa May’s Brexit deal but 'requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border'. The prime minister officially instructed Conservative MPs to support Brady’s amendment, which had at least 71 names behind it.
  • Brady insisted his proposal would not require reopening the Withdrawal Agreement, which has been publicly rebuked by both the EU and the Republic of Ireland, but would instead do it via 'a legally-binding codicil' attached to it.

Spelman-Dromey amendment i.e. ruling out no-deal - Passed

  • A cross-party amendment that aims to rule out a no-deal has been proposed by backbench MPs Caroline Spelman and Jack Dromey, who are Conservative and Labour MPs respectively.
  • This amendment is not legally-binding on the government.

Cooper-Boles amendment i.e. extending article 50 - Did not pass

  • Yvette Cooper’s and Nick Boles’ cross-party amendment aimed to delay the UK’s departure from the EU if a deal cannot be reached by 26 February. The amendment would also change normal parliamentary rules to table a vote on a backbench bill next week that would force the government to seek an extension to Article 50.
  • The legislation referred to is the EU Withdrawal No. 3 Bill, which instructs the government to hold a vote on a motion directing her to seek to extend Article 50 if the Prime Minister’s deal has not been agreed by 26 February. This would be legally binding, and allow the bill to complete all Commons stages in one day and, if successful, progress straight to the Lords.

Labour front bench amendment i.e. vote on alternative Brexit forms - Did not pass

  • The amendment represented the official policy of the opposition and instructed the government to find time for parliament to debate and vote on alternatives to the prime minister’s deal.
  • It stipulated that these options must include Labour’s Brexit policy (a customs union, strong relationship with the EU single market and dynamic alignment on rights and standards) and a 'a public vote' on a deal or proposition which has majority support in the Commons.
  • The wording of it - 'a deal or proposition' - left the door open to extending (or even rescinding) Article 50 without having to U-turn on policy.

House of Lords

Oral question on Brexit: Security – Baroness Quin

On Tuesday (29 January) a tabled oral question on security issues relating to Brexit was asked in the House of Lords. It was answered by Baroness Williams of Trafford, minister for countering extremism in the Home Office.

  • Baroness Quin (Labour) asked the minister what discussions ministers from the Home Office and the Ministry for Justice have had with the heads of police forces about security issues relating to Brexit. The minister replied that the government is in continued dialogue with European partners on security co-operation.
  • Baroness Quin used her supplementary question to ask whether the Minister agreed that the consequences of no deal on security co-operation with the EU are alarming, before detailing the case of a retiring chief constable who felt he was in the dark over Brexit.
  • Lord Hannay, a crossbencher, asked what the extradition arrangements will be with the 27 EU member states in the event of a no deal. The minister said that the UK would rely on the Council of Europe European Convention on Extradition of 1957, which is currently relied on by Norway.
  • Lord Elystan-Morgan, a crossbencher, asked the minister whether she could assure the House that the same systems currently existent, 'under another name, will still prevail and be as efficient as previously?' Baroness Williams listed the current provisions under a deal, namely those for Eurojust, Europl, Prum and PNR. She said that leaving without a deal would require the UK to rely on 'other mechanisms' but did not detail these.
  • Lord Harris of Haringey, a Labour peer, noted that the Council of Europe European Convention on Extradition is 63 years old, and implied extraditions will take longer under it than under the European arrest warrant. The minister agreed that the European arrest warrant was a 'very smooth process' but did not know how long extradition requests under the Convention tend to take.
  • Lord Cormack, a Conservative, asked the minister to assure the house that negotiations are already taking place with all the countries of the EU, focussing on France, Germany, Italy and Spain, to ensure that the UK has bilateral agreements in the event of no deal, but acknowledged that this would be 'very much a second best'. The minister did so, and noted that this is most pertinent in regard to Europol.
  • Baroness Ludford, a Liberal Democrat, asked whether the government’s 'unreliability on upholding European human rights standards [is] going to prove an obstacle' to gaining access to databases to the SIS and Europol. In reply, Baroness Williams noted that Ireland is not a part of SIS II, and before 2015 used alternative channels such as Interpol.

Statutory instruments - Civil Judicial Co-operation

Three statutory instruments (SI) relating to civil judicial co-operation were discussed in the House of Lords on Tuesday. The Law Society was mentioned seven times, and the Brexit Law Committee was referenced once, during the debate on these SIs.

Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

In Committee session on the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, justice minister Lord Keen set out that this SI will apply in the event of no deal and will make changes to rules that determine which courts should have jurisdiction in cross-border civil and commercial cases involving courts in EU and relevant EFTA countries by revoking the Brussels I Regulation and Lugano Convention.

This SI generally reverts to the rules on jurisdiction and on recognition and enforcement of judgments that currently apply to cross-border disputes where the Brussels I Regulation or Lugano Convention do not apply.

Lord Keen confirmed in the House that the UK will become a signatory to the Hague Convention on 1 April 2018. The UK have also sought to maintain jurisdictional protections for UK consumers and employees contained in the Brussels regime which largely allows for their cases to take place in their home court.

A number of peers present set out their concerns about the loss of civil judicial co-operation measures in the event of a no deal. In response, Lord Keen said he understood the benefits of the Brussels regime but said we can only be part of it as a member of the European Union.

He also pointed to the political declaration and the government’s ambition to negotiate something similar to the Lugano Convention. Specifically he said the UK Government 'have also applied to the council of the Lugano convention to become a party to the Lugano convention'. He noted that this will require the consent of the EFTA parties and of the EU, and it will be subject to negotiation.

The Law Society was mentioned as one of the parties that the government had consulted on what steps the government should take in the event of a no deal.

Mutual Recognition of Protection Measures in Civil Matters (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Justice minister Lord Keen confirmed that civil protection measures and certificates issued in EU member states will continue to be recognised and enforceable in England and Wales. A point of clarification on how this will be applied intra-UK, as raised by the Law Society, was clarified by the minister who said that there is no reason to think the present system will change.

Jurisdiction and Judgments (Family) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

The justice minister confirmed that in the event of a no deal the Brussels IIa and maintenance regulations will no longer operate between the UK and EU member states since these regulations rely on reciprocal action between member states. This revocation will be subject to transitional provisions on cases in train on exit day.

In the debate, Lord Keen confirmed that the UK had taken steps to apply to become an individual state signatory of the 2007 Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance.

Labour’s Lords Justice spokesperson raised the Law Society’s concerns about the scale of loss of international functionality in family law in the event of no deal and outlined the benefits current family judicial cooperation brings to individuals.

Thursday 31 January

House of Commons

Attorney general oral questions

On Thursday, the attorney general answered questions in the House of Commons. The session can be watched here, and is summarised below.

Regulation of solicitors

  • Desmond Swayne MP (Conservative) asked what discussions he has had with the lord chancellor regarding reforming the oversight of solicitors. Responding, the solicitor general, Robert Buckland QC MP said he has had conversations with the lord chancellor on regulation of the professions. The profession is independently regulated as per the Legal Services Act 2007, and he and noted that solicitors are regulated by the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA). Swayne argued that if the SRA cannot compensate the EcoHouse investors then it should be reformed. Responding, the solicitor general, Robert Buckland QC MP said that with regard to compensation it should be taken up with the SRA themselves.
  • Barry Sheerman MP (Labour) raised concerns about solicitors pursuing whiplash claims. Responding, the solicitor general, Robert Buckland QC MP said that it not only affects the profession’s reputation but can also drive up insurance premiums.

Brexit

  • Patrick Grady MP (SNP) asked how the attorney general will go forward with disclosing to Parliament his legal advice to the government on Brexit. Responding, the attorney general, the Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC MP said that he has already noted that he will where appropriate release such evidence.
  • Justice Select Committee chair Bob Neill MP (Conservative) asked whether the attorney general agreed that the most pressing practical requirement for the prosecution authorities is to secure access to database systems under Eurojust cooperation arrangements. Responding, the attorney general, the Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC MP agreed and said they are trying to do so through the prime minister’s deal.

Protecting soldiers and veterans from prosecution

  • Leo Docherty MP (Conservative) asked the attorney general what steps he is taking to protect soldiers and veterans from prosecution. He called for the government to derogate from the European Convention of Human Rights. Responding, the attorney general, the Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC MP said the government is taking this issue seriously, and said the government are considering closely how to protect soldiers and veterans and will bring something forward in the course of this year.

Domestic abuse and disclosure

  • Daniel Kawczynski MP (Conservative) asked what the success the government has had in controlling coercive behaviour in domestic abuse. Responding, the solicitor general, Robert Buckland QC MP said that the number of charges in this area has trebled.
  • Louise Haigh MP (Labour) argued that victims of domestic abuse have concerns about asked about giving away too much personal information. She asked what steps the government is taking to ensure that victims are reassured that disclosure is appropriate and proportionate. Responding, the solicitor general, Robert Buckland QC MP said that the government released a report on disclosure and are reviewing this year what changes need to be made in the area.

Tags: Theresa May | Westminster weekly update | Brexit | Labour

About the author

Alexandra Cardenas is Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns at the Law Society. Public Affairs manages the relationships with parliament and government. She is a dual qualified solicitor in England and Wales (2014), and Colombia (2002). Prior to the Society, she practised as a human rights lawyer and worked at Macmillan Cancer Support and Animal Defenders International.

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