MPs will be given a final vote on the Brexit deal agreed in Brussels, the government announced this afternoon – just hours before it faces a backbench rebellion over the latest stage of its Withdrawal Bill. Brexit bill secretary David Davis confirmed this afternoon that the government would put a withdrawal agreement and implementation bill to the Commons once talks are concluded with the EU27. The new bill will include the agreement on citizens’ rights, any financial settlement and the details of an implementation period agreed between both sides, although details will not become clear until a deal is in place. We have always said we will do whatever is necessary to prepare for our exit, including bringing forward further legislation, and that is exactly what we are doing.
This is another important step that demonstrates our pragmatic approach to getting our house in order as we leave the EU. By announcing this bill, we are providing clarity and certainty – both in the negotiations and at home – about the final agreement being put into UK law. As we move forward, we stand ready to work with MPs from across the House to ensure a smooth, and orderly exit from the EU that is effectively scrutinised by Parliament. Davis stressed that the exact details of the withdrawal agreement were subject to ongoing and future negotiations and “cannot be known until those negotiations are near completion”.
Asked whether Brexit would still go ahead if the bill was rejected, Davis simply said “yes” – meaning the country could leave the EU without a deal in place, the cliff edge scenario feared by businesses across the country. The Cabinet minister added it was down to political will and he was “quite certain the political will is there”. But he was unmoved by the prospect of leaving without a deal. We would be able to make a good future for Britain without,” he told the Commons, although admitted: “It’s not the best future. Brexit minister Steve Baker had intimated such a bill was being readied during a committee hearing last month, but this is the first time it has been confirmed as primary legislation.
It has been revealed just as MPs gear up for the third reading of the EU Withdrawal Bill, which begins tomorrow, over which the government faced a revolt from the backbenches. Some Tories questioned how it would be possible to commit to a “meaningful” vote if Brexit talks go to the wire, as Davis has previously warned could happen. Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who has met with Davis to discuss his concerns over the EU Withdrawal Bill, said it would not be acceptable for MPs to vote after the point of exit. Antoinette Sandbach called on Davis to explain how “If the bill intended to ensure a meaningful vote only comes forward after that date, the vote is in any sense meaningful”.
Davis replied: “Either you want the deal or you don’t. Opposition MPs interpreted the move as little more than an attempt to keep rebel Tories onside and avoid an outright rebellion. Chris Leslie, Labour MP and leading supporter of Open Britain, slammed it as a “sham that pretends to respect the sovereignty of Parliament but falls well short of what is required”. It’s a transparent and fairly desperate attempt at the 11th hour to save face and avoid losing votes in the House. Ministers need to do much better. For months, Labour has been calling on ministers to guarantee Parliament a final say on the withdrawal agreement.