The House of Commons (HoC) delivered the biggest parliamentary defeat of any Prime Minister in British history as MPs emphatically rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal on 15 January 2019. No-deal Brexit planning continued throughout the month.
Draft UK-EU withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the framework for the future relationship
Despite the reassurances set out in an exchange of letters between Prime Minister Theresa May and the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, on 15 January 2019 the HoC rejected the government’s approval motion concerning the withdrawal agreement and future relationship framework (political declaration) in the “meaningful vote” by 230 votes.
The government was then required to table a motion “considering the process of exiting the European Union under Article 50”. On 21 January 2019, the Prime Minister gave a statement to the HoC setting out how the government proposed to proceed in the Article 50 withdrawal negotiations. The Prime Minister said that:
- She did not believe that there was a majority in the HoC for a second referendum.
- She did not believe that the Article 50 notice should be revoked.
- The way to rule out no deal was for the HoC to approve a deal.
- The EU is unlikely to agree to extend Article 50 without a plan for how the HoC would approve a deal.
On 29 January 2019, the HoC debated the joint motion tabled by the government on 24 January 2019. The joint motion was amendable, enabling the HoC to demonstrate whether there was a majority in favour of a particular course of action. The HoC agreed to the government’s joint motion with the following amendments, which were added to the end of the resolution:
- That the House rejects the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship.
- That the House requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border, supports leaving the EU with a deal and would therefore support the withdrawal agreement subject to this change.
Theresa May confirmed that the government would seek to obtain legally binding changes to the backstop. However, she noted that “there is limited appetite for such change in the EU and negotiating it will not be easy.”
No-deal contingency planning
No-deal Brexit planning continued throughout January.
On 9 January 2019, the government published guidance on the E-Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The guidance considers the implications of a no-deal Brexit for UK online service providers to whom the E-Commerce Directive applies (such as online retailers or social media platforms), and offers guidance to those that wish to continue to provide information society services in EEA states after a no-deal Brexit.
The government also deposited instruments that would enable the UK to become an independent contracting party to the Hague Choice of Court Convention and the Hague Maintenance Convention on 1 April 2019 if there is no deal. Further afield, the US Department of Commerce published FAQs on the steps EU-US Privacy Shield participants must take to continue to receive UK personal data after Brexit.
Towards the end of the month, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published a consultation on the effects of a no-deal EU Exit on the functions of the CMA. The draft guidance explains the legal changes expected to result from EU Exit and sets out how EU Exit will affect the CMA’s powers and processes for antitrust and cartel enforcement, merger control and consumer law enforcement after Exit Day. The CMA invites comments on the draft guidance by 25 February 2019.
On 28 January 2019, the HoC Exiting the European Union Committee published a report considering the implications of a no-deal scenario. The report includes an assessment of the implications for trade, the potential for disruption at the UK’s border, and the problems in maintaining an open border in Ireland under a no-deal scenario.
At the end of January, the Institute for Government published a report looking at the government’s progress in preparing for the UK to leave the EU with no deal. The report highlights that it looks increasingly unlikely that the Prime Minister will be able to get the six outstanding Brexit Bills through Parliament in time. Some of the major Bills still have not started their Lords stages, where the government does not control time. The government is also behind on secondary legislation. Only around 100 of the 600 statutory instruments required for a no-deal Brexit have made their way through Parliament, and almost half are yet to be tabled.
Brexit statutory instruments
More Brexit statutory instruments (SIs) were published in January. You can keep up to date with the increased volume of Brexit SIs by visiting our Brexit statutory instruments tracker.