EU withdrawal bill: what happens next?

Guardian Web |

The issue of how much of a say parliament will have on a final Brexit deal, one of the key issues to be settled by the EU withdrawal bill, remains unclear.

On Tuesday Theresa May avoided a rebellion by promising rebel MPs that if they did not support a Lords amendment on the issue she would offer a compromise amendment to assuage their worries.

However, both hardline Brexit MPs and the rebels believe May has guaranteed their preferred outcome, bringing a likely clash ahead. Here’s a guide to what happens next:

New government amendment

This has been promised for Thursday, when it will be carefully scrutinised by both sides.

The key issue will be how far it meets one element of a compromise amendment offered by Tory Brexit rebel Dominic Grieve, which would require the government to seek approval from MPs on strategy if a Brexit deal was rejected by parliament.

Downing Street has strongly indicated it will not agree to this idea – which could leave Tory rebels feeling betrayed.

Back to the Lords

Next Monday, 18 June, the Lords are due to consider the changes made by the Commons on Tuesday and Wednesday, a process known – and this is the official term – as “ping pong”.

If peers feel the new government amendment overly waters down their views on a meaningful final Brexit vote they could amend the amendment, or even insert their own amendment, returning things to how they were.

The initial amendment on a vote, proposed by Tory peer Viscount Hailsham (Douglas Hogg when he was in the Commons) was passed in the Lords by 335 votes to 244, so the sentiment in the upper house seems clear.

Back again to the Commons

Although the business for next week in the Commons has yet to be announced beyond Monday, it is expected space will be found for reconsideration of the bill.

It would not need much time – the Commons usually allocates brief slots of one to three hours for ping pong sessions. In contrasts, peers take as much time as they think they need.

If the Tory rebels decide to insist on the point they could seek to vote through an amended (or new) Lords amendment, unless No 10 was minded to enrage Brexiter MPs by offering more of a concession.

How long can the ping pong go on?

A many times as is necessary - in the past bills have shuttled to and from the Lords and Commons up to nine times. The key to the process is to avoid deadlock – to make sure each time there is something new on offer.

What happens if there is deadlock?

In theory, if an issue is stuck – of both houses “insist” on a measure, to use the official parlance – then the government can use the Parliament Act to overrule the Lords.

However, as the EU withdrawal bill is not a finance bill, this can only be used a year after it received its second reading in the Commons, which would be in September.

This, among other reasons, means such deadlock is seen as very likely, with some sort of compromise expected. Ultimately, it will be a matter of whom May wants to outrage – her hardline Brexiter MPs or the remainer rebels.

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