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Ministers’ obligation to comply with the law

Jeremy Corbyn raised a motion in Parliament, on the 9 September, in an attempt to get the Prime Minister to state that he would comply with the law as just passed in the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill.

“That this House has considered the welcome completion of all parliamentary stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill and has considered the matter of the importance of the rule of law and Ministers’ obligation to comply with the law.”

The motion was put agreed without a vote.

European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill

After taking over control of the business in the House of Commons from the Government, a Bill was presented by MPs to stop Brexit happening on the 31 October 2019.

The Speaker of the House curtailed questions about the Spending Round 2019 presented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in order for the Bill to be presented.

The Bill, European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill was presented by Hilary Benn supported by Alistair Burt, Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Tom Brake, Stephen Gethins, Jonathon Edwards, Joan Ryan, Caroline Lucas, Chris Bryant, Stephen Doughty and Nick Boles.

In brief, the Bill is looking to prevent the UK leaving on the 31 October 2019 unless

  • there is a deal agreed between the UK and the EU which has been approved by MPs,
  • or

  • MPs have agreed to leave without a deal.
  • If either of these conditions are not met, the Prime Mister will be forced to ask for an extension under Article 50(3) to 31 January 2020, by sending the following letter to the President of the European Council

    PM’s speech on new Brexit deal: 21 May 2019

    Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a speech about the new Brexit deal on 21 May 2019.


    I became Prime Minister almost three years ago – immediately after the British people voted to leave the European Union. My aim was – and is – to deliver Brexit and help our country move beyond the division of the referendum and into a better future. A country that works for everyone. Where everyone has the chance to get on in life and to go as far as their own talent and hard work can take them. That is a goal that I believe can still unite our country.

    I knew that delivering Brexit was not going to be simple or straightforward. The result in 2016 was decisive, but it was close. The challenge of taking Brexit from the simplicity of the choice on the ballot paper to the complexity of resetting the country’s relationship with 27 of its nearest neighbours was always going to be huge.

    While it has proved even harder than I anticipated, I continue to believe that the best way to make a success of Brexit is to negotiate a good exit deal with the EU as the basis of a new deep and special partnership for the future. That was my pitch to be leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. That is what I set out in my Lancaster House speech and that was what my Party’s election manifesto said in 2017. That is in essence what the Labour Party’s election manifesto stated too. And over 80% of the electorate backed parties which stood to deliver Brexit by leaving with a deal.

    European Union (Withdrawal) Act – Passed

    This Bill started its passage through Parliament on 2 April 2019 and looks to remove a bargaining chip from the UK in it’s discussions with the EU to prevent No Deal. The Bill completed its passage through Parliament (House of Commons and House of Lords) on 08 April 2019.

    In trying to understand the consequences of this legislation it is useful to explore a Research Briefing prepared for the House of Commons:


    By the automatic operation of EU law, the UK leaves the EU on 12 April 2019 regardless of whether a deal has been ratified. The purpose of the Bill is to reduce the risk of the UK leaving the EU without a deal, or at least to delay that outcome beyond 12 April 2019 if that is what MPs want and the European Council is prepared to agree to it.

    An important point here is that any extension needs to be agreed by the EU Council! They can reject a selected extension and/or propose their own date.

    The day after the day on which this Bill gets Royal Assent, the Prime Minister would have to table a motion. This motion must seek Commons approval for a proposal that the UK asks the European Council for an extension to Article 50. The motion must set out the Prime Minister’s preferred extension date.

    Following Royal Assent of the Bill on 08 April 2019 (when it became Law) the following Motion has been tabled for debate on 9 April 2019

    The Prime Minister

    That this House agrees for the purposes of section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 to the Prime Minister seeking an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending on 30 June 2019.

    As it happens the PM has already written to Donald Tusk (on 5 April 2019) requesting an extension to 30 June 2019 with an option to terminate early. Has the fast tracking of this Bill through Parliament been a complete waste of time ?

    If the EU offers a different extension to the one proposed, the PM the must seek approval from the House of Commons before the revised date can be agreed with the EU.

    The Act also provides a further role for the Commons in the event that the European Council does not agree to the Prime Minister’s request but proposes an alternative date. In those circumstances, the Prime Minister would have to seek further Commons approval before agreeing to that revised date and thereby giving effect to it in EU law.

    The full report is available in the attached document issued by the House of Commons library

    European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill 2017-19

    European Union (Withdrawal) (No.5) Bill

    This is a Bill being fast-tracked in the House of Commons, with all its substantive stages taken in a single sitting on one day. It is expected to also be fast-tracked in the House of Lords.

    Bill as introduced

    The Bill was debated on 3 April 2019 through its Second Reading (Hansard: http://bit.ly/2IcSO1h )

    and Committee Stage (Hansard: http://bit.ly/2Un8e9R )

    Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill started at 5:54 pm and was put to a vote at 7:00 pm after 1 hour 6 minutes of debate

    The voting results were

    Ayes: 315 Noes: 310

    and the Bill passed (by a majority of 5), its second reading, after 1 hour 6 minutes of debate.

    14 “Remain” Tory rebels voted in favour of passing the second reading.

    Bebb, Guto
    Brine, Steve
    Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth
    Djanogly, Mr Jonathan
    Greening, rh Justine
    Grieve, rh Mr Dominic
    Gyimah, Mr Sam
    Harrington, Richard
    Lee, Dr Phillip
    Letwin, rh Sir Oliver
    Morgan, rh Nicky
    Sandbach, Antoinette
    Spelman, rh Dame Caroline
    Vaizey, rh Mr Edward

    The Committee Stage of the Bill began immediately following the result of the vote on the Second Reading.

    The debate started at around 7:20 pm

    There appeared to be some confusion over the proposed Amendments raised at this Stage. However, here is a complete list of the amendments:


    Selected amendments:

    They are amendment 13, amendment 20, amendment 21, Government amendment 22, amendment 1, clause 1 stand part, amendment 14, amendment 6, clause 2 stand part, new clause 4, new clause 5, new clause 7 and Government new clause 13.

    Votes on amendments to the Bill started at 9:54 pm after 2 hours 34 minutes of debate.

    To cut a long story short, it is difficult for me to determine exactly what was being voted on, so skipping to the end after more than an hour voting on amendments to the Bill …

    Voting took place at 11:09 pm with the result

    Ayes: 313 Noes: 312

    14 “Remain” Tory rebels voted in favour of passing the Third reading.

    Bebb, Guto
    Brine, Steve
    Burt, rh Alistair
    Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth
    Djanogly, Mr Jonathan
    Greening, rh Justine
    Grieve, rh Mr Dominic
    Gyimah, Mr Sam
    Harrington, Richard
    Lee, Dr Phillip
    Letwin, rh Sir Oliver
    Sandbach, Antoinette
    Spelman, rh Dame Caroline
    Vaizey, rh Mr Edward

    The Bill, as amended, passed the Third Reading by a majority of 1.

    The Bill has been sent to the House of Lords.

    Here is a copy of the Bill as passed to the House of Lords


    European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill (copy pdf)

    Details of all stages of the Bill can be found at


    The Bill was considered by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution and their report is available at


    The document presents the following conclusions for consideration by members of the House of Lords during their deliberations.

    6.The House may wish to consider the implications of the Bill in the following respects:

    A motion passed under the terms of the Bill would place a duty on the Prime Minister to “seek an extension” to the Article 50 period, while leaving discretion as to how it should be sought. Such discretion is inevitable as there is a limit to the extent to which it is feasible for legislation to provide direction in matters of this nature.

    The Bill requires the Prime Minister to move a motion on the day after it receives Royal Assent. It does not, however, specify the time during which the Prime Minister would be required to act on the motion, should it be passed by the House of Commons.

    In the event that a counterproposal is made by the European Council, the Bill does not require the Prime Minister to move a motion containing the date of that counterproposal. If the Prime Minister did move a motion containing that date, it would be open to the House of Commons to amend the motion so that it specified a different date. The provisions of the Bill could be applied repeatedly in the event that departure dates agreed by the House of Commons in subsequent motions did not align with the date or dates offered by the European Council.

    The Bill does not provide for how any counterproposal from the European Council should be treated in the event that conditions are attached to it.

    If the European Council refuses to offer an extension, or there is otherwise a failure to reach agreement on an extension, the Bill has no further effect and the UK would leave the European Union on 12 April by default.

    As the result of a Government amendment in the House of Commons, the process by which a statutory instrument to alter ‘exit day’ in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is changed from the affirmative to the negative procedure. The justification for this change, accepted by the Bill’s sponsor and the Official Opposition, was that it might be necessary to legislate as a matter of urgency to change the date of exit and that the requirement to get the approval of both Houses to an affirmative instrument could cause undesirable delay, risking a situation in which exit day in domestic law was not aligned with the exit day agreed under EU law.

    A House of Lords Library Briefing covers the House of Commons stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill, prepared for Members of the House of Lords in the event that the bill is considered in the House of Lords on 4 April 2019.