House of Commons Library

A User's Guide to the Meaningful Vote

Published Thursday, October 25, 2018

This paper explains the role of Parliament in the approval or rejection of any withdrawal agreement that may be reached between the UK and the EU27 in relation to the UK's exit from the EU under Article 50. It explains what the "meaningful vote" is, what it involves, and what Parliament's role will be if a deal is accepted, rejected or never reached.

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If the UK reaches a Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, the UK Parliament has a special, legally required, role in approving it. Although Parliament already has a role in the ratification of treaties, the arrangements for this international agreement are unique and give it a more proactive role than would normally be the case.

Section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (the Withdrawal Act) sets out a scheme whereby the Government must secure explicit Parliamentary approval for any “deal” reached between the UK and EU negotiators. It also makes arrangements for Parliament to scrutinise and express approval (or otherwise) for the Government’s proposed course of action in the event that Parliament rejects a deal, or no deal is able to be reached between the UK and EU negotiators.

This briefing paper sets out these statutory processes and addresses some frequently asked questions about them. Among other things, it explains:

  • the Parliamentary timetable for the so-called “meaningful vote”;
  • whether certain motions in that process are, or are not, amendable; and
  • the difference between Parliament’s role in debating and voting on the “motions” and Parliament’s role in passing the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.

The focus on this briefing paper is to identify the domestic processes that underpin approval, ratification and implementation of a Withdrawal Agreement. Note, however, that, in addition to the approval of the UK Parliament, the agreement cannot come into effect unless and until the European Parliament has also consented to it. This requirement is contained in Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union.

The Library has produced other publications on the “meaningful vote” at various stages in the Parliamentary process. Although some of these publications have been superseded by subsequent events (especially changes made during the latter stages of Parliament’s consideration of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill), you may wish, nevertheless, to refer to:

On 17 October 2018, the Procedure Committee published a letter and a Memorandum from Dominic Raab, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. They outlined the Government’s view and observations about how the House of Commons might conduct the meaningful vote.

The Committee issued a call for evidence "on the issues the 'meaningful vote' raises for the House's usual procedures for decisions on amendable motions". The deadline for written submissions was Tuesday 23 October 2018.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8424

Author: Graeme Cowie

Topics: Constitution, EU law and treaties, House of Commons, House of Lords, Members of Parliament, Parliament

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