Ministers criticised as MPs given three days to debate landmark Brexit bill

Posted On: 
21st October 2019

MPs have reacted angrily after being told they will have just three days to scrutinise the landmark legislation delivering Brexit.

MPs have been given three days to debate the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
Credit: 
PA Images

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would have its second reading on Tuesday - teeing up another crunch vote on Boris Johnson's plans.

The draft law will begin its committee stage - when MPs will try to amend it - on the same day, before completing its passage through Parliament on Thursday.

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It will then proceed to the House of Lords, where peers are expected to sit at the weekend in order to have it on the statute book in time for the Brexit deadline of 31 October.

However, opposition parties are expected to attempt to alter the legislation in order to push for a second referendum, a general election or for the UK to remain inside the EU's customs union.

A programme motion tabled by the Government showed that the second reading vote will take place at 7pm on Tuesday.

That will then be followed by a vote on the timetable for the bill, which could be defeated, throwing Mr Johnson's plans into more chaos.

Mr Rees-Mogg insisted that the Government was setting aside enough time for the bill - which runs to 110 pages and was published on Monday evening - to be scrutinised and passed by MPs.

He said: "We do have a deadline of 31 October, a deadline set in law, for dealing with our departure from the European Union, and we need to have the legislation in place by then or the alternative is that we leave without a deal."

But Shadow Commons Leader Valerie Vaz said: "At every stage the Government has been running scared of this House and democracy, and it is now attempting to force through a flawed Brexit deal which sells out people’s jobs, rights and our communities."

The SNP's Pete Wishart said the proposed timetable was "totally unacceptable".

He said: "Three days to consider a bill. Somebody suggested it’s 100 pages. How on earth are we going to have a chance to assess that properly?"

Tory grandee Ken Clarke said he would vote for the bill, but added that MPs must have more time to consider it properly.

"If the Government is for some reason insistent on dashing for this completely silly and irrelevant date that it keeps staking its fate on, then give some proper time for debate," he said. "Two and a bit days is plainly quite insufficient."

The row came after Commons Speaker John Bercow blocked the Prime Minister's latest attempt to force a vote on the deal he struck last week with Brussels.

Mr Johnson had planned to hold a meaningful vote on Saturday, but that was scuppered when MPs passed an amendment in the name of Sir Oliver Letwin forcing the PM to seek a Brexit extension long enough for all the necessary legislation to be passed by Parliament.

Mr Bercow said he would not allow another vote on Monday becuse the matter had been dealt with 48 hours previously.

He said: "Today's circumstances are in substance the same as Saturday's circumstances. My ruling is therefore that the motion will not be debated today, as it would be repetitive and disorderly to do so."