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EXPLAINED: The key points in Boris Johnson’s EU withdrawal bill ahead of crunch Commons votes

Laura Hutchinson, Head of UK Political Intelligence | Dods Monitoring

3 min read

MPs are set to vote on whether they support the principle of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal through the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).

The legislation is crucial for the Government, as it turns the agreement struck between the Prime Minister and his Brussels counterparts into UK law.

Ministers are hoping to rush the bill through by Thursday night, in an effort to keep their promise of taking Britain out of the EU by 31 October.


The legislation, which stretches to 115 pages and which MPs and experts have been poring over since it was revealed on Monday night, will be debated by the Commons on Tuesday, with the vote at second reading expected at 7pm.

Downing Street is confident that the WAB will clear this first parliamentary hurdle, thanks to the support of Labour MPs representing Leave-voting constituencies. But that would only be the start of the process.

Within minutes, MPs will also vote on the programme motion setting out the three-day timetable for the passage of the bill.

MPs on all sides have accused the Government of failing to provide enough time to scrutinise the PM's plans, and Number 10 fears it will be voted down.

If it is, and the EU then grants a three-month Brexit extension, Mr Johnson has said he will go for a Christmas election.


It will legislate for a transition period, where if the deal is agreed, Britain will continue to follow EU rules until the end of 2020, while the Government tries to thrash out a free trade agreement with Brussels.

If no FTA is agreed, Parliament would have to vote on extending the transition period. However the bill does not outline what happens if the Government doesn’t propose an extension, meaning the UK could crash out without a deal at the end of next year.

It legislates for the UK paying the so-called "divorce bill", which is currently expected to be around £39bn, but which could increase if the transition period ends up being extended.

It allows Parliament to have a role in overseeing negotiations for the future relationship, such as preventing ministers from negotiating future arrangements until MPs have approved a statement of objectives.  

In a shift from Theresa May’s pledges, the non-binding political declaration says ministers must give a statement telling Parliament whether they plan to reduce workers' rights below the EU's standards, although there is nothing to stop them proceeding with a bill.

The bill replaces the need for a separate “meaningful” vote by parliament on whether to leave the EU, meaning that the final vote on the WAB will be conclusive. That is likely to be the vote on the third reading, which Mr Johnson hopes will happen on Thursday, but could be at a later date if ministers lose control of the timetable. There could also be further votes if the House of Lords tacks on any amendments.

It also pledges to implement the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement, relating to a customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The bill provides for the creation of an Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA) to ensure the Government’s compliance with its obligations on citizens’ rights.

There is also a “parliamentary sovereignty” clause in a bid to allay the fears of Eurosceptics opposed to the continued application of EU law during the transition period, or the eight-year phase-out of European Court of Justice jurisdiction.

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