Brexit: What to expect from Parliament's Saturday sitting

Image copyright
AFP/Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

Parliament is sitting on a Saturday for the first time in 37 years to debate and vote on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal – here is what to expect.

What time is Parliament sitting?

MPs will gather in the House of Commons at 09:30 BST – we don’t know what time they will finish.

Peers sit a little later at 10:00 and are due to finish at 15:00.

What will happen then?

Commons proceedings will get under way with a statement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as confirmed by Saturday’s order paper.

He is expected to take questions on his Brexit deal from MPs for a couple of hours.

Image copyright
UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Image caption

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to make a statement

The main debate on the deal will follow. Commons Speaker John Bercow will reveal which amendments – suggested changes to the government’s motion asking MPs to approve the deal – have been selected.

A government minister, yet to be confirmed by Downing Street, will then open the debate.

What time can the voting start on Mr Johnson’s deal?

It’s likely to begin after 14:30.

If there are amendments selected by the Speaker, the votes on these will be held first.

So we can’t at this stage say exactly when the vote on the prime minister’s deal will be held.

But things may become clearer at the start of the debate on Saturday.

What happens if MPs vote for the deal?

If the government motion is passed by MPs without any amendments, it will just be the first stage of getting the deal into law.

The government is likely to want to move quickly so it can meet Boris Johnson’s 31 October deadline.

The Withdrawal Amendment Bill, which implements the legally-binding treaty, could be presented to Parliament early next week.

If the government motion is passed with amendments, then a delay to Brexit becomes more likely.

What happens if MPs reject the government’s motion?

If MPs reject the deal, there is the possibility they could be given the chance to vote in favour of a no-deal Brexit – listed as a second government motion on the Commons order paper.

However, MPs have previously rejected the proposals of leaving without a deal, so it’s unlikely this motion will pass if it is put to the House.

So, with no approval for either a deal or no-deal, the prime minister will have to write to the EU to request a Brexit extension.

What are the amendments?

MPs have tabled three amendments to the government motion so far. However, this does not mean they will automatically be debated and voted on by MPs – Mr Bercow will have to select them for debate.

There are two from the SNP:

  • An amendment to revoke Article 50 and cease the Brexit process, tabled by Angus MacNeil

Mr Blackford has called on opposition parties to “quit dithering, back our amendment, and finally act to bring this appalling Tory government down and stop Brexit”.

He and his party are against Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal, which Mr Blackford has said would be “devastating for Scotland”.

Image copyright
PA Media

Image caption

The SNP’s Ian Blackford wants a Brexit extension to allow for a general election

The third amendment, which has cross-party support, increasing its chances of being selected, is:

  • An amendment from former Tory MP Oliver Letwin to withhold House of Commons approval of the deal until the legislation to implement the agreement is passed

Labour’s Hilary Benn, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson and Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts – as well as former ministers David Gauke and Philip Hammond – have thrown their weight behind this proposal.

Image copyright
AFP/Getty Images

Image caption

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is backing Oliver Letwin’s amendment

Mr Letwin’s aim is to prevent a no-deal Brexit, even if MPs back Mr Johnson’s deal. He his concerned that some MPs who vote for it might change their mind as the legislation passes through Parliament – or it could be held up in the House of Lords.

So, if this proposal – you’ll hear it referred to as the “Letwin amendment” – is passed by MPs along with Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal, the prime minister would still have to write a letter on Saturday requesting a further postponement of Brexit until 31 January.

Why is the Letwin amendment significant?

Image caption

Oliver Letwin does not support a no-deal Brexit

The latest gambit by the alliance of MPs around Sir Oliver Letwin looks like a real problem for the government whips, writes our parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy.

The lesson of the Brexit battles so far is that it is the cross-party amendments and motions that are the most dangerous.

Single party proposals are mostly efforts to signal a position, it’s the proposals that MPs from several parties can sign up to that pose a more serious threat.

It’s a cunningly crafted proposition which, crucially, could be voted for by MPs who want a deal, but don’t trust this one, and don’t trust the government.

It rests on the idea that were Parliament to approve the deal for the purposes of the Benn Act now, there might then be a danger that the subsequent legislation to enact it might be, somehow, derailed, resulting in a no-deal exit on 31 October.

Read Mark’s full blog

What happens if the Letwin amendment passes?

If it passes, and the main motion – approval for Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal – passes as amended:

  • The prime minister is required to request an extension from the EU to 31 January by the end of Saturday
  • He is then expected to introduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) which is there to implement any withdrawal agreement
  • Section 13 of the 2018 EU Withdrawal Act requires both a meaningful vote and the WAB to pass before the UK leaves the EU
  • But the new WAB could include a provision to get rid of the need for a meaningful vote – therefore, once the WAB is passed the deal is done
  • The UK could technically still leave on 31 October if Mr Johnson passes the legislation very quickly
  • But legislation could take longer and opens the door to amendments from MPs and Lords