MPs and peers are set to approve the Brexit trade deal with the EU on Wednesday, in a frantic day of parliamentary activity. So what is set to happen?
What is parliament being asked to do?
To pass the EU (future relationship) bill, which allows Boris Johnson’s government to sign and ratifty the 1,246-page treaty sealed on Christmas Eve, the bill is set to pass all of its stages in the Commons and Lords – and receive royal assent – all on Wednesday, ahead of the expiry of the Brexit transition period on New Year’s Eve.
What is the Commons timetable for the day?
Pretty packed. MPs will assemble – or rather the majority will log on from the constituencies, given London is under tier 4 coronavirus restrictions – from 9.30am, and must first approve a formal business motion for the events of the day, which also sets out the plan for remote proceedings. Once this is done, Johnson will open the debate on the second reading, followed by the Labour leader, Keir Starmer. Michael Gove will close for the government. The whole of the debate, and votes on all remaining stages of the bill are meant to be completed by 2.30pm, when MPs will turn their mind to debating Covid.
Then what happens?
From about 3pm, peers will take over. The final vote is expected in the Lords at about 11pm. The Queen is, we are told, “on standby” at Windsor Castle to give royal assent to the bill. This would then be announced to the Commons.
What about the Brexit treaty itself?
This has already been signed in Brussels, in a brief ceremony on Wednesday morning, by Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, respectively the heads of the European commission and European council. EU ambassadors gave interim approval for the deal earlier this week. Two copies of the treaty, both bound in blue leather, are being flown to London by RAF plane for Johnson to sign. One will remain in London and the other – with the blue folder embossed with gold stars – will go back to Brussels.
This isn’t much time for scrutiny, is it?
No. The Commons has 84 MPs listed to speak, with 145 peers listed in the Lords, leaving just minutes for each. In a report on Wednesday’s proceedings, parliamentary thinktank the Hansard Society says the last time a bill went through all parliamentary stages in a single day was a 2007 measure connected to Northern Ireland, which had just two clauses – in contrast, the EU bill is 85 pages long.
Is it enough time?
A number of people think not, not least quite a few MPs. The Hansard Society has called the proceedings “a farce”, noting that the parliamentary process takes place just six days after confirmation there would be a treaty, four days after the treaty was published, and less than two days before the treaty is due to come into force, with the only other option being no deal. The society also notes that it is still unclear how the hybrid proceedings in the Commons will handle basic procedures such as amendments and proxy votes, especially given the enormous time pressures.