A Bill transforming the 1,246-page trade pact into UK law is being rushed through the Commons in just four and a half hours today despite containing 80 pages, 40 clauses and 6 schedules.
MPs will have precisely zero minutes to table amendments in the ‘Committee Stage’, which usually lasts several days on other Bills.
Any amendments would not change the Brexit deal itself, which is an international treaty, but would have a role in democratic scrutiny and create new obligations alongside it.
They would have included a Labour amendment bidding to form an agreement with the EU allowing musicians’ tours to continue.
The SNP tabled an bid this morning that would have given MPs an extra two hours to debate and vote on amendments, ending at 4.30pm rather than 2.30pm.
But Tory MPs voted down the bid and Labour told its MPs to abstain. The bid failed by 60 votes to 362.
With the way clear, the Bill is expected to pass unamended just before 3pm before being rushed through the House of Lords and gaining Royal Assent from the Queen at around midnight tonight.
Labour’s Shadow Commons Leader Valerie Vaz slammed the “government’s desperate incompetence”, saying her party was “desperately disappointed there wasn’t enough time to debate this deal properly”.
She added: “This is not our deal – but we will vote for legislation that will enact it to prevent a no deal.”
Tory Leader of the commons Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted “there is always a balance tok be struck when we have to do things urgently.”
He said five hours is “about the right amount” of time after “nearly 50 years” of discussing Brexit.
“This is just the final little bit of icing being put on the Christmas cake,” he added.
The Treaty itself was signed by EU chiefs this morning and is being airlifted to the UK on one of the Queen’s planes.
Expected to land at RAF Northolt in North West London, the treaty will be driven to Downing Street where it will be signed by Boris Johnson.
A YouGov poll today found 57% of people – including 69% of Leavers and 58% of Remainers – said MPs should accept the trade deal; just 9% said they should reject the deal.
And Boris Johnson told MPs that the Bill represents “one of the biggest free trade agreements in the world”.
Opening the debate on the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill in the Commons, the Prime Minister said: “Having taken back control of our money, our borders, our laws and our waters by leaving the European Union on January 31, we now seize this moment to forge a fantastic new relationship with our European neighbours based on free trade and friendly co-operation.”
He added: “At the heart of this Bill is one of the biggest free trade agreements in the world.”
Experts believe officials copied and pasted chunks of text from old legislation into the document as it describes Netscape Communicator – last released in 1997 – and defunct Mozilla Mail as “modern” services.
Before putting pen to paper, the PM will kick off a five-hour Commons debate on the agreement.
Mr Johnson will tell MPs the 85-page EU (Future Relationship) Bill offers a “historic resolution” and “demonstrates how Britain can be at once European and sovereign”.
He is set to say: “This bill embodies our vision – shared with our European neighbours – of a new relationship between Britain and the EU as sovereign equals.”
Brexit trade deal talks were held up for months over two main issues.
Fishing: The two sides were split over two issues – quotas and access. In 2012-16, 56% of the fish in UK waters was caught by EU boats and 44% by UK boats. Britain wanted both more quota to catch its own fish, and ultimate control over who accesses the waters. Both sides agreed a five-and-a-half-year transition period before the UK has full sovereignty over its own waters. This was more than the three years originally demanded by the UK. Meanwhile the UK share of fish caught in its own waters will rise to reclaim 25% of fish currently caught by EU trawlers by 2026. Originally the UK had demanded 80% of the EU’s quotas in UK waters.
Level playing field: This means how closely we follow EU rules in the future, to stop us undercutting businesses on the continent. The UK wanted to be free to set its own laws in areas like labour, environment, climate, and subsidies for businesses (“state aid”). But the EU originally demanded “equivalence”, with the UK “mirroring” EU rules in future. In the end, the EU won its demand for both sides to have a “level playing field” in which neither side will “grant unfair subsidies or distort competition”. But the deal stops short of the EU’s original demands for the UK to mirror EU laws. Instead the PM said each side will be able “as sovereign equals” to take action if the other side undercuts their industry – but this should only be done infrequently. The PM admitted the EU would be able to slap tariffs on UK exports and vice versa if the UK is seen to undercut EU rules. But he insisted it would have to be “proportionate” and “subject to arbitration”.
Lawyers assembled by the Tories’ hard-right European Research Group backed the deal.
They concluded the agreement “preserves the UK’s sovereignty and respects the norms of sovereign-to-sovereign treaties”. Labour leader Keir Starmer is braced for a handful of frontbench resignations after ordering his MPs to support the Government in the vote.
There are concerns the deal will fail to protect key economic sectors. Ex-Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is among those who have signed a letter urging opposition parties not to support the “rotten” agreement.