Reportedly, the House of Commons has approved a Brexit Deal but at the same time requested more time to scrutinise it, rejecting to pass it through Parliament in three days.

I don't understand. How is it that they approve the deal before scrutinising it? If they have already approved it, what would they do in those three days? Can they still say, "on a closer look, actually we reject it"? Or have they not actually "passed the deal"?

  • 2
    While not a dupe, I think this answer to my question might answer yours.
    – JJJ
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 19:32
  • 2
    As I understand it, bills in the UK Parliament go through several readings in the full parliament, plus subcommittees. It was voted to have the bill progress one step, but against the government's planned timetable for subsequent steps.
    – o.m.
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 19:35
  • 1
    Surely there's a distinction between the deal and the legislation? I don't see anything surprising about Parliament being maybe willing to support the terms of the deal, but nonetheless suspicious that the proposed legislation might have flaws. I mean, the legislation isn't just a word-for-word copy of the terms of the deal, is it? Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 11:15
  • 1
    @HarryJohnston is correct. I don't think the present answers explicitly distinguish between the (a) withdrawal agreement and the (b) withdrawal agreement bill. The House of Commons voted through the bill on Second Reading but voted against the Government's programme motion (the Parliamentary timetable). The bill is domestic legislation intended to implement the international agreement into domestic law. The bill is 115 pages long and was published the evening before the debate.
    – Lag
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 11:25

4 Answers 4


The Commons agreed to the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, which (if it eventually passes all its parliamentary stages and receives Royal Assent) will turn the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement into law. Second reading is a debate on the general principles of the bill, and it is possible to have concerns about a bill but still vote for it, because there are then opportunities to amend it.

Talking of which, the next stage is Committee, which is a clause-by-clause review of the bill, at which amendments may be made. This is typically a long process (especially for a bill of over 100 pages); however, the Government attempted to pass a programme motion (i.e. a proposed timetable) to restrict this to just over a day.

This programme motion was defeated, because MPs didn't want to be time-restricted in this way.


Frankly "scrutinize it" is not the whole story for why the programme motion was defeated. According to the Guardian:

The rebellion against the programme motion was led by the former Tory chancellor Philip Hammond, and one of Johnson’s leadership rivals, Rory Stewart. They were keen to secure reassurances that if the government had not succeeded in negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU27 by the end of 2020, the UK would not leave without a deal.

Hammond told the Times the bill was “a camouflage to a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020”. Stewart, another of the 21 Tories who had the party whip withdrawn last month, said he and some of his fellow rebels had negotiated through the night to give parliament more control over the next phase of the Brexit negotiations, including being able to vote for an extension to the talks.

So apparently it was also a tactical vote to get some concessions from the government on the future negotiations with the EU. It's not clear to me what is the exact form of those concessions sought, whether they are/were a "gentlemen's agreement" or in some legislative form, e.g. amending the bill.

Hammond has explained his position in more detail in an article in the Evening Standard yesterday:

On Saturday, the Prime Minister gave a commitment to include in the Bill the so-called Nandy-Snell amendments that the previous government accepted, giving Parliament control over the negotiating mandate for, and the final form of, the future relationship. The Prime Minister’s commitment is indeed welcome but it needs to deliver Nandy-Snell in substance, not just in name. With the UK-wide backstop gone, the default position, if agreement is not reached, will be WTO terms — effectively no-deal. And those of us who have campaigned against no-deal in 2019 are not going to watch it be sneaked in through the back door in 2020. [...]

I hope the Government’s Bill will be given a second reading in the House of Commons today. But for it to deliver an acceptable outcome for ALL the people of the UK it will need big amendments in committee to ensure that it is the first step on the road to an ambitious future trade partnership, not a blind leap into the abyss of a no-deal future.

The government gave some verbal assurances today through the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, but apparently these were not enough for the expelled Tories.

As per discussion in the comments, although this Hammond situation has been described by some of the British press press as a tactical thing, probably the concept of vote trading is more relevant; in this case the trade having failed to happen.

  • 1
    +1 but that's not the whole story. The frustration from rebel Labour MPs who voted for the WAB was palpable during the subsequent points of order and questions. Their message basically was: Why on earth are you not simply revisiting the time table to extend more time? (Rees-Mogg submitted that MPs would debate Queen's Speech until the end of the week.) Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 20:05
  • 1
    @DenisdeBernardy: yeah, and Johnson's own phrasing that he is "pausing" the bill was used against him by Tusk who tweeted: "Following PM @BorisJohnson’s decision to pause the process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and in order to avoid a no-deal #Brexit, I will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension. For this I will propose a written procedure." Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 20:33
  • 1
    The term "scrutiny" is always used to refer to the proposal of amendments so it's a bit misleading to say that it isn't the whole story. Of course MPs begin scrutinising and formulating their amendments as soon as the Bill is published, but the second reading programme is the formal opportunity they have to do this.
    – Will
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 9:29
  • 1
    @Fizz that's the whole point of a second reading - it's a chance to raise objections that can be solved by an amendment. It's not at all uncommon to vote for a second reading while already being unwilling to approve the Bill in its unamended form. Having sufficient time for scrutiny is partly to have time to work out what amendments can be agreed, whether or not they were devised in that time for "digestion".
    – Will
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 9:41
  • 1
    "Since Hammond had a specific objection already in mind, he could have simply proposed an amendment. Him voting down the schedule is tactical in this context. Hammond's amendment might not have passed." I think that's overlooking the point of a programme motion, which is to limit time. With something like a dozen hours for the committee phase, only a handful of amendments could have been debated and voted on. Voting down such a tight schedule is the only rational tactic for anyone who has an amendment to propose. Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 14:43

Today was only the second reading, which is an agreement on the principal but not the detail. So MPs are saying they agree with leaving the EU with a deal, but not that they accept the deal Boris negotiated.

They then indicated that they needed more time to look at the proposed bill and amend it.


It means different things for different people. For some people, it may simply mean that it takes time to understand a 234-page agreement.

For other people, it may be an excuse for delay, an attempt to buy time to gauge voter sentiment, a way to avoid tipping one's hand pending vote trading or other discussions, or even a way to derail Brexit altogether.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .