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The meaning of the meaningful vote

The day before, peers had voted in favour of plans to give MPs a greater say – a move that David Davis, the then-Brexit secretary, warned could undermine the prime minister’s negotiating position because it seemed to foreclose the possibility of Britain walking away with no deal. Mr Davis now offered another compromise that would, he said, ensure that there would be a ministerial statement and a motion to the House of Commons in the event of no deal, but the key point was that his plan would not offer MPs a chance to instruct ministers – because the motion that would be put down would not be amendable. But Mr Davis added that the procedural details were far less important than the expressed mood of the House of Commons in a moment of crisis, and he warned that the Lords amendment could become a mechanism for frustrating Brexit. As part of the elaborate legislative dance, Mr Grieve had put down a new amendment. But now a compromise had been offered, he dropped it: “Having finally obtained, with a little more difficulty than I would have wished, the obvious acknowledgement of the sovereignty of this place over the executive, I am prepared to accept the government’s difficulty, support them and accept the form of amendment they want.” The government proposal seemed to put the issue into the hands of the Speaker, who, in the event of no deal, would have to decide if a future motion would be amendable. There were attempts to ask the Speaker, John Bercow, what he would do in those circumstances, but he declined to say. What was not clear to MPs was who was climbing down. Had Mr Grieve allowed ministers a face-saving solution,

David Davis, the then-Brexit Secretary, warned that the Lords amendment could be used by some to frustrate the process of leaving the Eu

In June, seven months on from his success in attaching a “meaningful vote amendment” to the Eu (Withdrawal) Bill in the Commons, the former attorney- general Dominic Grieve was still fighting the same cause on the same bill. In what proved to be the final round of the long parliamentary battle over the bill, MPs were considering changes made in the Lords, which included a tougher version of the meaningful vote than Mr Grieve’s original. In earlier rounds of consideration he had accepted a compromise proposal from the government, only for the consensus around it to break down when Downing Street presented an analysis of what it would mean that seemed far weaker than Mr Grieve had thought. That in turn prompted the Lords to replace the compromise with a beefed- up version – and this was what MPs, for the second time in a week, were now considering. The issue remained the narrow but potentially crucial question of what leverage MPs would have in the event that either parliament rejected the Brexit deal between the uK and the European union or no deal was reached at all. Should there be a vote in the Commons to instruct ministers on what to do next?


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