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Explainer: How Wednesday's parliamentary Brexit debate will work

LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers on Wednesday were debating Prime Minister Theresa May’s progress towards securing a Brexit deal and will have the opportunity to challenge her approach and vote on alternatives.

FILE PHOTO: British and EU flags flutter outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

May wants to negotiate changes to the departure deal she agreed with the European Union last year and has promised to bring it back for approval in parliament by March 12 at the latest.

She looks to have postponed a moment of reckoning in the deeply divided legislature by promising lawmakers they would be given the chance next month to vote against a no-deal Brexit and delay Britain’s exit day if her agreement is rejected.

Wednesday’s debate will not involve a vote on whether to approve or reject a Brexit deal.


Lawmakers will debate a government statement which reads: “This House notes the Prime Minister’s statement on EU exit of 26 February, 2019; and further notes that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing.”


Yes. They are known as amendments and, if approved by a vote, could exert political pressure on May to change the course of Brexit. However, the government is not legally bound to follow any changes approved following the debate.

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May’s move to defuse a showdown in parliament over fears that her strategy could result in Britain leaving the EU without a deal means that a plan for parliament to seize back control of the process is not expected to be voted upon.

However, voting on other alternatives will take place.


Parliament Speaker John Bercow selected five amendments.

The lawmaker proposing each amendment can choose not to put it to a vote at the end of the debate.

Lawmakers will vote on each amendment one by one, before voting to give final approval to the wording of the motion itself. Voting is due to begin at 1900 GMT. Each vote takes around 15 minutes and the result is read out in parliament.

Below are the amendments which were selected, in the order which they will be voted on:


Put forward by the opposition Labour Party. It calls on the government to adopt Labour’s Brexit plans, including a permanent customs union with the EU and close alignment with the bloc’s single market.


This amendment, proposed by the Scottish National Party, says a no-deal Brexit should be ruled out under any circumstances, regardless of exit date.


This has been put forward by Caroline Spelman, a lawmaker from May’s Conservatives, and is supported by lawmakers from several parties.

It sets out a plan to put into law a commitment that, by March 18, parliament must have either approved an exit deal, backed a no-deal Brexit, or May must have requested an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period.


This has been submitted by Conservative lawmaker Alberto Costa and is supported by more than 140 lawmakers from across several parties. It calls on the government to seek a joint UK-EU commitment that the safeguards on EU citizens rights agreed with Brussels as part of the withdrawal deal will apply even if the government was not able to ratify the exit deal.

The government has said it will accept this amendment.


Proposed by opposition Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper, this amendment notes May’s commitment to hold a vote on her revised Brexit deal by March 12 and, if parliament rejects both this deal and the idea of leaving without a deal, to give lawmakers a vote on March 14 on whether to delay Brexit.

Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Janet Lawrence/Mark Heinrich