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MPs demand say over ‘meaningful vote’ on May’s Brexit deal

A cross-party committee says Commons debate should last at least five days and allow a ‘full range of opinions’ to be aired.

MPs must determine the voting procedures that will be used in the Commons “meaningful vote” on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, a Commons committee has warned.

The recommendation by the cross-party Procedure Committee comes amid anger among some MPs who accuse the Government of trying to present them with a simple “take it or leave it” choice.

Remainers have complained that under the Government’s proposals the House will have to accept or reject the deal before there is a chance to amend it – effectively rendering any amendment meaningless.

Ministers, however, argue that if the motion they put before the House to ratify the agreement was amended, it could open it up to legal challenge, potentially disrupting the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU.

On this national question of extraordinary importance, members of the public, whatever their views, will be looking to the House in the expectation that those views will be reflected in debate Commons Procedure Committee

In its report, the committee said the House should ensure at least five full sitting days are allocated to the debate, which should allow a “full range of opinions” on the issues involved to be expressed.

On each day of the debate,  it said there should be an opportunity for a proposer of an amendment to speak to that amendment with a minister responding to the debate at the end of the days’ proceedings.

“On this national question of extraordinary importance, members of the public, whatever their views, will be looking to the House in the expectation that those views will be reflected in debate,” the committee said – although four Conservative MPs refused to back the report.

The committee noted that under normal standing orders, a debate on an approval motion is restricted to just 90 minutes, with only one amendment allowed.

“There is widespread agreement that this procedure does not meet the expectations of the House, and of the general public, for a debate on a decision of this significance,” it said.

In contrast, it pointed out the debate on the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community in October 1971 lasted 55 hours over six days.

The committee said the House should decide itself the procedure that was adopted, with a debate on a substantive and amendable motion to be held at least two sitting days before the actual ratification debate.

The committee chairman Charles Walker said: “The decision that MPs will be required to make on any motion to approve a withdrawal agreement will be one of the most momentous decisions ever taken, both for the House of Commons and for the country.

“It is essential that MPs are able to make a thorough assessment of the various issues at play in order to reach a decision on the procedure used to ratify the withdrawal agreement.”

A Government spokesman said: “We will consider the committee’s recommendations carefully, though it will be for Parliament to debate and determine the procedure that will apply for the vote.

“As we have said previously, anything other than straightforward approval of the deal will bring with it huge uncertainty for business, consumers and citizens.”

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