On 9 September 2019 the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act (the Act) received Royal Assent. The legislation, which was passed despite opposition by the UK Government, seeks to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October. The Act’s passage through Parliament was accelerated as a result of the House of Commons voting on 3 September 2019 to amend the standing orders of the House so that all of the Act’s stages could be taken in one day.
It should be noted that the legislation is purely a domestic piece of law and does not of itself operate to prevent a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Instead, the legislation seeks to ensure the UK does not leave the EU on 31 October 2019 without a withdrawal agreement unless the course of action has received prior approval from Parliament. Clause 1 stipulates that the Prime Minister must seek an extension to the Brexit deadline unless one of two conditions are met: either the UK has concluded an agreement with the EU which has been approved by resolution in the House of Commons and tabled for debate in the House of Lords; or that a statement has been made to each House of Parliament stating that the UK is to leave the EU without an agreement and that statement has been approved by resolution in the House of Commons and debated in the Lords.
If neither of those conditions are met, subsection 1(4) provides that the Prime Minister must seek to obtain an extension to article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union until 31 January 2020, and subsection 1(3) states that Prime Minister must send a letter to the President of the European Council requesting the extension no later than 19 October 2019.
Further, it provides that if the European Council agrees to the desired extension until 31 January 2020, the Prime Minister must immediately notify the President that the UK has formerly agreed to the extension. If the Council propose an alternative extension deadline, subsections 3(2) and (3) provide the Prime Minister with the option of either accepting the extension or asking the House of Commons to pass a motion approving the extension deadline within two days of receiving the Council’s decision.
In addition, clause 2 provides the House of Commons with an ongoing role in scrutinising the progress made by the UK in securing a deal with the EU. It obliges the Government to publish a report by 30 November 2019 detailing what progress has been made in its Brexit negotiations. If the House of Commons rejects or amends the report, the Secretary of State must publish a further report by 10 January 2020 setting out a plan for further negotiations. The Secretary of State is then required to update the House on the negotiations every 28 days from the 7 February 2020 until an agreement is finally reached.