Factbox: Britain’s Brexit vote – What are ‘amendments’ and why do they matter?

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s parliament will, over the course of a series of votes next Tuesday evening, decide whether to approve or reject Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal – a pivotal decision for the world’s fifth largest economy.

Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The main vote is on a motion stating that lawmakers in the 650-seat House of Commons approve the Brexit deal the government negotiated with the European Union, which envisages close future economic and other ties.

But, before the big vote, lawmakers will make attempts to change the wording of the motion through a parliamentary device known as an amendment.

These could have the effect of rejecting May’s deal and setting out another path, or adding conditions to the approval.

Any amendments will not be legally binding and so cannot automatically change the government’s course. But they will be politically difficult for it to ignore and if parliament approves any of them it would be a significant defeat for May.

In some cases defeat on an amendment could be so significant that the voting process would be halted and the deal would be considered to have been rejected. Even minor amendments could prevent the government from securing the unequivocal approval it needs to ratify the deal.

Amendments will be selected on Tuesday at the discretion of speaker John Bercow and can then be put to a vote before the government motion. Voting is due to start at 1900 GMT that day.

Below is a list of amendments that have been submitted so far:

MAJOR AMENDMENTS – Approval of any of the following three amendments would likely mean instant overall defeat for the government and halt any further votes. May’s deal would have been rejected.

Amendment A

This has been proposed by the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, and would have three effects:

1) Reject May’s deal

2) Attempt to block Britain leaving without a deal

3) Demand the pursuit of every alternative exit strategy

The pro-EU Liberal Democrat Party have put forward an amendment to Corbyn’s proposal which specifically refers to a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

Amendment I

This has been proposed by a group of lawmakers from across the political spectrum and has received widespread support. It would do three things:

1) Reject May’s deal

2) Attempt to block Britain leaving without a deal

3) Call on the government to set out its next steps to parliament “without delay”.

Amendment K

This has been proposed by Scottish and Welsh lawmakers who say the deal damages their nations. It does two main things:

1) Rejects the existing deal

2) Demands an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period

NORTHERN IRELAND – The following amendments relate to the ‘backstop’ arrangement – a fallback policy intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

Amendment O

This has been proposed by lawmakers loyal to Theresa May who want to find a way to get more eurosceptics to vote for the deal. So far it has been dismissed by some of those eurosceptics. The government backs this amendment.

It proposes to give parliament a say on whether to enter the backstop arrangement by ordering the government to report on its progress in March 2020 and then consult on its approach.

Any decision to enter the backstop would need parliamentary approval and would require the government to have a plan to exit the backstop within a year.

However, any vote in parliament against entering the backstop would not cancel Britain’s obligation to honor the withdrawal agreement – meaning the government would have to find another way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The amendment would also require the government to seek similar assurances from the EU about ending the backstop within one year.

Amendment B

This, proposed by members of May’s Conservative Party, sets out that Britain will tear up the withdrawal agreement if the EU refuses to agree to a way of ending the special ‘backstop’ arrangements in place for the province.

Amendment D

Also proposed by a member of May’s Conservative Party, this aims to make approval of the exit deal conditional on guaranteeing that a new EU-UK trade deal is in place. This would negate the need for the unpopular ‘backstop’.

Amendment E

This, proposed by members of the opposition Labour Party, aims to make approval conditional on Britain renegotiating the deal with the EU to win the right to terminate the backstop without needing EU consent.

It also requires the government to seek a different type of future relationship with the EU, modeled on the recently signed trade deal between Canada and the EU.

Amendment F

Proposed by a member of May’s Conservative Party, this aims to make approval conditional on Britain negotiating the right to terminate the backstop without requiring EU consent.


Amendment G

Proposed by a member of May’s Conservative Party, this would make approval conditional upon an agreement that only half of the agreed 39 billion pound exit bill would be paid at first, with the second half of payment made only when a free trade agreement with the EU has been ratified.

Amendment H

Also proposed by a Conservative lawmaker, this commits the government to “vigorously contest” any instance where it feels the EU is breaching the requirement to negotiate a future relationship in good faith.

Amendment J

This has been proposed by opposition lawmakers to add additional reassurances that Britain and the EU will ensure open and fair competition and that standards on environmental protection, workers’ rights and safety will not be lowered after Brexit.

Amendment L

Proposed by the pro-EU Liberal Democrat Party, this instructs the government to make all necessary preparations for a referendum on leaving the EU or remaining a member.

Reporting by William James; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Gareth Jones

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