LONDON — The U.K.’s final Brexit deal with the European Union will be enshrined in a new act of parliament guaranteeing the rights of European citizens in U.K. law after Britain’s departure, David Davis announced Monday.
The Brexit Secretary told MPs it was an important step that reflects the European Commission’s demand for further guarantees on EU citizens’ rights ahead of the European Council summit in December which will rule whether “sufficient progress” in the negotiations has been met in order for the talks to move to the future trading relationship between the U.K. and EU.
However, Labour dismissed the offer as a last-minute climbdown designed to see off a Conservative backbench rebellion.
The move comes ahead of 10 days of debate on the mammoth EU (Withdrawal) Bill starting Tuesday, with MPs rallying round an amendment laid by the Conservative MP Dominic Grieve which demanded the final deal be put into primary legislation.
In a Commons statement Monday, Davis said the new bill would provide “clarity and certainty, both in the negotiations and at home, about the final agreement being put into U.K. law.”
He explained that the terms of the U.K.’s departure, including any deal on a transitional period and agreement on citizens’ rights would have to become law via the new legislation.
Introducing such a separate bill will also give MPs the right to vote on it, giving them the power to amend or reject it. “The agreement will only hold if parliament approves it,” Davis said. It means that now both the European Parliament and the U.K. parliament will have the power to veto whatever deal comes out of the Brexit negotiations.
Davis announced that there would, in fact, be two votes in the House of Commons on the final Brexit deal — provided one is agreed.
Should the EU27 and Britain strike a withdrawal agreement, a simple “in principle” motion will be laid before the House allowing MPs to register their support for the deal.
If this is passed, a new piece of legislation will then be brought forward putting into law the final U.K.-EU deal. This would serve to guarantee EU citizens’ rights in U.K. law, Davis said.
If MPs vote either against the motion or the bill, the U.K. will leave the EU without a deal, Davis confirmed.
Davis’s opposite number, Labour’s Keir Starmer, called the announcement “a significant climbdown from a weak government on the verge of defeat.”
“For months, Labour has been calling on ministers to guarantee parliament a final say on the withdrawal agreement,” Starmer said. “With less than 24 hours before they had to defend their flawed bill to parliament, they have finally backed down.”
A U.K. government official said the bill was important because it was something the EU specifically asked for to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in Britain after Brexit.
An official in the Brexit department said: “We are responding to the clear ask from the EU to explain how we will implement the withdrawal agreement in the U.K. so that citizens can rely on it. We’ve provided total clarity about this: It’s time for the EU to explain whether they want the agreement to contain the critical rights they are holding back like voting rights, onward movement around the EU, the professional recognition of qualifications.”