European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019

European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to make further provision in connection with the period for negotiations for withdrawing from the European Union.
Citation2019 c. 26
Introduced byHilary Benn (Commons)
Lord Rooker (Lords)
Territorial extentEngland and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
Dates
Royal assent9 September 2019
Commencement9 September 2019
Other legislation
Relates toEuropean Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017

European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

Text of statute as originally enacted
Part of a series of articles on
Brexit
(withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union)
UK location in the EU 2016.svg
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom portal
Flag of Europe.svg European Union portal

The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, commonly informally referred to as the Benn Act, is an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that required the Prime Minister of the UK to seek an extension to the Brexit withdrawal date— then scheduled for 31 October 2019—in certain circumstances. The main provisions of the Act were triggered if the House of Commons did not give its consent to either a withdrawal agreement or leaving without a deal by 19 October 2019. The Act proposed a new withdrawal date of 31 January 2020, which the Prime Minister was obliged to accept if the proposal was accepted by the European Council.

The Act also contained provisions that detail the course of action if an alternative date were proposed by the European Council, require regular reports on the progress of any negotiations between the EU and the UK, and set out the format of the letter the Prime Minister was required to send to the President of the European Council should he be required to seek an extension. It also removed the discretion of the Prime Minister not to amend exit day in response to an extension. The Act was given Royal Assent on 9 September 2019 and commenced the same day.

The bill was proposed by opposition and backbench MPs after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. It was passed after they took control of the parliamentary agenda in the run-up to the controversial—and later ruled void—prorogation of Parliament. The Government fiercely opposed the bill, and Boris Johnson repeatedly referred to the Act as the "Surrender Act". The Government had been suspected of examining options on how to nullify the Act's effect. On 19 October, Johnson sent the letter to the president of the European Council Donald Tusk requesting an extension to the Brexit withdrawal date per the Act.[1] This was formally approved on 28 October.[2] On 30 October 2019, the day named as "exit day" in UK legislation was accordingly changed to 31 January 2020 at 11.00 p.m.[3]

Background

In June 2016, the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union by a margin of 52% to 48%.[4] Nine months later, on 29 March 2017, the Government, by then led by Theresa May, invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union,[5] after Parliament voted to approve the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 by a vote of 498 to 114.[6] After a General Election in June 2017, May's Conservative Party lost their majority, but were supported by the Democratic Unionist Party to enact their legislative agenda.[7]

The Brexit withdrawal agreement was published in November 2018,[8] and was rejected three times by Parliament in early 2019.[9] Facing the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal, Parliament voted to also reject a "no deal" scenario and to request an extension to the Article 50 process with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019.[10][11] The Government and the European Council subsequently agreed to delay Brexit, until 12 April 2019 in the first instance, and then to 31 October 2019.[12]

Due to opposition from her own party to her handling of Brexit, May resigned as Leader of the Conservative Party on 7 June 2019 and Prime Minister on 24 July 2019.[13] She was succeeded after the following leadership election as leader and Prime Minister by Boris Johnson, who pledged, "do or die", to withdraw the UK from the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal.[14]

On 28 August 2019, Johnson advised Queen Elizabeth II to prorogue Parliament from the second week of September 2019 until 14 October 2019, days before a scheduled summit of the European Council on 17 October.[15] The prorogation reduced the amount of time that was available to Parliament to scrutinise Government business, and was criticised outwith the government as a tactic to force a "no deal" Brexit without the consent of Parliament: in particular the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow called prorogation in the circumstances a "constitutional outrage"; and protestors at an impromptu demonstration saw the government as effecting a coup d'état or self-coup.[15]

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