It was ten years ago today that the Lisbon Treaty was signed – and the way in which both the then British Government and the EU elite rode roughshod over the concerns of rank-and-file citizens to steamroller it through arguably helped lead to the Brexit vote. That was the argument made by Tory MP Mark Francois in this piece for BrexitCentral last year, which is well worth reading again on this anniversary.
But back to the present day and yesterday saw another eight hours of House of Commons debate in Committee on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and again the Bill emerged unscathed after five divisions on a range of amendments:
- Labour’s New Clause 63, which would have required the government to establish new arrangements for environmental standards post-Brexit: Defeated by 315 to 293 (majority: 22)
- Amendment 49 – tabled by Labour backbenchers with the support of several Conservatives and a Lib Dem – which would have introduced a “necessity test” for delegated powersincluded in the Bill to ensure they could be used “only so far as necessary”: Defeated by 312 votes to 295 (majority: 17). Three Tory MPs voted against the Government: Ken Clarke, Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry.
- Amendment 124 – tabled by the Lib Dems with the support of the Green MP, the SNP and some Labour backbenchers – which would have prevented regulation-making powers being used to create barriers to the UK staying in the EU’s Single Market: Defeated by 315 votes to 93 (majority: 222). 44 Labour MPs defied instructions to abstain in order to back the amendment, with Tories Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry joining them to vote against the Government, while Labour MP Kate Hoey voted with the Government, as did Independent MP, Kelvin Hopkins.
- Amendment 158 – tabled by Labour backbenchers along with Lib Dems, the SNP and the Green MP – which would have prevented ministers using the new powers in the Bill to amend the Scotland Act 1998 or the Government of Wales Act 2006: Defeated by 315 votes to 291 (majority: 24)
- Labour’s Amendment 25, which would have prevented the government using delegated powers under the legislation to ‘reduce rights or protections’: Defeated by 314 votes to 292 (majority: 22). Ken Clarke was the sole Tory MP to vote against the Government.
The debate yesterday focused on the extent to which the Government could ask Parliament to delegate legislative power to change the statute book so that retained EU law functions effectively after Brexit. Brexit minister, Steve Baker, insisted that the Bill was not an attempt to create “a power for ministers to change law simply because they don’t like it”, but rather to take the “minimum powers necessary” to “deliver a working statute book on exit day”. He said that any major policy change would still come through primary legislation.
Today sees the seventh of eight days of the Bill’s Committee Stage and what is, by all accounts, the highest chance yet of a defeat for the Government as former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, pursues his amendment to make any final Brexit deal subject to a “truly meaningful vote”.
Yesterday Grieve appeared set on pushing his Amendment 7 to a division, when he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: “I think there are quite a few who may support me – I think enough, if this comes to a vote, to defeat the Government,” although he denied he was seeking to prevent Brexit happening. In the last hour or so, he repeated that claim when I appeared alongside him and Anna Soubry on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, although I rather struggled to get a word in edgeways – if we can grab a clip of it later, we’ll post it on our YouTube channel.
As I reported here yesterday, ministers say Grieve’s amendment is unnecessary as there are numerous ways in which the Government will be giving Parliament the chance to vote on the final deal. Indeed, Brexit Secretary, David Davis, has just published a written ministerial statement setting out in terms all the different ways in which Parliament will be given votes on the final deal, which is worth quoting at length:
The Government has committed to hold a vote on the final deal in Parliament as soon as possible after the negotiations have concluded. This vote will take the form of a resolution in both Houses of Parliament and will cover both the Withdrawal Agreement and the terms for our future relationship. The Government will not implement any parts of the Withdrawal Agreement – for example by using Clause 9 of the European Union (Withdrawal) bill – until after this vote has taken place.
In addition to this vote, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRAG) normally requires the Government to place a copy of any treaty subject to ratification before both Houses of Parliament for a period of at least 21 sitting days, after which the treaty may be ratified unless there is a resolution against this. If the House of Commons resolves against ratification the Government can lay a statement explaining why it considers the treaty should still be ratified and there is then a further 21 sitting days during which the House of Commons may decide whether to resolve again against ratification. The Government is only able to ratify the agreement if the House of Commons does not resolve against the agreement.
If Parliament supports the resolution to proceed with the Withdrawal Agreement and the terms for our future relationship, the Government will bring forward a Withdrawal Agreement & Implementation Bill to give the Withdrawal Agreement domestic legal effect. The Bill will implement the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement in UK law as well as providing a further opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny.
You can read the statement in full here. Given those reassurances in black and white from the Government, when you look over the list of Tory MPs signed up to the Grieve amendment, the fact they they were all staunch Remain campaigners during the referendum makes it hard not to conclude that their efforts are in some way designed todelay or scupper the process of putting the referendum result into effect rather than fulfilling a high-minded desire to provide further opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny.
Do keep an eye on our Twitter feedthroughout the day for the latest on the debate as it happens and the results of tonight’s votes.
This morning MEPs will also be debating the Brexit negotiations, while European Council President, Donald Tusk, has now issued a formal messageto the national leaders who will be attending the summit tomorrow and Friday, in which he repeats the message that he is prepared for them to agree on Friday morning to move the Brexit talks onto the next phase:
I think we have a satisfactory result on most issues. For that reason, and based on the recommendation by our chief negotiator, I have tabled guidelines which will signal, if you agree, that we are ready to move to the second phase, which will expand discussions to cover transition and the framework for the future relationship. The conclusion of the first phase of negotiations is moderate progress, since we only have ten months left to determine the transition period and our future relations with the UK. This will be a furious race against time, where again our unity will be key. And the experience so far has shown that unity is a sine qua non of an orderly Brexit. Our meeting should end before lunch.
On the site today, author Martin Parsons emphasises the need for the Government to decide as soon as possible the kind of constitutional relationship it wants the UK to have with the EU after Brexit. Making a comparison with countries which were formally part of the British Empire, he asks whether we want to enjoy the status of a dominion or full independence. Click here to read it.
Aside from the EU Withdrawal Bill, Westminster watchers will be focusing on the House of Commons at midday when Theresa May takes here usual session of Prime Minister’s Questions. And before then, at about 10.15am, you can catch me reviewing the opinion pages of today’s papers with the Telegraph’s Laura Hughes for Adam Boulton on his All Out Politics show on Sky News.