My update to constituents sent on 18th June 2018:
Following last week’s votes in the House of Commons on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill I thought I would provide an update. I also did a recap on Facebook Live which you can watch here.
If you have contacted me about the House of Lords amendment on the meaningful vote please accept this update as a response.
As you will be aware the House of Lord’s tabled fifteen amendments to the Government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill. I outlined the substance of these amendments in my last update, however, they contained revisions on: devolution, the EEA, the Customs Union and a meaningful vote on the final deal.
Of the 15 amendments which the House of Lords made to the Bill by defeating the Government, the Commons agreed to keep one (on future interaction with EU law and agencies), and to amend and keep another two (on Northern Ireland border arrangements and child refugees). The Commons rejected a further eight amendments and replaced the remaining five with new amendments of its own (including on devolution). The big amendments on the EEA, the Customs Union and the meaningful vote were all rejected by the Government. The “meaningful vote” amendment was rejected by the Commons after last minute government concessions.
Click here to watch my speech in favour of the EEA amendment.
However, debates on the Customs Union and the EEA will continue. The Government still has many Brexit bills, including the Trade Bill, to bring before Parliament. I will be working with colleagues across the House to make the case for both of these options.
NOTE: Many constituents have contacted me to ask why I didn’t support the Lords amendments as I voted “no”. The reason is that Lords Amendments are either accepted or rejected. The Government puts forward a motion to “reject the Lords amendments”. In order to support the Lords amendment you vote “no” to reject the amendment, therefore, accepting the Lords amendment. Many on social media have been attacking me for “supporting Brexit” but they have read the votes incorrectly. I supported all 15 Lords amendments that were put to the vote.
One of the most talked about amendments was the meaningful vote amendment, which was championed by the former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve MP QC. The amendment’s basic function was to allow Parliament to take control of the Brexit process in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This would allow Parliament to instruct the Prime Minister to go back to the negotiating table and accept Single Market and Customs Union membership, thus negate a disastrous no deal Brexit that many on the right-wing of the Conservative Party seem to relish.
The Government were so concerned they would lose the vote last week that they called in a number of ‘Conservative rebels’ in to see the Prime Minister. It was reported the Prime Minister conceded to the amendment and promised the rebels she would bring forward her own Government amendment to reflect the Grieve amendment.
The Government have since brought forward which is not in-keeping with the Grieve amendment and merely requires that Parliament’s opinion be sought – with no requirement on the Government to act. The Prime Minister’s word on this clearly counts for nothing.
The amendments on the Withdrawal Bill were passed back to the House of Lords. Last night the House of Lords voted by 354 to 235 in favour of another amendment on a meaningful vote. This will now be passed back to the House of Commons to vote on tomorrow. I will be voting for the meaningful vote amendment and hope that I am joined by the Conservative MPs who took the Prime Minister at her word last week.
For a more detailed account please see this House of Commons Library briefing.
There has also been huge interest in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and its impact on the devolution settlement. This relates specifically to powers within the scope of the Scottish Parliament that currently lie with the European Union but will be returned post-Brexit. The devolution settlement works on the basis that everything which is not reserved is devolved, therefore it is right that all these powers are returned to Holyrood. Schedule 5 of the 1998 Scotland Act is clear on this.
The Conservative Party’s initial proposal on this area looked to retain all of the 153 powers to the UK Government. This was unacceptable to me and to many Scottish Conservative MPs as it was not in keeping with the devolution settlement. The Government have been in negotiations with the Scottish and Welsh Government’s to agree upon changes to the legislation. A compromise was reached with the Welsh Government which meant that – out of the 153 powers in question – 24 would be subject to discussion between UK and devolved Government’s with the rest being completely devolved.
The 24 policy areas that are expected to require a UK legislative framework and where it is intended that existing EU rules and regulations will rollover into UK law for a temporary period, include:
- animal health and traceability
- food and feed safety and hygiene law
- food labelling
- chemical regulation
The Scottish Government rejected this and instead argued that all 153 powers should be completely devolved. The Scottish Parliament agreed and ‘consent’ for the EU (Withdrawal) Bill has been withheld (this is known as the Sewel convention). It has been reported that the Scottish Government Brexit secretary agreed the deal but was overruled by Nicola Sturgeon.
So, when the Bill came before the House of Commons last week the Labour Party abstained on the Government’s amendment. This is because, as explained above in terms of the process for Lords Amendments, if the amendment had been defeated – as voted for by the SNP – it would have reverted to the original amendment which everyone agreed was ‘deficient’. The issue is highly technical however, many SNP MPs have used Labour abstention to argue Labour are somehow undermining the devolution settlement. The opposite is the case; we implemented devolution and will always support it. The proposed compromise amendment by the Government was about 80% acceptable for the Labour Party and results in all but 24 powers transferring to the Scottish Parliament so we didn’t vote for it as it was not all that we wanted (and we had amendments in place to that effect) but if we had voted against and won all 153 powers would have stayed at Westminster. A reasoned abstention is a legitimate vote as demonstrated when the SNP abstained on the last Conservative budget as they approved of some of the provisions contained in it.
I was also on Good Morning Scotland last week to discuss the devolution issue. Click here to listen to my interview.
What happens next?
The Lords have supported a revised version of the meaningful vote amendment which will be put before MPs on Wednesday. I will be updating constituents after the vote and plan on doing a further Facebook Live on Friday afternoon to answer some of your questions.
Furthermore, there are many more Brexit related bills coming up where I and colleagues will be arguing for a continued membership of the Customs Union and the Single Market. These are the Customs Bill, Trade Bill, Immigration Bill and EU Implementation Bill.