No matter how you voted in 2016 almost everyone can agree that the Government has handled the Brexit process appallingly. The reputation of the UK is dissipating, with this week being just the latest example of a Government that has lost the confidence of both parliament and their own MPs.
The Prime Minister promised a sequence of parliamentary votes this week that would start with another “Meaningful Vote” on her deal. If that was lost Parliament would be asked if it wanted to rule out leaving the EU with “no deal”. If that was agreed by Parliament then the following day a proposition would be put to extend the Article 50 deadline beyond the current 29 March.
On Tuesday the Prime Minister brought her Withdrawal Agreement before the House of Commons, in the second so called meaningful vote. The first meaningful vote was lost by a historic 230. As you will be aware she and the Attorney General had spent the period of time since she lost the first meaningful vote, “re-negotiating” the Irish backstop provision.
Of course, the changes secured by the Prime Minister were insufficient to bring Eurosceptics in her own party on board. Her own Attorney General released legal advice which stated that in his opinion the “legal risk remains unchanged” and there is no possibility of the UK leaving the backstop unilaterally. Although he did say that the political risk had reduced. I draw your attention, in particular, to Section 19 of the legal advice that you can view here. There was never really any possibility of the EU allowing the UK to leave the backstop unilaterally, as to do so would mean it would cease to be a backstop and expose the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to huge risk.
The Prime Minister lost the vote 391-242, a majority of 149. I voted against the deal again because this is not really a deal, would leave all the big questions unanswered, and any form of Brexit will damage the economy, cost jobs and reduce the rights of constituents in Edinburgh South.
As promised the Prime Minister then tabled a motion to rule out no deal. Aware that she could not control her party she said this would be a free vote and she was inclined to vote for the motion – ruling out no deal.
The speaker then chose two amendments. One from the right wing Conservative ERG faction, known as the Malthouse Compromise, which suggested that we could leave without a deal but pay to access the Single Market until we can negotiate a deal. This has been rejected time and time again by the EU as an unserious proposal and is only really a device for trying to unite the Conservative Party. Despite that, it crashed to defeat by 374 votes to 164 and managed to get only around half the support of the Conservative Party.
I VOTED AGAINST THIS AMENDMENT
The second amendment was the amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper (Lab) and Caroline Spelman (Con) which went further than the Government’s above motion by ruling out no deal forever. The Government then indicated to Caroline Spelman that they would whip against this amendment despite previous reassurances it would be a free vote. Spelman tried to withdraw the amendment under pressure from her whips but my colleague Yvette Cooper moved the amendment and it won by 312 votes to 308 with the Prime Minister voting against her own amended motion.
I VOTED FOR THE AMENDMENT
The Prime Minister, despite stating to the Leader of the Opposition that day at PMQs that she was going to vote for the motion in her name, then instructed her MPs to vote against her motion to take no deal off the table. However, despite demanding her party vote against a no deal, four members of her cabinet defied the whip and abstained against the motion. The amended motion passed 321 to 278. Those Cabinet members did not resign as is customary.
This in theory means no deal should be taken off the table indefinitely. However the Government need to amend the Withdrawal Act 2018 in order to give this legal force and ultimately, the only way to take no deal of the table is a revocation of Article 50 or a deal. The process to amend the legislation has not been brought forward.
Yesterday the Prime Minister brought a motion before the House which pledged the Government to seek a short extension to Article 50 (till 30th June) if no deal is reached by the 20th March. The last part of this amendment paves the way for the Prime Minister bringing her deal back for meaningful vote number 3. Members of the public will be confused that the Prime Minister seems to want to bring her deal before the House of Commons, time and time again but will not let the people have their say but as I have indicated all along, the PM will keep forcing her deal until the clock is at the 11th hour and then blackmail MPs to vote for her deal. We expect meaningful vote 3 on Monday or Tuesday of next week.
There were several amendments to this motion which I will summarise below:
Amendment h – tabled by the Independent Group for a People’s Vote. I voted for this amendment. The amendment was defeated 85 to 334.
There was much debate about the timing of this amendment, with many including the People’s Vote Campaign, saying that this was not the right time to table the amendment and it should only be tabled when it has the maximum chance of winning. I am sympathetic to this argument but ultimately, we are leaving the EU on 29th March (unless the EU agree to an extension) and I am worried there will be few opportunities left. You can view the letter colleagues wrote about their decision to abstain here.
Amendment i –tabled by Hilary Benn (Lab) which would allow parliament to take over the business of the House and hold indicative votes to find out what solutions parliament would find acceptable. I voted for this amendment. The amendment was defeated 312 to 314.
Amendment e – tabled by the Leader of the Opposition which removed the Prime Minister’s ability to bring her deal back before an extension. I voted for this amendment. This amendment was defeated 302 to 318.
The Prime Minister’s motion was then voted on un-amended and passed so in all likelihood we are heading towards another meaningful vote next week. I raised this with the Leader of the House. You can watch the video here. The strange thing was that the Prime Ministers motion to delay was only passed by Opposition MPs as the majority of the Conservative party voted against the extension of Article 50. The PM has lost all discipline in her party.
After the meaningful vote on Tuesday the Government released no deal tariff plans. The tariff programme actually increases the amount of goods (from all countries) subject to zero tariffs from 80% to 87%. There would be no tariffs on goods going from Northern Ireland to the Republic but tariffs would be applied to goods going from the EU to the rest of the UK. For example over 10% will be applied to all cars imported from the EU, if the EU reciprocate 10% will be applied to all goods exported from the UK to the EU, decimating car manufacturing in the UK. You can read about the tariffshere or if you are into spreadsheets, here.
These tariffs were greeting with dismay by the Chamber of British Industry (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn said: “What we are hearing is the biggest change in terms of trade this country has faced since the mid-19th century being imposed on this country with no consultation with business, no time to prepare.”
The motions that were passed this week mean that the Prime Minister will bring her terrible deal before parliament before Wednesday as a decision has to be made on that before the European Council meeting on 21 March. I will again vote against it as the “deal” hasn’t changed. The PM will lose this vote and will have to ask the EU for an extension of Article 50 but this will be complicated as the EU will only grant an extension for a purpose. That purpose would have to be a democratic process such as an election or another referendum. It can’t be a delay just for the sake of it. Now, the Prime Minister is correct to say that we need to know what Parliament wants rather than what it doesn’t want but, in order to achieve that, she needs to give Parliament the ability to express its view on other options.
I think, what is crucial, is that we use the time given by the extension from the EU for the purpose of taking this decision back to the people in an affirmation vote. That means that we would allow her deal to pass on the condition that it goes to the people with the option to remain. Whatever the result would automatically become law and that would be the settled position. It was a similar process used for the Good Friday Agreement affirmation in the north and south of Ireland.
You can read my recent Scotsman article making this argument here.