Welcome to my 33rd EU Update. Parliament is currently in recess and there are no ongoing formal negotiations between the UK and the EU so this is a brief update with upcoming Edinburgh Brexit events for your diary should you be able to attend. I continue to receive thousands of pieces of correspondence with regards to Brexit and my team and I are answering them all as soon as we can.
PMs letter to EU
The Prime Minister is trying to renegotiate his predecessors Withdrawal Agreement by demanding the removal of the “backstop”. The backstop is the mechanism whereby the Northern Ireland would be kept in the EU legal framework should any future relationship with the EU not be concluded by the end of any transition period (there will only be a transition period if there is a deal) at December 2020. This is the deal he voted against twice but supported on the third occasions. The EU have said that they will not re-open the agreement and the backstop is their insurance policy. Given the way the PM has over-promised (I could use stronger language) and under delivered I think the backstop is essential to the EU to prevent a hard border between the North and South of Ireland. The EU has said in response that the PM hasn’t even provided any viable alternatives to the backstop, so the provisions have to remain in place. I don’t like to be overtly political in these updates as many who voted both remain and leave receive them, they are just to update on the situation, but I do want to add this as a statement of fact. The PM and his colleagues have consistently and enthusiastically pronounced that there is technology that will resolve this issue and it can be deployed. Every expert alongside the tax and customs authorities say there is no existing technology that could keep an open border between two different regulatory and customs zones without physical checks. If the PM was so confident in this mystery technology, then he would have no problem with the backstop as it wouldn’t ever be required.
Vote of No Confidence
There are a number of options available to try and prevent a no deal and for parliament to get control of this process. There is the option of a vote through an emergency motion to allow for backbench MPs to take control of parliamentary business and propose new legislation to change the Withdrawal Act, rule out a no deal, and extend the period.
Another option is to vote the government down. The rules around this are governed by the Fixed Term Parliament Act that was put in place to protect the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition. The way it works is as follows.
The Leader of the Opposition is the only person that can place a vote of no confidence in the government that is, by convention, required to be debated and voted on in the next parliamentary sitting day. Whilst any other party leader or MP can place such a motion it is not given this privilege so can simply be ignored.
If a vote of no confidence was successful the Queen would be notified and the Leader of the Opposition has 14 days to gain the confidence of the House of Commons (by winning a vote). If that vote was successful the government would change, a new PM installed, and no General Election. If the Leader of the Opposition can’t achieve that outcome then it is up to any elected MP to seek to gain the confidence of the House in that 14 day period. Jeremy Corbyn wrote to all opposition party leaders last week to say this is the course of action he was proposing, and would they support it (if they want to prevent a no deal and dispose of the current PM then they have no choice). The Lib Dems have said they won’t countenance this, so it makes it more difficult to achieve for two reasons. Firstly, the Lib Dems have 14 MPs and, secondly, without any realistic prospect of it being successful there will be fewer Conservative MP rebels to support it.
I agree with this course of action from the Leader of the Opposition as I think stopping a devastating no deal is in the national interest and party politics has to be put aside on a temporary basis at this time of national crisis. There are debates and arguments about the detail of the proposal, but we should all be supporting the principle. I would suggest that if we all want to stop no deal then everyone works together to support this proposal from Jeremy Corbyn but if he can’t gain the confidence of the House of Commons then he commits to supporting a candidate that may be able to do so. That may get Liberal Democrat support and give another option for preventing a no deal. It would be a temporary government for as long as is needed to resolve the Brexit issue then a General Election would be called and/or a public vote on any deal or no deal passed by Parliament with the option to remain.
The only other way to get a General Election outside the normal cycle is for the Government to call a vote on such a motion that requires 2/3rds of support from MPs (this is what happened to create the snap General Election in 2017).
I can assure you that my like-minded colleagues and I, from all parties and non, have been working through the summer to try develop the mechanisms to prevent the PM taking the UK out of the EU without a deal on 31 October. I personally want a final say confirmatory referendum, but the first staging post is to prevent this no deal cliff edge.
22nd August – People’s Vote Festival Rally
The event will take place at Meadow Compass (North Meadow Walk) at The Meadows, EH9 1ND, with a 4.30pm start. The event will last 1 hour, and I am delighted to be speaking and introducing my friend and colleague Jess Phillips MP. This is an event for the performers at the Edinburgh Festival to give their views on why we need a final say on any Brexit deal.
More information here.
27th August Facebook Live
Join me on Facebook live from 6pm where I will be attempting to explain some of the possible scenarios when Parliament resumes on 3rd September. There has been much speculation about votes of no confidence, the Fixed Term Parliament Act and a government of national unity. I will do my best to explain what to expect in what promises to be an action-packed week in the Commons. You will also be able to ask questions, comment and post ideas live during the event. I’ll unpack some of the detail in this update and give you the very latest.
21st September March to Remain
The European Movement in Scotland are holding a March to Remain. Marchers will assemble in West Parliament Square at 2pm before Marching to the Scottish Parliament. I am delighted to be joining a whole host of politicians and public figures from across the political spectrum to make the case for remain.
More information here.
You may also have heard about the legal case brought by me and others which looks to test whether the Prime Minister can suspend parliament to railroad through a no-deal Brexit. We’re asking the Court to declare that the Prime Minister can’t advise the Queen to prorogue parliament and stop it voting against no deal. If the Court agrees, then Boris Johnson will not be able to suspend the Commons for that purpose without parliament’s permission. The default position in law is that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October 2019 with or without a deal. If parliament isn’t sitting that date can’t be changed or challenged. A hearing to the Outer House of the Court of Session is scheduled for 6 September.
You can read more about the case in my article for Labour List here.
I will of course continue to keep you updated on Brexit when Parliament resumes on 3rd of September.