My EU update sent to constituents on 22nd October 2019.
Welcome to my latest EU Update. This update will cover Saturday’s special sitting of Parliament, the Government’s attempt to push a meaningful vote yesterday, and the Withdrawal Agreement Bill legislation and any associated amendments.
If you wish to read the previous 36 EU Updates please see my website: www.ianmurraymp.com/European-Union.
What happened on Saturday
In what was billed as ‘Super Saturday’, the Prime Minister called a special sitting of parliament to try to gain MPs support for his new Brexit agreement. Crucially this vote, would have purely been to satisfy the ‘meaningful vote’ requirement (secured in court by Gina Miller), and separate from the legislation which also requires to be passed.
Last Thursday the Government tried to ensure that the meaningful vote on Saturday would be non-amendable- meaning any vote would be a straight yes or no vote on the Government’s Brexit deal. This was defeated by the opposition parties, therefore enabling amendments to be tabled to the meaningful vote.
Following this development, former Conservative and current Independent MP, Oliver Letwin tabled an amendment designed to close a loop hole in the Benn Act. This is because the Government could have fulfilled the Benn Act by simply passing a meaningful vote on Saturday, meaning they would not be required to ask the EU for an extension. It would have then been possible for hardcore Brexiteers in the Conservative Party, who had just supported the deal in the meaningful vote, to vote against the required legislation in Parliament. This would have resulted in a no deal Brexit on 31st October – an outcome the Benn Act was designed to avoid.
The Letwin amendment means that the Government is required to pass all the legislation as well as any meaningful vote before the Benn Act can be satisfied. The amendment was passed by 322 votes to 306 and the subsequent amended meaningful vote motion was passed unopposed. He then immediately sent a request extension to the EU – something he has claimed over and over again he would never do. Of course, the media became obsessed by the fact he had simply sent an unsigned photocopy of the letter in the Benn Act and the supplementary letter saying, ‘I do not believe an extension is necessary’, however the fact remains: he asked for an extension and the EU are treating his request as such. The EU will now consider this on 28 October.
Monday’s attempt at Meaningful Vote MV5
Yesterday the Government attempted to table exactly the same motion they tabled on Saturday’s meaningful vote. The fact the Government pulled Saturday’s motion and there was no vote was irrelevant and the Speaker ruled yesterday’s attempt ‘out of order’. It is a basic parliamentary principle dating back to 1604 that a Government cannot bringing back the same motion that has already been disposed of in the same session.
The Government were then forced to publish its Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) which they published last night. The Bill is 100 pages of extremely dense legislation which binds the UK into an international treaty. It is therefore inexplicable that the Government should try to railroad this through the House of Commons in two days, and through the Lords by the beginning of next week. The Maastricht Treaty, a far less important piece of legislation took 40 days to be properly scrutinised and closer to home the Scotland Act 2016 had 8 full days on the floor of the House of Commons. Indeed, Raphael Hogarth, an associate at the impartial Institute for Government think-tank said: “It’s unusual, if not unprecedented, for a bill of this magnitude to be passed through parliament so quickly.” The legislative process requires oversight – that is the function of Parliament – and it is not acceptable that the Prime Minister is trying to railroad this through just so he can keep to an arbitrary date of October 31st.
Key points of the WAB we know so far:
- Maintains EU law in Britain throughout a standstill transition period which will last from Brexit Day until December 2020 — and possibly longer
- If no future relationship negotiated by December 2020 the UK could drop out with no deal. Parliament will have no say over this decision as PM required to apply for extension
- £39 billion divorce payments would be made straight away (during transition) and not as suggested by Brexiteers contingent on a ‘good trade deal’
- EU citizens’ rights will be protected with EU law safeguarding EU citizens’ rights for eight years after any transition. An independent monitoring authority will be set up to ensure Home Office is complying with its responsibilities.
- Legislated how Northern Ireland will remain under EU regulations and new customs arrangements. To do this the Bill gives Minister’s sweeping powers. Clause 21 states that a minister may make such regulations on Northern Ireland “as the Minister considers appropriate”
- It will require customs arrangements for good to and from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Rather incredibly for a piece of legislation this significant – which will affect us and our families for decades – the Government has not published any economic impact assessment. They want MPs to vote on a piece of legislation without telling us how it will impact the on the jobs and livelihoods of our constituents. It can only be assumed that the reason for this, is that this deal would do serious and irreversible damage to our economy. Indeed, I pressed the Brexit Secretary on this last night. You can watch the video here.
What happens next?
Firstly, the Government will this evening schedule a Second Reading vote, then if that passes a programme motion. The programme motion will dictate whether the absurdly short timetable is approved or not. I will of course vote against this and in favour of more scrutiny. If this fails the Government have indicated they will withdraw the WAB completely and vote and try to bring about an early election. However, should the Government succeed the House of Commons will hold Committee Stage and Third Reading over the next two days. During this process amendments can be tabled. Things are moving so quickly at the moment it is impossible to keep you fully updated on amendments, but my priorities are:
- Avoiding no-deal
- Securing a confirmatory referendum on the Prime Minister’s deal versus remain
- Softening Brexit with a customs union and alignment with the EU Single Market
It is vitally important that all MPs who have supported a People’s Vote previously vote for it if we are to have any chance of success. Yesterday the SNP tried to amend the Prime Minister’s meaningful vote to have a General Election without any public vote on the Brexit deal. This is putting narrow party interest above the interests of the country. I am working very hard with colleagues to keep the SNP MPs in the broad cross-party consensus on a People’s Vote but as I send this they are prioritising a General Election and that could lead, at this stage, to a no deal Brexit.
I will of course continue to keep you updated over the coming days.