For the past two weeks I have been working closely with Dominic Grieve QC MP and other colleagues to try to reach an agreement with the Government to secure a meaningful vote in the event of no deal.
Many constituents have asked me to vote against the Government on this issue and I was fully prepared and expecting to do so until the Government finally conceded that a motion in the event of no deal would be amendable and therefore meaningful. This was the final point of disagreement between some of my colleagues and the Government. Furthermore, the Government clarified there would be no constraints on the ability of Parliament to act in any way it feels necessary in this event.
The constant back and forth with negotiations and concessions over Parliamentary procedure has not been easy to follow, so I wanted to try my best to explain it.
At one point the Government were offering no legal mechanism in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill for Parliament to vote on the Brexit deal, or on no deal. Following numerous concessions, the position is as follows:
- Parliament must approve the Withdrawal Agreement and framework for future relationship to allow the Government to ratify it. This motion is amendable.
- If this is rejected a Minister must make a statement within 21 days on how the Government will proceed. The House of Commons will be asked to vote on whether it has considered this statement, and the Speaker or the House of Commons can allow this motion to be amended.
- If before the 21st January 2019 the Prime Minister makes a statement that there has been no agreement with the EU, there must be a statement within 14 days of this on how the Government proposes to proceed. The House of Commons will be asked to vote on whether it has considered this statement, and the Speaker or the House of Commons can allow this motion to be amended.
- If after 21st January 2019 there is no agreement in principle with the EU, there must be a statement within 5 days of this on how the Government proposes to proceed. The House of Commons will be asked to vote on whether it has considered this statement, and the Speaker or the House of Commons can allow this motion to be amended.
In my view this creates a framework within which Parliament can effectively scrutinise the Government throughout the Brexit process and in any eventuality.
The key debate between the Government’s amendments and the so called “Grieve II” amendment was whether the motions in the no deal scenarios would be amendable. I had made clear that these must be amendable so the House of Commons can express its opinion.
The Government has agreed they cannot use legislation to make a motion automatically unamendable and such matters are for the Speaker or the House of Commons to decide. If the Government were to table what it considered to be a motion in “neutral terms” in an attempt to make it unamendable two things could happen. It would either be for the Speaker to decide using his sole discretion whether it is amendable, or simply for the House of Commons to choose to disapply Standing Order 24b and ensure it is amendable. So a meaningful vote on an amendable motion has been secured.
The Government also recognised that the House of Commons remains free to table any other motions that it sees fit and that “parliamentary time will be provided for this”. The reality is the House of Commons has the power to exert itself in the event of no deal. Dominic Grieve QC MP made this point very powerfully in his speech, which I would encourage you to read.
Much has been achieved in respect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill over the last couple of weeks. The Government has made concessions on EU agencies, refugees rights, the Good Friday Agreement, customs, and environmental standards. Parliament will vote to approve a final deal, Parliament will vote on amendable motions in the event of no deal, and Parliament is free to use all the other tools at its disposal to hold the Government to account.
It is now time now to move on to discuss our future relationship, such as a Customs Union and EFTA, and I remain a signatory to these amendments to the Trade Bill.
Finally, I am concerned about the way this debate about Parliamentary procedure has been blown out of all proportion. Some claim that by working with likeminded colleagues to secure a right for MPs to decide what sort of Brexit we have is in some way treacherous, others wish me to vote against the Government just for the sake of it even if everything we campaigned for has been achieved. We need to move on, it is not about remainers or leavers winning, it is about working together to secure the best outcome for the country and for my constituents.
This is by no means a simple topic and having read this you may have even more questions or comments. If you are a constituent I am always happy to answer these, and you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
PS – do see below for my view on the other two day’s debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill this month: