Is the Commons about to destroy Brexit?
With Labour's position on the Brexit vote next week utterly shambolic, opportunistic, and incoherent, and the unelected (and corrupt) Lords lacking all legitimacy, it is up to members of parliament to show decency, respect democracy, and allow for the Brexit people voted for
The most important piece of legislation in a generation reaches a pivotal stage next week, as The EU (Withdrawal) Bill returns to our elected representatives in the House of Commons.
The Bill is fresh from 15 defeats over the Government by the Lords, and another farcical proposal by Labour on a ‘Single-Market deal’ to guarantee ‘full-access’ to the EU’s internal market (without any of the obligations that come with it).
The official Government position is to oppose every one of the amendments; however, this is highly unlikely in practice. In this article we detail what to expect from two very hectic days of voting next Tuesday and Wednesday.
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill is an integral piece of legislation to the Brexit process, and repeals the European Communities Act (which signed Britain into what was then the ‘European Economic Community’ – the ‘EEC’), and transposes existing EU law into national law.
The minority Conservative Government, propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party, has an incredibly slim working majority of only 14, with 12 known Tory Remain rebels to contend with. Consequently, the smallest of backbench rebellions could be devasting to the Brexit process.
The key votes to watch out for will be the ‘wrecking’ amendments. If passed, these amendments would entail: Britain attempting to sign up to a Customs Union; for Parliament to delay, frustrate, and ultimately reverse Brexit; and for continued membership of the European Economic Area (EEA).
Membership of anything constituting a Customs Union while being outside the EU is something which only Turkey suffers from. It would most likely mean being subject to the trade policy of Brussels without having any say on the matter. Very importantly for Brexiteers, and for the global opportunities awaiting us, Britain would be unable to sign free trade agreements with the rest of the world after Brexit in this scenario.
It is now established Labour policy (as far as a Labour Brexit policy can be ‘established’) to remain in a Customs Union, and this amendment is surely something to watch. The respite for Brexiteers is that the actual wording of the amendment is rather innocuous, only requiring the Government to report to MPs by October on the ‘steps taken’ to reach a Customs Union.
This means a Minister could report back to the Commons saying ‘we did our best…..’ (as provocative as that might be). However, this vote -- regardless of outcome -- will not be the end of the Customs Union issue, as it is likely to rear its ugly head again during debates over the Trade Bill (another important piece of Brexit legislation) later this month.
Continued membership of the EEA (also known as the ‘Norway option’) essentially means keeping the contentious free movement of people, supremacy of the European Court of Justice over our own courts, continued large payments for Single Market access, and a new status for the UK as ‘rule-takers’ from Brussels instead of ‘taking back control’.
The Labour party’s Brexit position is consistently inconsistent, although Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, has now stated the amendment on the EEA is too divisive to be official Labour policy. Sir Keir has, however, admitted his Party remains utterly conflicted over this, so we can expect a large number of votes from the Labour backbenches for this amendment.
The ‘meaningful vote’ amendment would mean Parliament could force the Government to re-negotiate with the EU, allowing Parliament to delay, frustrate, and ultimately reverse Brexit. This amendment would drastically weaken our hand, eliminating our capacity to walk away with our best bargaining tool of a threatened ‘No Deal’ – eradicating what’s left of the EU’s motive to offer fair terms. This will be an absolutely vital battleground, which Labour will be fighting desperately.
It is possible there are some amendments the Government will accept before the vote and back them to avoid embarrassment. One of these is on the so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’, which allows the Government to re-write some laws without consulting Parliament. Even ardent Brexiteer, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has stated the Government might lose this vote were they to contest it.
The Cabinet may also seek to make counter-offers to Parliament, known as ‘amendments in lieu’. These areas will be eagerly anticipated by Remainers looking for weaknesses in the Government’s position. Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has signalled his willingness to make such a counter-offer after the defeat by the Lords, which required existing “rights, powers and liabilities … that contribute to the protection and improvement of the environment” to be preserved.
Tuesday and Wednesday next week will be historic days in the process to Get Britain Out of the EU, with some defeats widely anticipated.
It is vital for Brexiteers that the ‘wrecking’ amendments are not carried by the House of Commons, otherwise it would turn the Prime Minister’s Brexit fudge into a fully-fledged fudge cake.
Joshua King is a Research Executive at grassroots, cross-party campaign Get Britain Out
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