This has been a significant week in politics. A lot has happened, a lot is still happening and about three showdowns are approaching. Interesting times; but this article is just going to deal with the first of those showdowns.
A Week of Amendments
This week saw the Government attempt to deal with the Lords amendments to the EU withdrawal bill – the bill that aims to give legal continuity to current EU regulations and so avoid complete administrative and legal chaos on Brexit Day. The Lords had a number of amendments – most very sensible but most unlikely to pass. Some did – and we’ll come back to those in later articles as they are going to have a significant impact – but all the noise this week was about the meaningful vote.
The Government has already promised MPs a vote to approve their eventual negotiated withdrawal deal with the EU, which sounds good and fair. However, the devil is always in the detail and here that is revealed by simply asking “Well, what happens if MPs reject it?”
The Government’s answer is that if MPs do that, we will crash out on 29th March 2019 with no deal, which – despite what some fantasists who clearly have no understanding of the implications – would be a disaster. Most MPs do know this, though, and so a vote under those conditions is no vote at all, which allows the Government to be confident it won’t be defeated.
Most opposition MPs – and a few Conservative rebels have rightly pointed out that this is just a touch dictatorial. Parliament is the place for debate and has the ultimate sovereign power (rule 101 of constitutional law in the UK); therefore it should have the final say. And if it doesn’t like the Government’s deal, it has every right to say so and then say what happens next. This is the meaningful vote. It has taken many forms; but that is what it is in essence – Parliament has the final say and the Government cannot force a hard no deal Brexit on us without gaining Parliament’s approval.
Opposition to the Meaningful Vote
Since Parliament having the final say is the foundation of a Parliamentary Democracy, it is amazing that anyone can be against this; but many are. Why?
The extreme Brexiters are against it because they want to crash out. They either don’t understand (most) or they don’t care about the consequences as it is a “price worth paying for our liberty”. (Remember that if your employer relocates to Europe or goes bust.) But that isn’t the main reason for this week’s shenanigans.
The Government is mostly populated by people who do know that crashing out would be a disaster; so why are they objecting to a meaningful vote? Control. That’s the simple answer. The Government wants to stay in control of everthing and has shown itself determined to avoid scrutiny at every stage. The cynical amongst us would say that’s because Brexit doesn’t stand up to scrutiny; but I fear it’s also quite common in recent governments of all parties – they don’t like being questioned.
If the Government can make the decision to crash out and inflict pain on the country, then it can tell MPs “Vote for our agreement, otherwise we’ll crash out and it’s your fault.” Then they could win a vote and claim parliamentary approval. Admittedly it’s the same level of approval as agreeing to someone taking your money when there is a gun to your head; but they’d claim it as freely given approval. And that’s what is driving their opposition – nothing else.
There is no majority in Parliament to crash out, so with a meaningful vote where Parliament takes control before a crash, the government loses its power to threaten and so it makes it much more likely that the Government could lose the vote. Which for a party so divided by this and so in fear of the hard right Brexiters, makes it an impossible situation.
The Government needs that threat to give it some control and to keep the Brexiters on board. Ultimately, this is all about the Government’s survival and sod all to do with what’s best for the county. So it won’t give in on this. Likewise the rebels are determined that Parliament has the final say; and there simply isn’t a compromise available – it’s one or the other.
What happened in the week?
On Tuesday, the government deflected a rebellion by promising the rebels it would talk about their concerns. They then did a deal which would have given Parliament the final say; and then, right at the end after the rebels had gone, they inserted a little clause that basically stripped Parliament of its right to decide. I won’t bore you with the details; but someone in Government basically pulled a fast one.
Upshot of this is that the meaningful vote amendment will be put back in by the Lords on Monday, and the Commons will vote on it afterwards – probably on Tuesday. And it will almost certainly pass. Why? Because the rebels have the numbers and now they’re pissed off. Their agreement was bought with a Prime Minister’s promise that has turned out to be worthless; and that will probably swell their numbers again – especially if people write to them telling them what they as constituents want.
What is the old saying “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” I would hope they wouldn’t be fooled twice.
Given how much abuse they have all been subjected to, though; how much slander and pressure just to exercise their democratic rights and stand up for the people that voted for them, I would encourage everyone to support them.
Tell them on social media that you appreciate what they are doing and to stay strong and resolved. And email your MP., whoever they are. Tell them what you think and that no one voted for a car-crash of a Brexit and, if that comes to pass, we need to discuss things with no-preconditions.
At the end of the day, that is all the meaningful vote is.
So what has the government achieved in all of this? Well, it’s probably bought itself a week before it suffers a defeat – it’s likely to happen on the 19th June instead of the 11th ;( so long as the public pressure keeps up). Sadly, the government has form on this. On all matters Brexit, it constantly kicks the can down the road, hoping against hope that something will save it. Ultimately, though, it hits a wall.
But other than that, the Government has achieved nothing. No, tell a lie – it has also demonstrated to the Tory rebels (and anyone else that was watching) that it will lie and swindle to get a short-term advantage. Or – if one is being charitable – that it is so divided that it cannot deliver on what it promises.
And to answer one of the Brexiter’s complains about the meaningful vote, if anything is destroying our government’s negotiating position – it isn’t Parliamentary sovereignty – it’s behaviour like this.