Government Loses for Second Time on Brexit Bill
The House of Lords voted an amendment initiated by Labour to give parliament the vote to veto the government’s final Brexit negotiations.
Arguments for and against the Government
Theresa May’s government said that they would try to overturn the amendment, arguing that it would compromise the PM’s negotiating plans. Brexit minister David Davis also confirmed that both amendments, the earlier one passed by the House of Lords to guarantee the rights of EU citizens, and the one voted on Tuesday to give parliament the right to veto the government’s EU negotiations’ result, will be thrown out. He said: “It is disappointing that the House of Lords has chosen to make further changes to a bill that the Commons passed without amendment. It has a straightforward purpose – to enact the referendum result and allow the government to get on with negotiating a new partnership with the EU. It is clear that some in the Lords would seek to frustrate that process, and it is the government’s intention to ensure that does not happen. We will now aim to overturn these amendments in the House of Commons.”
The Conservative peer Nigel Lawson said the amendment for parliamentary vote, no matter what the negotiations’ result is, would be an “unconscionable rejection of the referendum result, which would drive a far greater wedge between the political class and the British people than the dangerous gulf that already exists.”
But many MPs, including Conservative ones, are supporting the peers’ decision because they don’t feel it’s appropriate for May to offer just a “take it or leave it” vote on the final deal she strikes with Brussels. For many of them, the issue is with what happens if the UK doesn’t get a deal with Brussels. MPs are arguing now that it’s highly important for parliament to have an option to “decide on the way forward if there is no deal”, Tory MP Neil Carmichael said.
But, for many Brexit politicians, this would be terrible because if EU countries know that parliament can stop the government’s Brexit plans to leave the EU without a deal, then it would be wish fulfilment: countries would simply offer the UK a bad deal. And, as we know from our American friends, no one likes bad deals.
World Trade Organisation option
Many MPs are worried that leaving the EU without any deal in place, will sacrifice the UK’s trading choices since failing to reach a trade deal with the EU would mean that the UK would regress to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) option. This would mean that the UK would be trading under the rules of the WTO and even achieving this would be a tortuous process. While the UK is a member of the WTO, when it finally leaves the EU, it would have to have its own “schedules”—a list of tariffs that would also apply to other countries—and modifying this would demand lengthy negotiations. But, even retaining the EU’s common external tariff would be embarrassing for the UK post-Brexit. It would also mean extra tariff charges every time a cross-border trade takes place. The WTO, as The Economist argued, might seem “like an easy way out for post-Brexit Britain, but that road is in reality covered with bumps.”
Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour MPs say: Parliament needs to have a say
In a movement that reminded a classic Donald Trump reaction, May’s government decided to fire one of their own after they had voiced their disagreement. One of the rebel MPs, the former deputy prime minister, Michael Heseltine, was sacked last night from his job as government adviser, after he had expressed his view that “parliament is the ultimate custodian of our national sovereignty.” He also said that passing the amendment for parliament to have power in the final Brexit decisions was essential, since parliament “has the critical role in determining the future that we will bequeath to generations of young people.”
Indeed, it seems that the rebel MPs are right. No one wants to upset Theresa May or spoil her image, but the purpose of the amendment is simply to guarantee the final outcome, whether there is a deal or no deal. That parliament should have the final say for the country’s future is perhaps a logical argument and would deter the possibility of accepting a bad deal.
The future of the bill now rests upon the hands of MPs at the House of Commons, where the changes will be debated and possibly overturned. Behind the curtains, the Brexit minister David Davis was promising to some MPs that there would be a vote on the final deal, but this can’t be whispered among politicians in dark corridors; it needs to be publicly guaranteed. The Lib Dem and former deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, called MPs of all parties “to stop parliament being neutered.”
In a never-ending ping-pong game, the bill might end up at the House of Lords again, if MPs discard both amendments on Monday. But the Lords have said that the Commons would only be allowed to send it back one more time. After the rules are set out and everybody agrees, everyone would have to move on and allow May to play the game. There’s no going back now. Deal or no deal.