The UK is in the midst of a massive political crisis over Brexit that shows little sign of settling down.
Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement has now been defeated twice by thumping majorities of 230 votes (the biggest defeat in British political history) and most recently by 149 votes (the 4th largest ever House of Commons defeat). We expect the Withdrawal Agreement to return to the Commons this week for Meaningful Vote 3 if it is allowed by Speaker Bercow, who is using parliamentary conventions to ensure that MPs are not asked the same question again and again if the motion itself has not changed substantially.
MPs expect another Meaningful vote in the next few days and a procedural 'Statutory Instrument' vote, to formally change our EU exit date from the 29th March which however things go this week will be extended to either 12th April or if the deal is passed by MPs a longer extension until 22nd May.
There have been repeated calls for Theresa May if not to resign at least to set out her departure date from Number 10, in the hope that this will allow a decisive number of Tory rebels to come on side and back the deal. The Conservative Party's Confidence and Supply partners, the Democratic Unionist party, are also crucial to the parliamentary arithmetic of getting the deal passed, and yet they are not indicating their support for it. The Government is also hoping to increase the number of Labour MPs backing the PMs deal from the paltry three on 13th March vote, who along with four independent MPs, joined 235 Tories in the division lobby. The result of 'MV2' was 242 in favour to 391 against.
Today (Monday) the House of Commons will vote on a neutral motion on Brexit which various MPs are tabling amendments to. We will find out on Monday afternoon which amendments Speaker Bercow has selected, but it is likely that the House will move to consider other options. If MPs get to vote on a series of indicative votes to signal the way forward these are the likely options:
- PM's deal
- No deal
- 2nd referendum
- revoking Article 50
- Free Trade Agreement
- Customs Union
- Single Market
As someone who has observed UK politics for over 20 years we are in totally unprecedented times that is for sure, with domestic policy and legislation on the NHS and knife crime for example sadly receiving little or no attention.
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Brexit paralysis continues in the House of Commons and seems likely to continue for a further fortnight. Key votes in the Commons this week on Thursday are unlikely to yield a Valentine's Day defeat for Theresa May.
Both sides of the chamber are reluctantly giving the PM and her negotiating team another two weeks to continue talks in Brussels to resolve the deadlock over the Irish backstop and attempt to find a workable solution which is acceptable to both a majority of MPs in the House of Commons and to the European Union. Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable has definitely not given up hope of MPs voting to take back control of the process if the deadlock cannot be broken soon. "Wresting control of the parliamentary timetable from government and making time to legislate so that Britain does not leave the EU without an agreement can be done, and it must now be done".
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Having written early last week about the latest round of Brexit votes on the set of amendments tabled by senior MPs and Select Committee Chairs in the House of Commons and the all-important role of the Commons Speaker in selecting which amendments are debated and voted on, Speaker Bercow did not disappoint selecting seven amendments.
Following extensive debate leading up to 29th January five of the amendments were defeated including the Yvette Cooper amendment, which many people saw as a means of legislating to prevent a No-deal Brexit assuming no deal was approved by MPs by the end of February. Nonetheless this amendment was defeated as 14 Labour MPs broke their own party whip to oppose it and a further 8 abstained.
The two amendments which were passed included a non-binding motion tabled by Dame Caroline Spelman and Jack Dromey. 2 West Midlands MPs from the Conservatives and Labour, both keen to prevent a no-deal Brexit largely due to the impact it would have on the automotive sector in their region. Whilst non-binding, this does show that when subsequent votes come next week on 14th February, MPs will not endorse a no-deal exit.
The Graham Brady amendment which was also passed by MPs basically united Conservatives, the DUP and some key Labour rebels who are keen to not frustrate Brexit. The amendment set out that much of Theresa May's original deal would be approved assuming 'alternative arrangements' could be found to replace the Northern Ireland backstop. With 7 Labour MPs supporting this and a further 3 Independent MPs (formerly two Labour and former Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd) also backing it, it did highlight that if any sort of agreement could be found with the EU on the backstop, a deal could perhaps be approved by MPs, albeit narrowly, given that Labour MPs in Northern and Midlands Brexit voting seats are not willing to delay or frustrate Brexit in any way.
This is disappointing clearly for Liberal Democrats and supporters of either a soft Brexit or a second referendum. We await further developments in the next week to see if the EU will budge in any way to enable Theresa May to secure a majority in the House of Commons for an amended Withdrawal Agreement. Many MPs and commentators feel yet again the PM is merely kicking the can down the road as the clock ticks down ever closer to 29th March. Even if a deal was agreed by both the UK parliament and the EU 27 - which seems unlikely - then surely an extension to Article 50 would be required to pass all the necessary legislation.
In other news, after the campaigning efforts of so many female MPs like Harriet Harman, Tulip Siddiq and our own Jo Swinson to secure Proxy voting for MPs on Baby leave, this was finally approved by MPs on Monday 28th January and formally came into force the following day, with Tulip Siddiq voting by proxy following the birth of her son on 17th January.
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28 Jan 2019
The past week in Westminster has been dominated by discussion about the next crucial Brexit votes which will take place on Tuesday 29th January. Senior MPs from both sides of the House have tabled amendments to the Government motion. This puts incredible pressure on the Commons Speaker John Bercow who takes advice and ultimately decides which amendments should be debated and voted on and which should not.
Various amendments cover issues like removing the 'no deal' option, extending the Article 50 process or trying to resolve the Irish backstop situation. It remains to be seen if the DUP MPs are now back on side and ready to vote for Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement subject to achieving improvements to the backstop.
Lib Dem MP and Science and Technology Committee Chair Norman Lamb who represents Leave voting North Norfolk has written here about why he is a signatory of the Yvette Cooper amendment to seek an extension of Article 50 for a short period of a few months if parliament cannot agree a deal by the end of February.
Following her most recent Statement in the House of Commons on Monday 21st January to update MPs on next steps, Lib Dem leader Vince Cable asked Theresa May about reports that 3,500 military personnel are now on Brexit standby.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson MP was granted an Urgent Question in the Commons about proxy voting for MPs on baby leave, and why after repeated debate and discussion this has still not been introduced yet? It followed the story the previous week of a Labour MP (Tulip Siddiq) delayed her cesarean by two days to enable her to take part in votes, having rejected the informal 'pairing' system offered to absent or unwell MPs. Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom confirmed that a motion on proxy voting would now be debated and voted on by MPs on Monday 28th January. If passed it should be in place the following day and will apply to those MPs not in Westminster due to maternity or paternity leave.
In the House of Lords, Lib Dem Transport spokesperson Baroness Randerson asked a question calling for 'New regulations on the use of drones'. Other Lib Dem peers asked about Improving rail service reliability, Ensuring a sufficient supply of insulin when the UK leaves the EU and the situation in Venezuela. Lib Dem peers also led two debates on local government funding and on threats presented by climate change.
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This has been one of the most fraught and exciting parliamentary weeks many of us can remember. Not only was Theresa May's European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 defeated in the biggest Government defeat ever with 202 MPs in favour and 432 opposed, but the following day saw the first 'No Confidence in Her Majesty's Government' debate since 1993.
Despite the monumental defeat of Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement in the so-called 'Meaningful vote' her Government won the Confidence vote by 325 to 306.
Crucially her Confidence and Supply Agreement partners the DUP were onside for Wednesday's Commons vote. Without their 10 MPs supporting the Government, their leader Nigel Dodds pointed out the Government would have lost by one vote.
From a Liberal Democrat perspective several of our MPs contributed in the Withdrawal debate this week including Tim Farron and Ed Davey, Wera Hobhouse and Christine Jardine.
The party's 11 MPs all opposed the Withdrawal Act in the vote with former Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd voting with the Government. In the confidence motion all 11 MPs voted in favour of the No Confidence motion which Vince Cable was a signatory to along with other opposition party leaders. Stephen Lloyd also voted against the Government.
Former Energy Secretary, Lib Dem MP Ed Davey warned in the House of Commons of the risk to the UK nuclear energy sector after Japanese company Hitachi suspended the work on new nuclear power station at Wylfa in North Wales. Is this news Brexit related? Did Thersa May raise this issue when she met the Japanese PM last week? There is no real way of knowing but we have our suspicions.
Former Health Minister, the Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb was one of the sponsors of the Commons debate on Thursday afternoon on covering 'Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace'.
In the House of Lords as ever there were several insightful Lib Dem questions to ministers including those on:
- How long the longest serving person currently detained in an immigration removal centre has been held in detention,
- Reducing dental decay and gum disease in children,
- Increase in development rights following the government's consultation: 'Planning reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes',
- Supporting citizens of EU countries who have been resident in the UK since before the UK joined the European Economic Community and finally and perhaps most importantly:
- Legislation necessary to enable a further referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.