It’s MPs Turn To Stand Up For Fundamental Rights And Parliamentary Scrutiny



While not officially confirmed the word is that the EU Withdrawal Bill will return to the Commons on the week beginning June 11th. Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons, is expected to use her business statement next Thursday next week, to confirm the bill’s return the following week.

While the messages from the Government have been conflicting Leadsom kept repeating last Thursday that the bill would return to the Commons in “weeks, not months”. This will be a crucial test for the Commons and will show amongst other things, how much discipline and control the leaders of both of the major parties have. But these amendments have far reaching consequences for civil society- without them we risk a piece of legislation that not only undermine our fundamental rights but hands ministers breadth-taking powers without parliamentary scrutiny. 

Our recent briefing here explains in more detail those amendments that we are urging MPs to support - ones that effectively protect North-South cooperation, fundamental rights and environmental principles, limits delegated powers and promote parliamentary scrutiny.

There is in total of 15 amendments, more fully explained here. We are urging support for: 

1. Enhanced protection for certain areas of EU law, including employment rights, equality protections, health and safety entitlements, consumer standards and environmental standards (now Clause 4 of the bill) 

2. Keep the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Clause 6)

3. Keep the right to challenge domestic law if it fails to comply with EU general principles (Schedule 1, p.25) 

4. Powers handed to ministers to change ‘retained EU law’ can only be used when necessary (Clause 9 and 22) 

5. Continuation of North-South co-operation and the prevent of new border arrangements (Clause 13) 

6. Higher level of parliamentary scrutiny of regulations made under the EU Withdrawal Bill
(Schedule 7, subsection 3)

7. Protection of environmental principles, standards and governance (as this was passed at Third reading, it is not yet available on Parliament's website). 

8. Strengthen parliamentary scrutiny by allowing Parliament to decide what happens if they reject the negotiated deal with the EU (Clause 10) 

See track changes made during HoL Report Stage here

It's not all about the amendments. The continued inability to find a solution that protects the Good Friday agreement, prevents a hard border but also keeps both the DUP and Brexiteers happy continues to vex the Government. Last week the UK in a Changing Europe attempted to unpick some of this at a high level seminar on Brexit and the island of Ireland, their report which is well worth a read

This was a theme continued this week when Jane Thomas, the Repeal Bill Co-ordinator, spoke at the Human Rights Consortium in Belfast. But perhaps the most insightful observation of where we are, and where we are not, is to read Michael Barnier's speech in Lisbon on May 26th where he indicates how much work there is still left to do.

Parliamentary ping-pong (by Alexandra Runswick, director of Unlock Democracy) 

Parliamentary ping-pong is that stage of the bill where the Commons consider the changes made by the House of Lords. The Commons can  either agree to those changes, reject them or make alternative proposals. he bill will then ‘ping’ back to the Lords, who will consider what the Commons propose and send it back to the Commons which is the ‘pong’ part of the process. 
So what might happen?

The House of Commons could accept all the changes made in the House of Lords and the bill would move forward to Royal Assent. The Government have already made clear that they oppose the changes made in the Lords so this is not a likely outcome 

The House of Commons could simply reject all the amendments passed in the House of Lords. Peers could choose to pass the same amendments again and send the bill back to the House of Commons. In theory the House of Lords can keep passing the same amendments and sending the bill back to the House of Commons but in practice it is rare for the House of Lords to do this more than once. If the House of Lords does do this on some amendments expect the Government to start talking about the need to reform the House of Lords, reduce the numbers of Peers and review the powers of the second chamber.

The House of Commons could propose their own amendments or new wording of a House of Lords amendment.  This would lead to more  ‘ping pong’ between each House until both houses reach an agreement on the exact wording of the bill. 

In the case of the EU Withdrawal Bill, the House of Lords indicated during Report Stage that if MPs reject certain amendments on the Brexit deal itself,  they would not push MP think again on particularly contentious amendments (i.e. the Customs Union amendments, exit day and EEA). What will happen with the more technical amendments around parliamentary scrutiny is not entirely clear- but peers are well aware of the internal divisions in the Conservative party and may be able to attract support from the Tory, Remain backbenchers. 

Actions to take in the critical days ahead of ping-pong:

There are a wide range of ways your organisation (or your supporters or member organisations) can get involved and help spread the word about the importance of keeping these changes in the bill: 

  • Pressure your MP (or ask your supporter/member organisations to do so) to make sure they turn up and vote in favour of the above amendments

  • Tweet at MPs that have previously voiced concerns about the bill and encourage them to keep going (list to follow) 

  • Follow us on Twitter (@fixrepealbill), we’ll be watching the debates closely

  • Help spread the word though your own networks and social media platforms 

Here are some examples of what you can do on social media to rally supporters and MPs: 

“The @UKHouseofLords have spent hours scrutinising & improving the #EUWithdrawalBill, by limiting sweeping ministerial powers & defending our rights- it’s time for MPs to do the same” 

“The Govt planned to scrap some of our most basic rights after Brexit. This is no longer the case- thanks to @UKHouseofLords who voted to keep the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the #EUWithdrawalBill. Now it’s MPs turn to stand up for our rights by agreeing to keep the Charter”

“No public appetite for reducing environmental standards post-Brexit as polling from @IPPR shows. Luckily, the Lords has respected the will of the people & voted to protect environmental standards in the #EUWithdrawalBill. When the bill returns to the Commons, MPs must do the same”

“Remember those sweeping Henry VIII powers in the #EUWithdrawalBill? Thanks to @UKHouseofLords these powers can now be used only when necessary & parliament are now able to properly scrutinise regulations. To protect parliamentary sovereignty, we urge MPs to accept these changes”. 

Twitter handles for potential Tory rebels 

Ken Clarke                   @KenClarkeMP
Anna Soubry                @Anna_Subry 
Nicky Morgan               @NickyMorgan01
Jeremy Lefroy              @JeremyLefroy 
Antoinette Sandbach   @Sandbach
John Penrose              @JohnPenroseNews
George Freeman         @GeorgeFreemanMP
Huw Merriman             @HuwMerriman
Stephen Crabb             @SCrabbPembs
Robert Neill                  @neil_bob
Sarah Wollaston           @sarahwollaston
Paul Masterton             @PM4EastRen
Stephen Hammond      @S_Hammond 
Heidi Allen                    @heidiallen75 
Jonathan Djanogly        @JDjanogly
Tom Tugendhat             @TomTugendhat 
Justine Greening           @JustineGreening

Upcoming events

We’ve got two roundtable events coming up in June & July- the events will be an opportunity to  express thoughts and concerns about Brexit’s impact on fundamental rights and standards as well the wider implications for civil society.  

26th June, 13.00-16.00: Truro, Cornwall. Sign up here

12th July, 13.30-17.00: Newcastle. Sign up here