A meaningless vote?
By Jacob Millen-Bamford
This week began with the Prime Minister responding to the five new demands of Jeremy Corbyn in his open letter to her last week. In her response (found here), May rejected Corbyn’s customs union demand but not without spooking her Brexiteer rebels first with her vague language. May did make warm tones on workers’ rights and environmental protections however these are likely little reassurance to the Opposition as these warm tones currently lack any legal backing.
This week May made a statement to the House on Tuesday 12th February, which was debated alongside a motion on the 14th Feb. Key takeaways from this statement include;
Nothing has changed. The EU is not backing down on the backstop in Northern Ireland
The Prime Minister and President Junker will meet before the end of February
Warm words on rights and protections ‘we have a shared determination across the House not to allow the UK’s leaving the EU to mean any lowering of standards in relation to workers’ rights, environmental protections, or health and safety’.
The Prime Minister is trying to reach out ‘beyond this House’ to engage with business, trade unions, and civil society. May told the House she had met with civil society and business leaders in Belfast to discuss the uncertainty felt in the community.
While May rejects a customs union, her statement is attempting to appeal to some on the Opposition benches with promises on ‘protecting and enhancing’ workers’ rights and environmental protections. How effective this method remains to be seen as it the fundamentals of the deal still remain unchanged.
The final and key takeaway from the statement is further can
kicking of the next meaningful vote. The Prime Minister brought a motion to reaffirm what the House decided on the 29th January (Alternative Arrangements to the Backstop and the House rejects a No Deal) and support the Government in their continued renegotiation.
A meaningless vote?
In a symbolic vote, the Commons voted 303 to 258 to reject last night’s motion on Theresa May’s next Brexit steps.
That motion set out that “That this House welcomes the Prime Minister’s statement of 12 February 2019; reiterates its support for the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January 2019 and notes that discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing”.
Amendments to the motion included
Jeremy Corbyn (demanding a meaningful vote by 27th February):Rejected by 306 to 322
Ian Blackford (demand the Government requests an Article 50 extension):Rejected 315-93
Anna Soubry (require the Government to publish latest information given to the Cabinet about the impact of a No Deal Brexit): Withdrawn
Defeats now seem to be so commonplace that Theresa May was not even there to witness it. May does not appear to think that this non-binding defeat matters, with her office, even stating that her plans remain unchanged. But, as Bloomberg reports, one senior member of May’s team privately admitted that the PM probably has two weeks to save her deal before the Commons takes control of the process.
The parliamentary progress of current Brexit Bills:
The Institute for Government continues to have their excellent bills tracker here.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill
Status: Pushed back again by the Prime Minister. White Paper published here.
May’s statement this week pushed the introduction of this Bill further down the line. May promised to bring the Bill back after further talks with the EU. The continued postponing means that the chances decreases of proper scrutiny of a piece legislation that will carry signifcant constitutional weight. We wrote about the need for publishing the Bill in draft, or at least in part, as soon as possible last week.
The Trade Bill
Status: Report stage in the House of Lords. Bill and all accompanying documents here.
As a member of the EU we currently have access to 40 preferential trade agreements covering 71 countries. The UK has to roll over these deals regardless of if it agrees on a Brexit deal with the EU. This Bill would roll these over. However, this week it was revealed that the Government has only managed to secure deals with seven countries so far. This leaves many major UK trading partners still to sign deals with.
The Bill itself follows the tradition of the Brexit Bills and contains wide powers that ministers can use to undermine rights with little oversight. The Equality and Diversity Forum briefing explains this issue here. Also, see briefing from the Equality and Human Rights Commission here.
The Draft Environmental (Principles and Governance) Bill
Status: Still yet to start its journey through Parliament, draft Bill available here.
This Bills primary aim is to make sure that environmental protections in the UK are not weakened as a result of leaving the EU. It would also establish a watchdog to hold the Government to account on environmental standards and regulations. Read the blog from Greener Alliance on how the Environmental Bill has strong ambitions but there is still a lot to do to get the bill up to scratch.
The Immigration Bill
Status: Committee Stage in House of Commons. Bill documents availablehere.
This week the Immigration Bill had its first committee sitting. You can read the Hansard here. Organisations giving witness included; Migration Watch UK, Universities UK, TUC, Royal College of Nursing, and Liberty. A Bill to keep an eye on as this ends the free movement of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals giving the Government control over EEA citizens and their families migration status. It was the Immigration White Paper that introduced the idea of skilled workers requiring an income of £30,000. An idea which is now under review after backlash from parliamentarians, and organisations across the country.
This Bill also contains Henry VIII powers to modify primary of secondary legislation to ministers. This will be in combination with existing powers to change the Immigration Rules through secondary legislation. Officials at the Home Office will be able to be granted greater powers to change immigration law with minimal oversight from politicians.
The Agriculture Bill
Status: Currently at Report Stage in the House of Commons. Bill documentshere.
The Bill aims to establish a new system for payments to farmers and landowners after the UK leaves the EU Commons Agriculture Policy (‘CAP’). You can find this great explainer on our website here. Written by Vicki Hird, Campaign Coordinator at Sustain, it explores how the Bill both delivers and fails on areas such as protecting livelihoods, the environment, health and nature.
Status: At Report Stage in the House of Commons. Bill documents here.
This Bill aims to create a domestic fisheries policy governing British fishing grounds, licensing of fishing boats, and grants connected to fishing and marine conservation.
Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill
Status: Committee Stage in the House of Lords. Bill documents here.
Committee stage line by line examination of the bill is currently scheduled to start on the 19th February next week. This Bill aims to allow the UK to maintain reciprocal healthcare arrangements with EU countries and strike new ones with countries outside the EU.
Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill
Status: Up for Committee Stage in the House of Commons but no date set yet. Bill and accompanying documents available here.
This Bill is only needed in the event of no deal. It would give the government power to implement and amend EU financial services regulations that have been agreed or are in negotiation and due to be implemented within two years of Brexit.
Next week in Parliament: Time is marching on
Recess is cancelled! February recess was due to take place for a week on Monday 18th, however thanks to the ever-increasing time pressure and the large volume of yet to be completed work the Government decided to cancel recess and put the Commons to work. This extra time in the Commons is assigned to be used to approve a range of SIs.
Hansard Society has a very useful tool tracking the progress of the Governments SIs which can be found here. Baroness Smith of Basildon warned in January in the Times (found here) of the dangers facing Parliament. The sheer volume of SIs is concerning as Parliament cannot properly scrutinise them in such a short time span. One example from Baroness Smith is a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy SI which is 636 pages long and weighs 2.54kgs. As a single document that is a time-consuming task to scrutinise.
Recommended reading & listening
The issues surrounding the Android-only Settled Status app currently being used by the Home Office. You can read it here.
Hansard Society: Can the government get all its Brexit Statutory Instruments through Parliament by exit day on 29 March? Read it here.
Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit latest podcast- find it here.
Automated data checks in the EU settlement Scheme- find ithere.