Today we reach the final stages of the legislative process on the crucial bill required for the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 and give the European Union two years notice of the fact that we will be leaving. The two amendments which have been made to the Bill by the House of Lords are scheduled to be voted on by the Commons and if they are overturned then the Bill goes back to the Lords to see if they will accept it as we originally sent it. This is often referred to as ‘ping-pong’ as Bills can pass backwards and forwards until one House gives way. As the democratically elected House – and in this case with the backing of the referendum result too – I doubt the Commons, in reality the government, will back down. It will be an interesting and momentous week.
Officially the main business in the Commons today is the third day of debate and the budget but I rather suspect the votes on the Brexit bill will receive somewhat more coverage.
Yesterday all the estimates were passed without a division. I attended a meeting of the Backbench Business Committee where we heard bids for debates on the proposed closure of some Jobcentre Plus offices, international trade and the situation in Turkey. All bids requested time in the main chamber but as at present the Committee has no unallocated time available in the chamber the best we could offer were shorter debates in the Westminster Hall debating chamber.
Today after Prime Minister questions the victor of the Copeland by-election will be introduced to the House of Commons, swear the oath of allegiance and take her seat on the green benches. My apologies for suggesting the by-election winners would both arrive on Monday. I was half right ( half wrong?) the winner of the Stoke-on-Trent central by-election took his seat but Trudy Harrison has waited until today. The main business in the House of Commons is the Bus Services Bill a Bill which has already been the Lords and more details of which can be found by clicking on the hyperlink. Talking of the Lords the focus of the media will inevitably be on their Lordships today as they seek to amend the Bill to authorise the triggering of Article 50. Whatever happens the government have made it absolutely clear they will ask the Commons to overturn any amendments.
It is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent today and unless a major problem intervenes I will be attending the special service in the Chapel which takes place at lunchtime.
We had no less than 17 votes in the House of Commons yesterday. Whilst I do not keep records I can not recall ever having had that many votes in a single day before. 7 of the votes were deferred divisions included 6 on Statutory Instruments which had been debated in Committee and one was on the Canada EU Trade agreement. the other ten were all votes on the Brexit Bill. The government defeated all the amendments which were put forward by the opponents to the Bill. Considering the government only has a majority of 12 the smallest majority last night was 39. On every single vote last night the government secured a vote higher than 325 ( ie half the total size of the House of Commons which is 650). On the crucial final vote on the Third Reading the majority was 372. The Bill now passes to the House of Lords. I hope they reflect on the fact that we have now had a referendum where a majority of voters voted to leave the EU by a margin of over one million votes and now after five long days of debate and dozens of votes the House of commons has approved the Bill to give Notice of our intention to leave the EU. It would be bizarre in the extreme if the House of Lords now tried to stand in the way of the will of the people and the will of the elected House of Commons.
Today sees the third and final day of the three days of debate set aside for the remaining stages of the Bill to trigger Article 50 of the treaty on the European Union. SO far the government has managed to defeat all the amendments which have been proposed to a vote and today sees further crucial votes. After the debate in Committee of the Whole House has concluded the Bill will have a final debate which is known as the Third Reading and then the Bill will pass to the House of Lords for consideration. Before the Commons starts on the Brexit Bill debate there will be the weekly session of questions to the Prime Minister.
In reality there was not much doubt that the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill would clear its first hurdle. We had three votes. The first was on the Scottish National Party’s amendment which would have killed the Bill. This was defeated by 336 votes to 100. Some Labour and Liberal Democrat MP’s voted with the SNP. The second was on whether to give the Bill a second reading ( what one might call the main vote ) this was passed by 498 to 114. So including the two tellers who incidentally unusually included the Government Chief Whip 500 MP’s voted for Brexit. Finally there was a vote to approve the timetable for next week. This was passed by 329 to 112. So the attention now turns to the hundreds of amendments which the opponents have tabled to try to change the Bill.
The critical Bill to give the government authority to exercise Article 50 and give notice we intend to leave the European Union was debated for the whole day yesterday. Many of Parliament’s biggest names took part in the first of two days of debate. There were dozens and dozens of backbenchers wishing to speak and a time limit of six minutes on speeches which had been imposed was reduced to just four minutes by Mr Speaker as the first day of debate entered its last lap. It was shortly before midnight when I was called. Having had several hours to ponder on what to say I thought when all was said and done it could be summed up in a few words. Ten to be precise:
The people have spoken. This House must now act accordingly.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Stephen Barclay.)
Today at 7pm if the debate runs its course the final votes on whether to give the Bill a Second reading will take place. The Speaker selected one amendment for debate and voting on, the one from the Scottish National Party (SNP). It is likely therefore that there will be at least two votes one on the SNP amendment and one on whether to give the Bill a Second Reading
Perhaps not surprisingly, since the referendum result last year the number one topic which has dominated debates in Parliament has been the effect of the result and what our future relationship with the European Union will be.However, all these debates have been general in nature, today we have the first day of debate on the Bill which will give the Prime Minister formal authority from Parliament to invoke Article 50 of the European Treaty and give notice that in two years we will be leaving the European Union. One might think that given the clear result of the referendum all MP’s would be voting to respect the wishes of the British people. Sadly not. Many MP’s it appears will be taking the view that they know better than the people. I can see why some who represent constituencies who voted overwhelmingly to remain may feel they should oppose the Bill but to do so is a denial of democracy to the majority of the Country who voted to Leave. Unusually for a Second Reading debate it is scheduled to last not one but two days and today is really the equivalent of two days itself as the House will continue sitting until midnight providing another five hours of debate broadly the equivalent of a further days debate.