Talk of an early general election has been swirling around Westminster for some weeks now but the PM’s spokesman appeared to rule one out yesterday To be fair the Prime Minister has always said she intends to continue with the mandate given to the Conservatives less than two years ago and carry out the remaining pledges which were in the manifesto. Whilst the delivery of the manifesto is the main object of every government the government of Theresa May has of course another task the delivery of Brexit – respecting the outcome of the referendum on our membership of the European Union. It was announced yesterday that the official notification under Article 50 will be given a week tomorrow on March 29th. Meeting the PM’s longstanding promised deadline of the end of March. B-day – Brexit day – March 29th.
Yesterday the Prisons and Courts Bill was given an unopposed Second Reading and will now proceed to be considered in detail in a Public Bill Committee. Today, the main business is the remaining stages of the Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill. I chaired the Committee stage of this Bill which reforms the law of unjustified or groundless threats as it applies to patents, trademarks and designs. Threats to sue for infringement are unjustified where they are made in respect of an invalid right or where there has been no infringement.
Yesterday the Commons reversed the amendments inserted into the Brexit Bill relating to the rights of European Union citizens and having a ‘meaningful vote’ before any final deal is concluded by majorities of 48 and 45 respectively. Larger than when these matters where considered the first time around and much larger than the government’s notional majority. The Bill was then taken straight back to the Lords where by very large majorities they failed to impose any new amendments to the Bill and so the Bill was passed by the House of Lords in exactly the same form as it was passed by the Commons which is what is required before a Bill can go for Royal Assent. Royal Assent is likely to be given very shortly possibly as early as today. This will then clear the way for the Prime Minister to give the two year notice to the European Union under Article 50 of decision to leave before her self imposed deadline of 31st March. We are on track.
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.
There is always an air of anticipation in the Commons on Budget Day and today is no exception. The first task for MP’s wanting a ringside seat is to make sure they reserve a seat with their prayer card when the Chamber opens at 8am – and then attend prayers at 11.30am.
I am not expecting this will be a particularly notable budget. We are approaching mid-term and we already know that the Chancellor is planning to move the budget to the autumn so I have the impression he will look to do only what is necessary this time. Anyway, we will all know in a few hours time.
As expected the House of Lords imposed another amendment to the Brexit Article 50 Bill yesterday, requiring the government to have a meaningful vote before any deal is finalised. An amendment designed to frustrate the process. The government will now seek to persuade the House of Commons to overturn the Lords two amendments. From what I gather this is likely to take place next Monday.
Unfortunately neither of the main debates are being held on the day they would ideally prefer. Yesterday was of course St. David’s Day the Patron Saint of Wales and the annual debate on Welsh affairs is one of the two debates scheduled by the Backbench Business for debate today. The other is a debate to mark International Women’s Day which actually takes place on 8th March. That date is the scheduled date for the budget so today is as near as we could get.
As I predicted the House of Lords amended the Brexit Bill yesterday by including a clause guaranteeing European Union citizens a right of residence here in the UK without any reciprocal rights for UK citizens being agreed. No basis to go into the negotiations. I expect the amendment will be reversed by the House of Commons and the Bill sent back to the Lords.
The Bus Services Bill was given it’s Second Reading. As a member of the Panel of Chairs I have been appointed as one of the two co-Chairmen of the Bill at Committee Stage along with the Labour MP Albert Owens.
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.