When Democracy can be too Democratic for its own good
On Monday the House of Lords passed the Bill which allowed the government to trigger Article 50 in order that the UK leave the European Union.
Beforehand there were discussions in the House over amendments to the Bill, details of which are listed below in the form of a timeline over how Brexit was finally allowed to proceed.
David Davis, Exiting the EU Secretary, opened today’s Parliamentary debate on the Bill which had been returned by The House of Lords (regarding their suggested amendments relating to the Bill which referred to triggering Article 50) – namely to lodge the document with the EU that the UK is leaving Europe. He outlined events up to this point in time, via a succinct, yet in a most comprehensive way.
During the following debate he referred to the fact that the Government want what is best for four million people, which included UK Citizens living in Europe and Europeans living in the UK, therefore the accusation that EU Citizens who presently resided in the UK did not constitute a bargaining chip.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour, answered his own questions by his challenge that if they were not bargaining chips why not put the two amendments on the Bill anyway, unilaterally. So he answered his own question – if it was all a moot point then why was there a need to put these amendments on the face of the Bill anyway? Hence he made a redundant argument. One which Mr Davis affirmed.
One could not help thinking that Mr Corbyn should have been present even if The Prime Minister was not.
Also, originally,Parliament (including most Labour MPs albeit under threat of Labour Whip), had originally voted the whole Bill through to the House of Lords, so it seemed ludicrous to make all these challenges now, and they should explain that to the voters – as to how Labour could have a ‘change of heart’, and which one of their two collective Political faces, actually counted.
What a waste of Parliamentary time and money. There even had to be a vote before Mr Davis commenced speaking.
The Motion set out the timetable for debate on Lords’ Amendments to the Bill.
In an earlier debate regarding military expenditure with reference to Royal Naval Ships and Security at Sea, the SNP (on today of all days post Nicola Sturgeon‘s broadcast for another Scottish Referendum to leave the UK), the question was asked if more ships could patrol Scotland and its coastlines.
The Government Minister, Mike Penning, outlined the most impressive facts concerning ship-building, etc, in Scotland and that Naval Ships and Submarines protected the ‘whole’ of the UK. One would have understood if the words ‘for now’ had been added. He did add something as an aside enroute to sitting down, though I did not catch his remark in certainty, but thought he may have said what response would they get from the EU. What indeed!
Similar inferences in the debate about the Lords’ Amendments were inferred briefly and in general the SNP submissions were full of ‘hot air’ and a lady SNP MP even related that one of her Constituents had arrived in her office crying, so worried he was because apparently he did not have the correct insurance stamp, so he thought he could be deported, and went on to say it was as bad as living in his own European Country under the control of Russia.
Audible moans of disagreement answered that, but nevertheless, she did get a special reassuring response from the Conservative benches that they were aware of these categories of people.
Iain Duncan Smith (and other excellent contributors), summed up the situation most beautifully as to the two amendments under consideration.
Someone on the Labour benches had earlier inferred that UK Citizens living in Europe were older and retired, whereas EU citizens residing in the UK were mostly young. (Note: that ageist remark should have been challenged by the Speaker).
Iain Duncan Smith confirmed his Sister had spent her whole life in Italy and was still living there as an older person, with reference to the comment which seemed wrong earlier. He added that in all the 25 years he had been in Parliament never once were they allowed to amend any EU Bill within the UK Parliament.
As always, when someone says something profound, there were a few moments of silence and no reply or retort was given, then the political ‘nagging’ continued.
The subtle points why each amendment would tie the hands of The Prime Minister in negotiations were ‘over the heads’ of other Party MPs and some Conservative dissenters. Then again there are none so blind as those who will not see.
Sadly, some had obvious ambitions that any No deal or WTO option might lead to overturning the vote of the people. Thankfully, the EU themselves will have specific restrictions internally that may counter such ambitions.
There were the following Divisions (votes)
MPs voted on Lords’ Amendment 1 to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The amendment would make the Government publish proposals for guaranteeing rights for EU citizens after the UK leaves the European Union.
MPs voted on Lords’ Amendment 2 to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The amendment adds a new clause to the Bill requiring that Parliament has a “meaningful vote” on any Brexit deal.
Then the Speaker John Bercow announced that a Committee was to be appointed and assigned to draw up reasons as to why the Bill is to be returned to the Lords. David Jones is to be Chairman.
The following constitutes combined remarks during the debate relating to the two amendments:
Lord Bridges of Headley, Exiting the EU Minister, outlined the same points as previously but remarked that Polish representatives had stated that any guarantees would have to be reciprocal. Last Friday, it was confirmed that EU Citizens’ Rights would have to be addressed before anything else. Lord Bridges stated again reassurance of that issue and inclusively the UK Citizens living in the EU.
At one point, there was a bit of a ‘ding dong’ when one Noble Lord apparently misquoted another from a different Party, and was duly chastised, thus generating a cheer from the Government benches, so they were also duly chastised “no point in cheering, you got us into this mess!”
There were misunderstandings as concern was raised relating to the value of the Bill having on its face that UK Parliament must vote on a final agreement. This was clarified as not being of the significant value in respect of comparisons with various EU countries.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, Labour, referred to the point that if no Parliamentary Rights are on the face of the Bill it means no rights to a final vote as EU Countries have.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch, UKIP, stated that in essence Sovereignty of all EU Governments were at the mercy and decisions of EU Bureaucrats, that people in the UK voted to leave that system.
Lord Taverne, Liberal Democrat, fazed everyone by saying if ‘the peoples’ will must always prevail’ that such was a doctrine favoured by Hitler, et al.
The Most Reverend John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, stated that triggering Article 50 is an irreversible act and may be possible to attain a brief extension of time to actually leave the EU, but leave we will, so why the amendment?
Lord Pannick, Crossbencher, paid tribute to those who had initiated action in the Supreme Court which took a lot of courage, as without that there would not be a debate in Parliament at all. He then urged that they give way to the House of Commons on this matter as it would be a pointless gesture to press objection. Lord Pannick did however reassure that this was just the start of the debate and they could show more wisdom at the end rather than that shown at this notification stage.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, Opposition Spokesperson, said she would not make a pointless gesture as Lord Pannick has said, then added that she thought the Government had made the wrong call on this amendment but ‘we will seek to rectify this another way!’
Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Crossbencher, remarked that if any agreement will be brought to both Houses for agreement, what happens if no deal is better than a bad deal.
Lord Bridges of Headley repeated earlier assurances promised in the House of Commons and the House of Lords previously in that respect and all other respects. He made a light hearted comment at one point but it was either not understood by some or not appreciated by others and perhaps would have been more suited to the House of Commons, but it was funny, and he said it after remarking how disappointed he was previously to see many Peers he could not convince and who voted against the Government on that occasion, the joke, albeit slightly bleak, i.e. “As a Sicilian might say, it’s nothing personal, just business!”
Peers then voted on Amendment 1A to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The amendment reintroduces the requirement for the Government to produce proposals for EU citizens in the UK to retain their rights after Brexit.
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Peers next voted on Amendment B1 to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The Amendment reintroduces the veto for Parliament on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.
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The Bill can now seek Royal Assent.
Photo (c) Hazel Speed – used by kind permision to Tuck Magazine