Like most of you Guido has tried to put thoughts of Brexit away for Christmas, nevertheless something besides brussels sprouts has been nagging at him, which, whilst the news flow is slow can be explored at length. Labour remainers have of late turned a blind eye to Bercow‘s bullying, mistreatment of staff and gender specific language for one reason, they believe he will be an ally in thwarting Brexit. He has considerable leeway to do so…
The common argument is that although Parliament is sovereign, if the Government holds its nerve there is nothing opponents to Brexit can do to stop the UK leaving the EU on WTO terms. However, there are many things Parliament can do to get its way:
A Contempt Motion
If the House of Commons votes on a non-binding motion to extend or revoke Article 50, and the Government choses to simply shrug its shoulders and ignore the instruction, the Speaker could choose to hold the Prime Minister in contempt of Parliament. How realistic is it for the Government to repeatedly ignore the will of Parliament in terms of repeated contempt motions?
Amendments in Scope
Opponents of Brexit will table amendments to the meaningful vote motion on a second referendum, membership of the Customs Unions or extending or revoking Article 50. Although these votes would not be binding on the Government, John Bercow could use the votes as a demonstration of the will of the House of Commons. This could embolden the Speaker to be even more flexible about the amendments he deems to be in scope of Brexit legislation. So for example the Trade Bill, Immigration Bill or Agriculture Bill could all be amended to make the Act conditional on their being a second referendum. It’s been argued by some that the Government could simply pull these Bills. However, this legislation has a real-world purpose to help the country prepare for leaving. The immigration bill will end free movement. The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill will ensure reciprocal healthcare arrangements can be in place with other countries after exit. How realistic is it for the Government to pull all its Brexit legislation?
A Humble Address
We have seen how the Speaker has colluded with the Opposition frontbench to use the humble address and other parliamentary mechanisms for party political purposes. A Humble Address could call on the Government to release all its information on no deal impacts, to increase pressure. There could be an attempt to stretch the power of a Humble Address – for instance requesting an extension of Article 50 or committing not to leave the EU without a deal or committing to a second referendum.
The opportunities for parliamentary opponents of Brexit in league with a Speaker who is their ally are worrying;
- Amending the motion for the Meaningful Vote to say that the UK must leave with a deal. The Labour amendment to the Meaningful Vote requires that the UK leaves with a Withdrawal Agreement but not this Withdrawal Agreement. An amendment by Hilary Benn seeks to reject leaving without a Withdrawal Agreement, require the government to bring forward a debate on its proposed way forward, and allow MPs to table amendments to the motion the government is required to bring forward.
- Debate triggered under s13(4) of the Withdrawal Act. Under the terms of the Withdrawal Act a loss of a meaningful vote must be followed within 21 days by the laying of a statement, and that followed by a further debate within 7 sitting days of the statement. The debate and possibly an amended motion could signal the House’s view that the UK should not leave the EU without a deal.
- Emergency motions under Standing Order No. 24. The House could make clear in emergency debates called under Standing Order No 24 that the will of the House is that the UK should not leave without a deal or must hold a second referendum.
- Opposition Day Debates and backbench time. The Opposition could table motions to call on the Government to take action to prevent no deal or hold a second referendum. Backbenchers could use their allocated time to table motions calling on the Government to prevent no deal.
Pro-Brexit MPs who believe the parliamentary die is set for a no deal Brexit are being complacent. The Speaker is intent on stopping that outcome.