UNDER starter’s orders; and they’re off! The Parliamentary steeplechase of a key piece of Brexit legislation is underway with runners and riders committed to an eight-day marathon debate.
Politicians backed plans to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act by 318 votes to 68 on Tuesday night; a move which will end the supremacy of European Union law in the UK…eventually.
The vote was crucial as it is intended to help light the way to a door marked ‘exit’ by bringing existing EU laws onto the British statute book and allowing Parliament to look at these at its leisure; keeping the good, trashing the rubbish.
The vote came after eight hours of jockeying for position at the start line; the government also winning three votes on clauses and amendments to the legislation regarding how British courts will interpret EU law after Brexit and the role of the European Court of Justice in the tricky transition period after the divorce; tipped to be two years.
And it will be a tortoise rather than hare event over the jumps. So far 470 amendments, covering a painful 186 pages, have been tabled by our elected leaders regarding changes they want included before the bill is promoted to becoming law by the Commons and the Lords.
A group of angry Conservatives came under fire ahead of the starting gun for criticising the government’s insistence on specifying an exact time and date for Brexit; 23.00 GMT on 29th March 2019 was announced by race official Theresa May last week.
The EU rulebook actually states the UK will say goodbye to membership two years to the day after it triggered Article 50, which was on 29th March this year…unless the UK and all the other 27 member states agree an extension.
Ministers maintain Mrs May’s deadline was to make things “crystal clear” and maximise the certainty for businesses and citizens, preventing the risk of “legal chaos”. Labour has described the move as a “desperate gimmick” and all a part of Tory managing its own members rather than being in the national interest – arguing it actually boosted the chances of leaving without a deal.
And the Tories making noises over such a precise deadline – they include ex-ministers – found themselves on the front pages of national newspapers as Fleet Street’s finest ran with the story.
The Daily Telegraph reported up to 15 Conservative MPs might join forces with Labour, risking a government defeat next month when the timeline finally arrives at a vote. The potential rebels were “mutineers” according to the paper; the strongly pro-Brexit Daily Mail described them as “collaborators”, a slur not often seen in peacetime.
Former business minister Anna Soubry, MP, used social media to call the reaction a “blatant piece of bullying” that was aimed at the very heart of British democracy.
However, she reined in her trusty steed and said it was like a badge of honour and she would wear the colours with pride. The politician said her stance was to ensure a ‘good’ rather than ‘hard’ Brexit; adding: “A good Brexit that works for everybody in our country.”
Brexit minister Steve Baker accused the media of “attempts to divide the Conservative Party”; he is obviously blinkered to the ongoing divisions to the rifts in Mrs May’s (ever-changing) Cabinet.
Mr Baker tweeted: My parliamentary colleagues have sincere suggestions to improve the Bill which we are working through and I respect them for that.”
The deadline was not formally debated on Tuesday but played a part in the early debate – former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve said he could not support the “mad” government proposal that would chain the hands of negotiators should talks drag on.
And former Chancellor and veteran Tory Kenneth Clarke spurred to the fore again. He indicated when the matter came to a vote, as a pro-European he would oppose the government. Admitting he was “the rebel now” he slammed the Eurosceptics of the party, and said they were suddenly seen as Conservative “orthodoxy”.