This update was sent to constituents on Monday 21st January 2018:
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which the Government crafted to transfer existing EU derived law into UK law, has now passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons and will now go to the House of Lords for scrutiny. The Government won the final vote by 324 to 295.
EU (Withdrawal) Bill
As you may be aware there were a whole series of votes last night on amendments to the Bill. Unfortunately none of them passed and the Government’s narrow majority with the DUP held firm. I tabled a New Clause which would have required the Government to present an impartial economic comparison of Single Market and Customs Union membership (what we currently have) with any deal the Government negotiates with the EU and brings before Parliament.
My amendment was defeated by 320 to 301 votes.
You can watch my short speech moving this amendment here:
The only reason the Government would not support such an amendment is because they know that any deal they bring forward will be inferior to our current deal and they will, in effect, be making the country poorer. This brings us to the nub of the problem: the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, where she ruled out Single Market and Customs Union membership, is completely incompatible with the Government’s supposed desire to have the freest, most frictionless trade possible with “exactly the same benefits”.
We already have the freest trade possible with the EU and any deal which does not include the Single Market and the Customs Union will, inevitably, be less-free. We can’t get as good a deal as we have now and the EU has repeatedly said that the Governments “red lines” preclude what they are trying to achieve.
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill is not the only place I have been trying to make these arguments. In the Government’s Trade Bill, which again is looking to transpose current trade deals the EU has with third countries (e.g. South Korea) into EU law, I tabled amendments on the Customs Union. My amendments would have allowed the Government to keep the option of the Single Market and the Customs Union on the table.
You can watch my speech at Second Reading of this Bill below:
Given our new status (outside the EU and outside the Single Market and Customs Union) third countries will undoubtedly see fit to renegotiate aspects of these agreements. These negotiations will involve give and take on both sides, running the risk that certain sectors could be thrown under the bus. The only way to prevent this is to preserve our current status in the Single Market and the Customs Union.
Devolution and other amendments
Of course, there were many other amendments to the Withdrawal Bill which were thrown out including: on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, an amendment which would force the Government to publish its legal advice on the revocability of Article 50 and amendments forcing the Government to publish an environmental impact assessment.
Furthermore, the Government rejected my amendment and an amendment from the opposition which would have protected the devolution settlement. As we leave the EU there will be lots of powers which go to Holyrood. The Government’s legislative approach means that these powers will go to the Secretary of State for Scotland to decide upon, and not, as per the devolution straight to the Scottish Parliament. Devolution works on the simple principle that ‘everything is devolved unless it is reserved’ therefore, any new powers which are not explicitly reserved should automatically fall within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.
During 2nd reading Scottish Conservative MP after Scottish Conservative MP stood up to say this specific part of the Bill was deficient. This point was recognised by the Secretary of State for Scotland who promised to bring forward his own amendment to correct at Report Stage, it was for this reason that Scottish Conservative MPs voted down my amendment which would have rectified the problem there and then.
You can watch my speech moving my amendment below:
Despite the promises by the Secretary of State, Report Stage came and went with no Government amendment to correct the ‘deficient’ legislation. Having been so clearly let down the Scottish Conservative MPs then took the Government’s word again that a correction would be made in the House of Lords.
You can watch my more recent speech in reaction to this:
What happens next?
The Bill will now pass to the House of Lords for scrutiny. This is likely to result in what is known as 'ping-pong' where the Lords and the Commons send the Bill back and forth until they can come to an agreement on it's content. Focus will also start to shift from Parliament onto the negotiations until the House of Commons is presented with the Government’s final deal.
As I have always said, if the damaging effects of Brexit continue to become apparent and the supposed rewards turn out to be illusionary, the public have the right to change their minds.
I wrote about this point recently for the New Statesman, click here to read.
I hope you enjoy these updates. I will continue to keep you informed on my work from Parliament on Brexit.