Over the last two afternoons and evenings (12 and 13 June), MPs have been voting on the EU Withdrawal Bill.
As with the first time the Bill came to the House of Commons, the time available to debate extremely important issues has been heavily restricted by the Government. And as before, the government has proven extremely intransigent on every element of the Bill, being unwilling to accept a single amendment from the Lords which was backed by opposition parties.
Yesterday, the government blocked the possibility for the Commons to be given a genuinely ‘meaningful’ vote on the EU deal, and Tory rebels melted away to leave only two Conservative MPs voting with Labour. Apparently some concessions were made yesterday to Tory rebels that there will be some kind of a process to prevent a total ‘Hobson’s choice’ on the EU deal. If MPs fail to agree what looks set to be a dogs-dinner of a deal, it appears that Ministers may be given time to remit a proposal back to the Commons- but the detail of how that will work is still lacking.
Today, the government again bludgeoned its way through the bill, defeating every single remaining Lords amendment. This included calls for customs union, where it was really disappointing that so few Conservatives stood up for manufacturing industry in their constituencies. Once more, the government appears to have suggested some concessions in this area for those Conservative MPs who were wobbling, but again, the detail is unclear. I will be watching this area very closely, especially before the Customs Bill comes back to parliament (which is now likely to happen before the summer, after the government has pushed it back for weeks for fear of being overruled).
The government also defeated the Lords amendment on ensuring that environmental principles are respected in the UK- something I know many people in Oxford East are deeply worried about, as well as environmental NGOs. They rejected enhanced protections for working and other rights. They also rejected Labour’s amendment urging that the UK should have “full access to the internal market… underpinned by shared institutions and regulations, with no new impediments to trade and common rights, standards and protections as a minimum”. And the Lords’ amendment requiring the UK to become a member of the EEA was roundly defeated. I did not support the latter, given that the EEA does not include customs union with the EU, and above all that it does not meet the tests for a deal that Labour set out many months ago and which I stood on, during the last general election.
In summary, the last two days have been disappointing- but the fight against the Conservatives’ extreme Brexit is not over. There will be other opportunities to continue working to stop Brexit becoming an excuse for watered-down environmental and social protections, maintain our precious trading links with European countries, and stop the government’s monumental Brexit ‘power grab’.
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