When is a “concession” not a concession? When it concedes nothing, satisfies nobody and annoys everyone. In normal times, it’s hard to imagine any competent government even considering such an utterly meaningless, blatantly transparent sham as what was put before Parliament last night by David Davis under the guise of giving MPs a “meaningful vote” on Brexit. But these are not normal times, and this government is about as far from competent as it’s possible to imagine.
Despite Davis’s increasingly forlorn attempts to assert otherwise, the offer put before Parliament yesterday would not give MPs a meaningful vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement, or allow Parliament to properly express its wishes. Instead, it would present us with a fait accompli, a deal already stitched up behind closed doors, for MPs to simply rubber-stamp. Our “meaningful vote” would in reality be a choice between saying yes to the government’s deal, no matter how damaging the terms for our country, or saying no and watching our country crash out of the EU with no deal, which would be even worse. And if the government were to fail to reach a deal with the EU, an outcome that looks increasingly possible, then Parliament would be denied any kind of say at all.
The irony of yesterday’s farcical attempt at a “concession” is that there are numerous sensible proposed amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, including a number put forward and supported by Conservative MPs such as Dominic Grieve, which the government could have got behind instead. Amendment 7, for example, would actually allow Parliament a real, meaningful say over the final withdrawal arrangements. Amendment 3 would limit the scope of the government to make sweeping changes to laws using arcane Henry VIII powers without properly consulting Parliament. Amendment 8 would retain the Charter of Fundamental Rights that codifies and protects many of our key rights as citizens.
Instead, the government has chosen an entirely uncompromising and self-defeating path, pandering to the hard Brextremists. Other than the sham offer put forward by Davis yesterday, the government’s main intervention on the EU Withdrawal Bill so far has been to put down an amendment specifying the exact date and time of our withdrawal from the EU as 11pm on the dot on 29 March 2019 (that’s midnight in Brussels). This amendment serves absolutely no useful purpose whatsoever, other than to mollify Brexit extremists like John Redwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg. It even undermines the government’s own negotiating strategy, as set out in the Prime Minister’s Florence speech, which emphasised flexibility over dogmatic lines-in-the-sand. And now ministers are undermining their own amendment by seeking the power to change the date of withdrawal via statutory instrument.
So where do we go from here? Well, the government has made a rod for its own back, and the coalition of MPs and peers willing to put the good of their country before party loyalty or feverish ideological dogma is growing ever larger. The line by line consideration of EU Withdrawal Bill by MPs started today, and there are already more than 400 proposed amendments. As much as the government has tried desperately to sideline Parliament, now is the time for us to have our say and shape this process. There is clearly no majority in Parliament for a “no deal” outcome that would be catastrophic for this country’s future.
It’s worth remembering that, during the referendum, it was the Leave side that were campaigning vociferously for a return of “parliamentary sovereignty” through a vote to leave the EU. Ironically, those very same hard Brexit ideologues now insist Parliament shouldn’t have a say, that MPs shouldn’t have any influence over the process, and that we shouldn’t even be allowed to scrutinise the impact of Brexit on our constituents. But many MPs from different parties, myself included, are in complete agreement: Brexit must not be manipulated into a way to diminish or dilute the crucial role of our Parliament. We – on behalf of those we represent – are determined to have our say.
By Chuka Umunna MP, leading supporter of Open Britain