Well we finally have it. The coalition were defeated in the House of Commons last night. Despite their attempts to cajole and bully their backbenchers, 11 Tories rebelled and Amendment 7 passed by just 4 votes. And while Ministers are now jumping to say that it isn’t significant, that it’s only one vote and that Brexit is on track their faces told a very different story in the Chamber.
This is important. Amendment 7 means that parliament will need to have a meaningful vote on any Brexit deal. And the fact it passed shows that there are Conservative MPs who are willing to break party lines for the greater good. That’s a positive for the longer term - if this Bill doesn’t come back at report stage with real and meaningful amendments on a number of the key issues, the rebels may well come back.
Fair play to those who broke rank and voted with us. Though it should be said that not a single Scottish Tory MP joined them. Despite the promises from Ruth Davidson ultimately the 13 are really just there as voting fodder - following the party line rather than standing up for what’s best for Scotland and their constituents. It’s also come to light this morning that as far as David Davis is aware, the Scottish Tory MPs didn’t even make any representations to the government regarding the amendment.
So that’s the headline news from day 6 and 7 of debating the EU Withdrawal Bill this week. On Tuesday we were focussed on the powers Ministers were giving themselves – the so called “Henry VIII powers”. I led for the SNP in that debate and you can watch it here. What worries me most is that if the Ministers truly believe that these powers will only be used to tidy up relevant bits of legislation, why on earth were they so resistant to any attempt to define or limit their use?
On Tuesday we ended up having 5 votes. There was one New Clause – number 65 which would have required the Government to establish new governance arrangements for environmental standards and protections after Brexit. The Tory/DUP coalition held strong and it was defeated 293-315.
There were then votes on four amendments, all related to powers being given to the executive. Amendment 49 would have limited the scope of these powers – meaning the Government could only use them when they were ‘necessary’ rather than ‘appropriate’. That sounds minor but the Law Society of Scotland and others are clear that this was needed. Despite this it was defeated by 295- 312. Amendment 25 would have prevented the powers being used to reduce rights and protections but again this was defeated 292-314.
Labour were back to their old abstaining tricks when it came to Amendment 124. The amendment intended to prevent regulation-making powers being used to prevent the UK’s continued membership of the single market. Credit to the 44 Labour MPs who joined us in supporting the amendment but ultimately Corbyn’s front bench remained firmly on the fence and the amendment was defeated 93 to 315.
Finally Amendment 158 would have prevented Ministers from modifying the Scotland Act 1998 or Government of Wales Act 2006 by delegated powers. It was defeated 291-315 meaning that the UK Government has the power to change the Scotland Act (in relation to Brexit) without the need for a parliamentary vote. How very democratic and respectful of the devolution settlement…
So back to last night. While I’ve already talked about the big news, there were other votes but the Government managed to get them all through. Of particular note, Amendment 241 would have required a published strategy for seeking continued reciprocal health care after Brexit (defeated 294-315) and Amendment 26 would have prevented the Government using delegated powers to reduce rights or protections (defeated 291-315).
We have one day left of this stage of the Bill – next Wednesday. It’s hard to know if there’ll be another rebellion – it’s possible on setting the date of exit day in law - but I’ll keep you informed.