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It’s time for my last EU Withdrawal Bill of the year! The Bill passed through its first committee stage last night and now heads to report stage in January. After eight days of debate and only one non-government amendment being voted through, there was no last minute controversy (well, apart from Damian Green being sacked but that’s another story).
We had six votes last night on a variety of amendments and new clauses. Initially we had thought there might be another defeat for the Government but, in order to avoid it, they brought forward a compromised amendment on the date and definition of exit day. The government amendment basically fixes the UK’s EU exit date as 11pm on 29 March 2019, unless ministers decide to change it. It passed by 319-294.
There was a further attempt at keeping us in the Customs Union through New Clause 13. Once again the Labour front benches instructed their member to abstain but 62 did join us in the Aye lobby. Despite this it was defeated 320-144.
Some folk have tried to argue with me that Labour MPs really have no choice on this as their constituents voted for Brexit and it would be electoral suicide to take oppose it. I’m sorry but I’m not buying that. Yes, lots of Labour constituencies did vote for Brexit but they didn’t necessarily vote for a hard, right-wing departure that will damage the economy and their jobs. You can stand up against the type of Brexit we are heading for without wanting to stay in the EU. And interestingly, the most recent indications are that large numbers of people who voted Labour in the 2017 election did so because they thought Labour WERE opposed to Brexit!
Labour did bring forward an amendment to try to stop the power grab by ministers – Amendment 349 would have prevented ministers using delegated powers to create criminal offences that carry custodial sentences. I, and my SNP colleagues, supported this but it was defeated 318-295.
My colleague Joanna Cherry QC proposed New Clause 44 which was defeated by 318 to 294. It would have required an independent evaluation of the impact of the Act on the health and social care sector to be made after consultation with ministers from the devolved administrations as well as service providers.
New Clause 54 would have ensured that exit day couldn’t be triggered without an implementation and transition period. Again it was defeated, this time by 316 to 296
Finally, Amendment 120 was defeated by 319 to 23. The amendment would have meant there was a referendum on the terms of the deal before March 2019 (or the end of any extension to the two-year negotiation period). I, and the SNP group, abstained on this one as while we weren’t elected on a mandate to support a second EU referendum, we didn’t want to remove the option at this stage.
So that’s it for 2017 – we’re all now off for a much needed rest (though you can almost guarantee that as soon as I send this, there’ll be a new political story and no rest will be had!) I’ll be back to work on the 4th January, in London from the 8th and the Bill returns on the 16th – I’ll continue to keep you up to date on its progress.
Time is running out for many of Edinburgh's small businesses. Today I've written to the Chancellor asking for additional emergency assistance for our hospitality sector through the COVID-19 epidemic.