I visited the Brexit reading rooms. Wasn't allowed to take my phone in so here's my take from outside the building.
We are about to start our final year as a full European Union member, but the hapless UK Government still appears split from top to bottom over what life will look like afterwards.
Let’s start with the simplest and most fundamental question – what sort of trading deal should we have with the 27 countries of the EU after we leave? In a common sense world, it wouldn’t be controversial to argue that we should seek the closest arrangement possible with EU. These are, after all, the countries nearest to the UK and those with whom we do the majority of our trade.
I spoke in favour of the SNP Amendment 59, under which the UK would confirm continued membership of the single market and customs union before ministers could use secondary legislation to implement any withdrawal agreement agreed with the EU under Article 50.
The amendment was defeated by 322 to 99.
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.
It’s difficult to know where to start on last week’s Brexit developments. On Monday the Prime Minister was left scrabbling around after the DUP flexed their muscles and refused to agree the deal with the EU that would enable to them to move on to Phase 2 of negotiations.
By the end of the week the deal was done and a joint statement was issued from the UK Government and negotiators from the European Union (read it in full here). I don’t understand why the Brexiteers seem so relaxed following this. I suspect they know something we don’t as on the face of it, you’d think they wouldn’t be keen.
So the EU Withdrawal Bill was back in the Commons for Day 3 of the committee stage this week and, as promised, I’m writing to update you on what happened.
Before I talk about the Bill itself, you might be interested in the events of Monday’s Ways and Means debate. Ways and Means is a traditional term for taxes or other charges levied on the public in order to fund Government spending. And while not directly linked to the EU Withdrawal Bill, Brexit transcends everything. In an alternative attempt to get the UK to consider staying in the single market with access to the customs union the Labour MP for Edinburgh South, Ian Murray, had tabled an amendment that was selected for a vote.
I've been trying to get information on this for months. But still no clear answer as to how many civil servants are working on Brexit and how much it will cost.Cabinet Office Questions - 22nd Nov 17Posted by Tommy Sheppard MP on Wednesday, 22 November 2017
I know how difficult it can be to not only keep up with what is happening as Brexit proceeds, but to understand the antiquated political systems that make up the UK parliament. So I will be sharing regular updates as the Bill makes its way through parliament.
As you may be aware, the Bill entered its committee stage this week in the House of Commons. That means MPs debate specific aspects of the Bill and can consider amendments that have been brought forward. While hundreds of amendments were tabled, only a few were selected for a vote.
OK, sorry about this, but it’s Brexit again this month. Don’t blame me – I voted remain.
Remember the Great Repeal Bill David Davis promised last year. Well, it’s arrived, Except it’s now called the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I’ve no idea why withdrawal is in brackets, maybe it’s not going to happen. It’s not that great either – just nineteen clauses, half of which are legalistic gobbledygook.
You’ll not be surprised to hear that ever since the UK voted to leave the European Union, I have been receiving lots of letters and emails from constituents raising their concerns. While there have been a couple of requests asking me to respect the UK wide result and vote to trigger article 50, the vast majority have asked me to do all I can to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.
That’s not a surprise. In Edinburgh 74.4% of people voted to remain in the EU. For all its flaws, people across our city recognised the overwhelming benefits of EU – be they economic, cultural, environmental and civil.
I did ten press-ups this morning. It’s a start. Like many others the first days of my fledgling new year are driven by diet and detox. After the season of Christmas party excess and forced bonhomie it’s time to reset the body. The road to hell and all that…
I write on bank holiday Tuesday. The last day before the start of a new political term; last day of distraction. Tomorrow I’ll need to fire through the gears and get up to speed for the political challenges of 2017.