UK House of Commons drama, impartiality of Speaker questioned

A report from Missy in the UK:


More drama in the House of Commons today after PM Questions.

Background: In December Parliament passed a motion on the Meaningful Vote for the Withdrawal Agreement. In this motion it was stated that if the Agreement did not pass the Government had to go back to Parliament within 21 days with a further proposal for leaving the EU. This motion is what is referred to as a forthwith motion. Forthwith is a technical term used, and means that a motion must be put forward for a decision by the Commons without debate or amendment. For this particular motion, whilst it is a forthwith motion it was agreed by the Commons that no amendment could be made to it by any member except a Minister of the Crown. Essentially this motion can only be amended by a Minister and not a backbench or opposition MP.

Today Conservative MP, (and former Attorney General), Dominic Grieve put forward an amendment to this motion changing the 21 days to 3 days. This was signed by MPs from across the House. The clerks advised the Speaker that this amendment was not selectable, and should not be selected for vote. The speaker had previously told another MP that amendments could not be tabled to a forthwith motion. However, despite it being precedent that the speaker takes the advice of the clerks and despite this being an amendment to a forthwith motion, the speaker selected it and tabled the motion.

For over an hour Government MPs raised Point of Order after Point of Order regarding Parliamentary precedent, and the Speaker not taking the advice of the clerks. The Speaker was asked several times what the advice of the clerks was, he refused to say (a journalist was told by a source in the clerks office which is where the information came from that they had advised against it).

The speaker admitted that he had not taken into account Parliamentary precedent, or given any thought to the implications of his decision, he was only interested in the here and now. The implications, however, could be serious in the future. He has set a precedent where the Speaker can change the rules of the debate whenever he likes, and he has also sent the message that precedent doesn’t matter in Parliament, despite it being one of the fundamental Parliamentary Conventions which is part of the uncodified British Constitution.

A bit on the Speaker himself. Last year allegations arose of the Speaker bullying staff in the Commons, and that he had been doing it for any number of years. Some in the Commons called on him to resign. Labour MPs, and some Conservative MPs who support Remain, resisted attempts to force the Speaker out, noting he has openly stated he voted Remain and does not support Brexit.

This has been raised again today as some wonder if the Speaker allowing Dominic Grieve’s amendment to be tabled is his way of paying back those MPs that have kept him in his position, I am not sure that is quite right, but over the last year or so his impartiality on matters pertaining to Brexit has been called into question.

 

House of Commons votes for general election

From Missy:

UK General Election update:

The House of Commons voted 522-13 in favour of the General Election on 8 June, exceeding the 2/3 majority required.

13 MPs voted against, including 9 Labour MPs.

115 MPs did not vote, I am unsure if they were all abstentions, or if some were just not in Parliament today. The SNP abstained reportedly along with a handful of Labour MPs.

The Government will make a call this week on the by-election due to be held on 4 May, there are those saying it should not go ahead.

More MPs announced they would not be standing in the election, amongst them George Osborne, which is probably a good thing as his new job as editor of the Evening Standard may have been seen as a conflict of interest.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/19/mps-due-vote-triggering-snap-general-election/


Parties are already talking potential coalitions in order to keep the Conservatives out of power.

Liberal Democrats have ruled out going into coalition with Labour, but not with the Conservatives. That may be a problem with those voters they lost in 2015 who felt betrayed by their coalition with the Conservatives.

The SNP has said that they will seek a ‘progressive alliance’ with Labour and the Liberal Democrats. This presents 2 problems, the first is that it was the thought of a coalition or alliance between Labour and the SNP that is thought to have given the Conservatives the outright majority in 2015, the second is that the Liberal Democrats have already ruled out working with Labour so I am not sure why Nicola Sturgeon thinks that they will for her.

UK Parliament on Article 50

From Missy on the court ruling on Article 50 in relation to Britain’s planned exit from the European Union:


Yesterday (Tuesday) both the House of Commons and House of Lords discussed the Supreme Court ruling.

Commons:

David Davis, Secretary for Exiting the European Union, gave a speech in which he said that the legislation to trigger Article 50 should be ready within days, some think it will be tabled today. He also went on to say that there is no going back, and the UK will leave the EU. He also described any attempt to try and block Brexit as “patronising, undemocratic and improper”.

A number of Conservative MPs have indicated they are prepared to join with Labour and SNP in an attempt to force the Government to set out its negotiating strategy.

The Liberal Democrats Leader has instructed all of their MPs to vote against triggering Article 50 in an attempt to force a second referendum.

Labour seem to be as confused as ever, in the morning a statement from Corbyn’s office said that they would table an amendment that would seek to build in the principle of full, tariff-free access to the single market, only for that to be removed from a release 30 minutes later.

Labour MP Owen Smith has stated that he is willing to risk his career to vote against triggering Article 50. His constituency voted to Leave the EU, but in an article in the Guardian he stated that he will vote against Article 50 because he thinks that is what is best for his constituents, not what they voted for.

Lords:

The Lords is a fundamentally pro EU organisation, and previously some of the Lords have said that the House would vote against any legislation to leave the EU, there does appear to be some disagreement on that however.

Lord Blunkett (A Remain campaigner) has warned the HoL they cannot overturn the legislation. He has said that it would be foolish if the HoL, as an unelected body, put itself in confrontation with the bulk of the British people. Lord Blunkett was one of a number of Lords (most Remain) that urged the Lords to not block the triggering of Article 50.

The HoL was reminded that the constitutional position of the HoL is inferior to that of the elected House, and it is therefore important that they do not take action to frustrate the will of the elected House.

Lord Ashdown, an outspoken Remainer who has said he will vote against Article 50, was reminded of his own words on the night of the referendum: When the British people have spoken, you do what they command.

Lord Lamont speaking to media yesterday said that the House of Lords, as an unelected body, needs to tread carefully to ensure it does not trigger a constitutional crisis.

It is believed by many in the House that if the Lords vote against Article 50 it could be the beginning of the downfall of the House, and that some may make moves to abolish it altogether and reform the Parliamentary system in the UK, perhaps moving towards an elected upper house. There has, in the past, been a number of proposals for there to be constitutional and Parliamentary reform around the House of Lords, but in general the appetite to make the changes hasn’t been great enough, however, some fear that this could be what will motivate a push for the reforms many see as being needed. It is this fear of potential reform that leads many to suggest the majority of the Lords will vote for Article 50 despite their own personal view, if only to save their own positions.