Brexit rebels could trigger a general election

Brexit rebels could trigger a general election

The ermine-lined procession of Amendments to the Withdrawal Bill by the unelected House of Lords is now nearly over. The Government has been defeated 14 times. Some of the Amendments, if passed in the Commons, would wreck the Bill. Worse than that, as I made clear in my previous BrexitCentral articles, these are wrecking Amendments and a flagrant abuse of the role of the House of Lords as a scrutiny and revising chamber, even in defiance of the Lords’ own enactment of the Referendum Act 2015. But this is not any ordinary Bill. This Bill is about who governs this country and the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972.

The Bill now returns to the House of Commons in a fairly short space of time – perhaps even this month.

We could be heading for a constitutional crisis, the use of the Parliament Act 1911, the potential for a confidence motion, or even the possibility of a General Election. All this hangs on the number of Tory dissidents. If they decided to vote with the opportunistic Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, SNP, and any other anti-Brexit party in the Commons they would undermine Brexit. If potential Tory dissidents pause for a moment, they must surely recall that they themselves voted for the Referendum Act, stood on a Conservative Manifesto which endorsed the Referendum result which itself ruled out Single Market and Customs Union membership and was the biggest vote in our democratic history. They also voted for the Article 50 Act and even Kenneth Clarke, in a unique vote in his political career, voted for the Third Reading of the Withdrawal Bill itself. If, I repeat, if, they vote for any wrecking Amendment from the House of Lords, which itself has defied the Salisbury-Addison Convention, it would be in collusion with this unelected House, without any possible justification.

This Convention is about a responsible democratic and political settlement, dating from 1945, when the Labour Party won a landslide in the General Election on a massive programme for nationalisation. The Labour Party could win any vote in the House of Commons at the drop of a hat. In the Lords, however, the Conservative Party had an overwhelming majority to block anything it opposed. The Government now has no majority in the House of Lords, which is why the Convention is even more important now than in 1945.

This Withdrawal Bill rests upon the result of the referendum itself. Furthermore, the Bill, having passed the Commons on Third Reading, it is even more obvious that the Lords should not have sought to undermine that vote. Nor should any Conservative MP, all of whom voted for the Third Reading in the Commons.

It is also worth recalling the political reasons for the enactment of the Parliament Act 1911, when the Lords were forced to back down over the People’s Budget by the threat of hundreds of new Liberal Peers made by King George V on the advice of the Government, which would have swamped the in-built Conservative majority in that House. This Withdrawal Bill is infinitely more important than the 1911 People’s Budget. This Bill is about who governs Britain. The House of Lords is on the cusp.

This last week, we had another spate of wrecking Amendments, including an Amendment by Chris Patten which would give the Irish Government a veto over all post-Brexit border arrangements. In other words, it would be an endorsement of the EU’s outrageous attempt to determine the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, which the Prime Minister has already rejected, as has the DUP.

Another Amendment which also passed this week was tabled, with the ultimate irony, by the descendent of the victor of Waterloo – the current Duke of Wellington. Who knows what his ancestor would have made of his attempt to remove the date of our exit from the European Union on 29th March 2019 from the Bill itself and to prevent the Government from appointing an exit day until it had been decided by both Houses of Parliament. His ancestor understood only too well that under no circumstances whatsoever would Britain be governed by any other country, let alone by a majority of continental European countries acting in alliance against us. Indeed, as it happens, changing the exit day would not prevent us leaving the EU under the treaties. It would be like pretending Napoleon had won the battle of Waterloo.

Another bizarre Amendment was passed, which was tabled by Lord Alli, to require the Government to negotiate continued membership of the European Economic Area. This is the so-called Norway option, under which we would be forced to remain in the Single Market, even though our membership of the EEA is dependent on our being in the EU. Let us recall that we ran a trade in goods and services deficit of £82 billion with the EU in 2016 – with plenty more to come – and that we would have no say over the EEA or EU rules and regulations. Bear in mind, too, that Germany, by stark comparison, has an ever-increasing surplus with the 27 of at least £99 billion each year. This is a goldmine for Germany, who ultimately call all the shots in the EU. Lord Alli seems not to have noticed that the Labour Party don’t agree with him, that the EEA option has already been defeated in the House of Commons, that the EEA itself doesn’t even want us, and that EEA membership involves free movement of people, not to mention that the EFTA court accommodates the rulings of the European Court of Justice.

There is really every reason in the world for the Commons and every Conservative MP to vote against every one of these errant and unwarrantable Lords Amendments.