Failure to reverse the Wrexiteers’ changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill would undermine trust in democracy itself

Failure to reverse the Wrexiteers’ changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill would undermine trust in democracy itself

The EU Withdrawal Bill will shortly return to the House of Commons full of wrecking Amendments. As I said in my last three BrexitCentral articles, it is in defiance of the Salisbury Convention and the vote of the British people in the Referendum. The House of Lords has now put itself on collision course with the people and put its own future on the line.

Due to the fact that the House of Lords did not oppose the Withdrawal Bill on Second or Third Reading, peers would therefore argue that, on the face of it, the Lords have not prevented the passage of the Bill itself. This would be a travesty of what has occurred. For example, Lord Kerr’s Amendment makes our commitment to the Customs Union a precondition for the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. In other words, if the Kerr Amendment were to be enacted by the House of Commons agreeing to that Amendment, the repeal of the 1972 Act itself would be statutorily overridden.

Similarly, the Viscount Hailsham Amendment, for the reasons I explained previously, is a wrecking Amendment pretending to give precedence to the primacy of the House of Commons but in effect creating an impossible through-the-looking-glass proposition which is that the House of Commons could impose upon the Government by resolution the whole ambit of negotiations. This is simply absurd.

These, and other Amendments such as: the re-introduction of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Pannick/Goldsmith Amendment; the Patten Amendment putting an Irish veto on the border question; and the Wellington Amendment to remove the express reference to the date 29th March 2019 as the Exit Day from the Bill, are all disreputable wrecking Amendments, as they know only too well. To get them through, they need to rely on dissident Conservative MPs’ votes and the peers involved and the Tory MPs in question, are up to their eyes in this.

But you don’t have to take my word for this. A few members of the House of Lords, to their great credit, said much the same on the last day of their proceedings last Wednesday. In particular, I pay tribute to Lord Framlingham, who, as Michael Lord, the former MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, was Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and knows what he is talking about.

He said that “without any doubt, these days will go down in history as the House of Lords at its worst”. He went on: “I know that irreparable damage to our reputation has already been done by the antics of these dark days. We have set ourselves up in such a disreputable way, as guardians of wisdom and the common good… simply in an attempt to wreck the Bill and thwart the will of the people, which is both false and dangerous”. He praised the excellent contributions from Lord Grocott, Lord Howarth of Newport, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, and others and spoke of a “folly of historic proportions”.

He was strongly supported by Lord Hamilton of Epsom, a former Chairman of the 1922 Committee in the House of Commons. Lord Hamilton said of the proceedings in the Lords that they have “collectively have taken leave of their senses and in doing so have put the whole future” of the Lords as an appointed Chamber at stake. He added: “we have done enormous damage to our reputation in the country generally”. He also made it clear that it was unacceptable for the Lords to think “that we can carry on in this extraordinarily arrogant way, telling the people of this country, who voted to leave the EU, that they got it all wrong”.

There are many people throughout the country who will strongly echo these thoughts, which – as my previous articles show – I share. But the question is: what will happen next? As Lord Framlingham himself rightly pointed out:

“It is not often in life that one is given a second chance to correct a big mistake – a folly of historic proportions – but we will be given one, and I sincerely hope we will take it. When the Bill returns from this House to the Commons, if we all accept, in as healing a way as possible, that, whatever side we have been on and however we have behaved, our job is done and we should no longer seek to impose our will on the Parliamentary process, perhaps not too much lasting damage will have been done”.

It is perhaps worth noting that every time Lord Framlingham rose he was, throughout the proceedings, interrupted over and over again. The question, however, remains over whether his wise words will be heeded by the Wrexiteers in the Lords and also in the Commons itself.

I mentioned the Parliament Act in my last article because this is the territory we are now in and to which he refers. We do not know when the Lords Amendments will be considered by the House of Commons in what is described as ping-pong between the Houses. It is essential to note that if a Lords Amendment is accepted by the House of Commons then there is no further so-called ping-pong on that Amendment: it becomes embedded in the Bill. Therefore, the thrust of attention must focus on the mind-set and the attitude of the Remainers and Reversers in the House of Commons itself.

In the House of Commons, issues may well arise relating to the eligibility of some of these Amendments in relation to what is known as the scope of the Bill. Amendments which are outside the parameters of the main purpose of the Bill can be ruled as ‘Out of Order’. All this will be tested according to constitutional precedent and procedure. Furthermore, there are the massive political consequences if Conservative Members of Parliament were to vote with Labour, the SNP, Liberal Democrats, and any other smaller political party in the Commons. Particularly, this is about who governs the United Kingdom.

I would strongly recommend that BrexitCentral readers look at the evidence taken by the European Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday 16th May from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley. This oral evidence is now available online. I would also reiterate that the language which came from Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Thursday 17th May, in which he said that there will be no Brexit deal without the Irish border backstop. It is well known in Irish political circles that the economic consequences for Ireland if the talks break down will be catastrophic for the Irish economy. Leo Varadkar is in grave danger, perhaps for Irish electioneering reasons, of creating an Irish economic crisis whilst being cynically used by the EU. Other member states in the European Council are beginning to get very worried about this.

The border backstop (otherwise known as Option C) is, as I said on Thursday’s Daily Politics, not – I repeat not – a legal obligation. Furthermore, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. It is only part of a draft agreement which has not acquired legal status. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the EU’s interpretation of the backstop is unacceptable.

Furthermore, a customs union is legally incompatible with the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. Michel Barnier has said “to be clear, without a backstop, there can be no withdrawal agreement. This is an EU issue, not only an Irish issue”. They are simply trying to pile on the pressure before the EU Council meeting on the 28th and 29th June. Ultimatums from the EU and from Ireland must be faced down. Article 50 changed the nature of the European Union and we are lawfully leaving.

All this raises ever-deeper and darker issues of an historic nature. For if the wrecking Amendments are supported by MPs who have already voted for the Bill on Third Reading, they would be contradicting their previous votes. They would also be contradicting their vote for the Referendum, its result, their vote for Article 50, and be in defiance of the Manifesto on which they stood in the last election. This would be unconscionable. This is a time of great political potential crisis.

Finally, while this is a time of great potential crisis, it is avoidable if everyone pauses, takes a deep breath, and recognises that what is at stake above all else is democracy within the ‘mother of Parliaments’. The greatest danger which we now genuinely face is whether those who could now step back from the brink do so or whether they continue on a path which would totally undermine trust in democracy itself. To do so would be fatal.