Brexit has brought down yet another prime minister and seems to be crushing both main parties. The final straw was Theresa May’s proposal to bring forward the legislation which paves the way for us to leave the EU.
Previously she’d lost three ‘meaningful votes’, votes in the Commons which would have given her permission to sign the final leaving document with the EU based on her deal.
So Theresa May tried to bring forward the legislation. This time she promised to give time to include votes on things like a customs union, workers rights, and a referendum once the bill was into committee stage. A lot of people have asked me why so many people were unhappy with this because it appeared to be a new offer. Forgive the long post again and for getting nerdy, but I’m going to have to go into a little detail about how we make laws in this country!
To create a new law in Britain a piece of legislation has to go through several stages. The first significant one is called ‘second reading’. This is the first time the Commons gets to debate and vote on new laws being created. You can’t amend the bill at this stage, you can only vote for or against it after a very long and heated debate.
If it passes, the bill then goes into committee stage. Here MPs go through the bill line-by-line, scrutinising and debating in huge detail and also trying to change and improve it. Any MP can propose amendments at this stage and those amendments are voted on. If the votes are won then the legislation changes and continues to the next part. This process can take weeks and is usually done by a representative group of MPs in a committee room but on things to do with our constitution, like Brexit, it is done on the floor of the Commons and any MP can participate and table amendments. Because the government have a majority it is extremely rare for an amendment to be successful.
Then the bill comes back to the main chamber for report stage where any new amendments are debated, and then we have third reading which is the final debate after which we vote again either for or against the bill in its entirety again. If passed, it is sent to the Lords for the same process all over again, and if they make any changes it comes back to the Commons. Then, finally, it goes off to the Queen to sign it and hey presto, we have a new law!
So, do you see why Theresa May’s offer caused such annoyance?
Firstly, she brought forward the legislation which would have delivered the exact same Brexit which had been voted down three times before in parliament. That in itself is pretty weird, not to say stubborn. Then she announced that if we voted for her bill at second reading she would give us votes on things like a new referendum in committee stage. But as I said a second ago, any MP can table amendments at this stage – it has nothing whatsoever to do with the prime minister. In fact, the decision on which amendments get voted on at this point is made by the deputy speaker.
So the prime minister was offering something that it wasn’t in her power to offer and that MPs like me could do anyway!
Furthermore, without government supporting one of the alternatives it is impossible for a Brexit amendment to be successful. We’ve seen how a majority does not exists for anything and that includes the government deal itself. So what we were offered was, ‘let me get my bill through and I’ll allow you to debate your ideas but without any hope of success. In return I get everything I want’.
It infuriated MPs.
I truly believe there was a way through. Rather than bringing her bill in and suggesting we go on a no-hope mission to change it, she should have compromised by introducing a bill which already included a confirmatory public ballot in the text. That would have changed everything. I would have voted for the bill therefore got it through to the next stage. Then it would have been for opponents of the referendum to table an amendment to remove it against the government’s wishes. That would have been a fair fight and one I would have relished.
Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield, and I met with the prime minister and put this case to her. We said in clear terms that we understood her challenges and if she did as we suggested she would lose votes from her own party. But 203 Labour MPs have already voted for a confirmatory ballot and that’s a big reward for sacrificing some votes from her own side and it would have had the massive benefit of breaking the gridlock and getting Brexit out of Westminster and offering the public an end to the nightmare in return for one more final referendum.
I warned the prime minister that another attempt at offering a little to everyone would end in disaster. I was very aware that I was speaking to the prime minister as a new-ish opposition backbench MP, but I believed this with every atom in my body.
48 hours after this exchange in the Commons, the prime minister had resigned.
Everything is on hold now except the next deadline at the end of October. We are wasting time again. Once more our politics is not matching the scale of challenge faced by our country and the rest of the world is looking on in horror.
The new prime minister will inherit exactly the same Commons with exactly the same views and lack of majority. The deal with the EU cannot be renegotiated and as we move forward doors will start to close, options will start to narrow further. There is no time to waste in fixing this mess.
We’ve had three years since the referendum. Since then we’ve had a general election, three Brexit secretaries, a bad deal negotiated that’s been defeated three times, and soon we’ll have a new prime minister. The deal we were told was honouring the referendum is dead. So how can what we have now in any way be honouring the referendum result? It can’t be. The democratic mandate for Brexit is weakening by the day and needs to go back to the country.
You know that I am fighting really hard to find a way through this. I won’t give up. I had very many messages from followers of this page who told me they couldn’t vote Labour last week due to the lack of clarity in our messaging even though we voted for a people’s vote in parliament. I hear you loud and clear. I don’t want to ignore or punish you for not voting Labour, I want to listen and learn from you.
I’m back to parliament next week and I’ll be doing everything I possibly can to shape the agenda. I’ll be speaking out, working with MPs from every party, and wracking my brains for new ways through this terribly difficult situation. I will be doing my best to give you voice within the Labour Party and in parliament, I know your voice needs hearing in both.