Article 50 bill’s next stage: Amendments
Last night, MPs voted to pass the Article 50 bill at its second reading. Next week, MPs will get the chance to amend the bill before voting again to take us down the government’s Brexit rabbit hole.
As widely expected, the 137-word bill that asks Parliament to give power to the prime minister to invoke Article 50 passed its second reading last night. But it’s not quite over yet. Early next week, the bill moves to the committee stage where MPs hope to amend it.
In this case, it will be a committee of the whole house. Most bills at this stage would be looked at by a Public Bill committee. However, as this one’s such a biggie (despite it being limited to 137 words), all MPs will have the opportunity to debate it. This time, however, the focus will be on amendments that MPs have proposed to make to the bill.
And MPs have made a whole heap of amendments. The document covering all the amendments (as of 1 February) is 128 pages long. Although it’s highly unlikely that many of these will pass, there are a few amendments that MPs will be focusing on to get enough cross-party support for them to go through. Of course, with the Labour party’s insistence that they “will not frustrate the process,” it’s also very likely that the bill will pass as it is.
You can find updated amendments on the bill at parliament.uk.
Amendments to watch out for
As the opposition party with the second highest number of MPs, it’s Labour’s proposed amendments that are the ones that have more of a chance of going through. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer have jointly proposed seven amendments. The most significant of them is to allow a “meaningful vote” in Parliament. In her Brexit speech, Theresa May already promised a vote for MPs and Lords on the final deal. But Labour want this vote to be taken before the government goes to the European Parliament with it.
However, there are many fears from MPs across all parties that this may end up being a sham with Parliament being forced to vote between a “bad deal” or “no deal”. Her promise also doesn’t allow for what would happen if a new deal isn’t reached in that timeframe.
Like SO much of what we’ve seen over Brexit, a “meaningful vote” seems purposefully obscure. Obscure enough to get enough support for it to be passed and keep various options alive. These options could include continuing negotiations, reversing Article 50 and staying in the EEA. Holding this vote before the government goes back to the EU to agree it means that they could potentially consider all these options as well as any likely deal and no deal.
A much more definitive amendment is one to guarantee legal rights for EU nationals living in the UK. The Times reports that some Tory MPs are threatening to rebel unless the government provides this guarantee. It remains to be seen if they will be satisfied with another promise by the government that it intends to do that once reciprocal guarantees can be obtained early on in negotiations.
Other amendments focus on process during the negotiations including regular reporting to the House of Commons. You can see Labour’s list of amendments at labourlist.org.
Debate on the amendments starts on 6 February and continues to 8 February. MPs will get another chance to vote on the bill along with any amendments taken forward at the bill’s third reading, which will take place directly after this committee stage on 8 February. You can see all the steps the bill has to go through here.
Before the bill’s second reading, Brexit secretary threw the gauntlet down to MPs at the start of the debate by asking them if they trust the people. If they did, they should vote for the bill. As we’ve said before, the bill’s simplicity means that a better question MPs should be asking is “do they trust the government?”
The amendments offer MPs a chance to ensure that there is more scrutiny over Brexit. Voting for it in its simplicity means trusting the government. And we already have a good indication of the direction the government wants to take us. MPs will have to consider if that’s the direction they are happy to let the country go. Or as Tory’s sole dissenter Ken Clarke would say, do they really want to follow Theresa May down the rabbit hole?
If you haven’t already seen it, Ken Clarke’s speech whereby he refers to the prime minister’s “Alice in Wonderland” plans for Brexit is marvellous. You can watch it in its entirety in the Mirror.
We’ll know more of the “Alice in Wonderland” plans when David Davis presents the long-awaited white paper today.