So much has happened in the House of Commons this week:
- On Monday we voted on a second round of ‘indicative Brexit’ votes. Those proposing different forms of Brexit continued to resist agreeing to a People’s Vote. But despite this, the concept of a ‘confirmatory public vote’ achieved the highest number of votes, followed by a customs union-style Brexit. Because the evidence suggests that all forms of Brexit will leave the country poorer, I am not prepared to support anything as damaging without at the very least giving the British people a final say on whether to proceed. A People’s Vote nearly fell off the list of options when Labour MPs voted for a Customs Union Brexit. In our Independent Group we voted against it primarily because it will not on its own deliver the frictionless trade needed to avoid a hard Irish border and a ruinous hard Brexit. The Lib Dems split on the matter but the SNP and Green MP saw the trap that had been laid and joined us in the ‘no’ lobby. If we hadn’t, the Customs Union option would have won a majority and the People’s Vote campaign would have fallen to the way side. In the event PV topped the poll and we remain the only way out of the Brexit crisis.
- On Tuesday the Prime Minister’s eight hour long Cabinet meeting resulted in her asking Jeremy Corbyn in to hatch a joint plan on proceeding with Brexit. This is concerning because Corbyn’s priorities didn’t include a People’s Vote, although other Labour MPs have asserted that this must be the case. The main parties carving up a deal between them would be concerning if they both agreed to supply votes for a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement without any guarantee of a public vote with a remain option in exchange. Tonight the talks seem to have halted – bizarrely with the Government saying they are reluctant to make changes to the non-binding ‘Political Declaration’, when surely that was the whole point of No10’s talks! Difficult to tell at this stage whether this is a mutually agreed ‘pause’ or not.
- On Wednesday MPs took control of the Commons order paper to secure time for debate on a ‘Business of the House Motion’ proposing that the ‘Article 50 extension’ Bill – as a safeguard against a crash-out no-deal Brexit – could be passed in that sitting. Hilary Benn’s amendment to have another round of indicative votes resulted in a 310-310 draw, with the Speaker using his casting vote for the first time in decades, which meant that amendment fell. This is a pity because I believe the next time we run indicative votes we can find a compromise ‘composite’ between, for instance, the Customs Union-plus-Confirmatory Public vote, for which a majority should be attainable. Fortunately the main motion did pass – and we proceeded with passing the extension Bill by the slimmest of margins: 312 votes to 311 near midnight that evening.
- Working with other MPs from across parties I have been drafting different amendments, looking ahead at the protections necessary to prevent the UK falling over the cliff edge, and pressing Ministers to consider a longer extension as necessary so we can find a way through. The news today that next week’s EU Summit might be ready to grant a flexible extension suggests it is possible European Parliamentary elections could proceed on 23rd May. I hope that they do – because as long as we are in the room in Europe we ought to have Britain’s voice heard around the table, still deciding the key issues affecting our continent.
Oh, and this week we also had the Commons chamber shut down early yesterday because of a major water leak and a series of naked protestors in the public gallery. Which summed up what extraordinary times these are (and, to be fair to the protestors, I share their frustration that massive issues like the climate change crisis have been pushed off the agenda by this Brexit debacle!).