Concession on the Brexit “meaningful vote” has serious political implicationsby Peter Kellner / June 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
The government has surrendered; and the implications are immense.
Shortly before 1.30pm on Tuesday, David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, opposed a House of Lords amendment in no uncertain terms. Amendment 19 would enhance the powers of parliament in the Brexit process by making a Commons vote on the final withdrawal terms a “meaningful vote.”
Davis said this was a “no Brexit amendment” that amounted to “an unconstitutional shift that risks undermining our negotiations with the European Union. It enables parliament to dictate to the government their course of action in international negotiations.” He praised the academic Vernon Bogdanor, who had described the amendment as “a constitutional absurdity.”
These were the words of a minister expecting to win the vote. Had he feared defeat, he would surely have been more conciliatory. Instead, he used just about the most aggressive word in the parliamentary lexicon: “unconstitutional.”
Just three hours later, ministers caved in. They told the anti-hard-Brexit rebels that they would propose their own amendment that, in effect, gave them what they wanted. In three hours, a constitutional absurdity had become a political necessity. It had become clear that, for all the cajoling by the Tory whips, and the appeals to loyalty to Theresa May, the government was likely to lose the vote.
We should not be fooled by the overnight reports that the government has promised less than the rebels claim—that they have offered only talks about a new amendment, with no commitment to a greatly enhanced role for parliament in the Brexit process. If ministers go back on their word and serve up something insipid, then the rebels will revive their own plan, and are likely to win the backing of majorities in both the Lords and Commons. The death of the government’s ambition to keep parliament at bay is not in doubt; all that is left to determine are the words and timing of the funeral oration.
This fact matters even more than the detail of parliament’s powers, though that is also highly significant. The real lesson of the government’s climbdown is that there is now no chance of anything other than the softest of Brexits being approved by parliament. This prospect will strengthen the hopes of a deal that will be as good (or un-bad) as possible for British…