"I'm doing everything I can to keep the UK in the closest possible relationship with the European Union" Thangam Debbonaire, Member of Parliament for Bristol West
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 07.20 Wednesday 23rd October 2019
I’m writing this from my flat, the morning after the votes the night before. What happened, exactly?
The government had scheduled the Second Reading of their Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), to bring their Withdrawal Agreement into law. This as after presenting it only late the previous night. They presented a timetable for scrutinising and amending the Bill which was wholly inadequate for a piece of law of this scale and long-term impact on the entire country.
There was a vote at 7pm, to approve the Second Reading. This does not confer approval on the entire Bill, given the expectation that there would e amendments, and plenty of them, at the next stage. However, for many of us, particularly those who strongly oppose Brexit in principle and oppose key parts of the content of this Bill, we could not vote for it in any form. The government, however, won this vote with 329 votes AYE (in support) and 299 votes NO (opposing). This is significant as it is the first time either this Prime Minister or the previous one could get Parliamentary approval for any form or any stage of their Withdrawal agreements.
But then, there was a vote on the timetable for the remaining stages, including the critically important ‘Committee Of the Whole House’ stage, where we scrutinise the Bill line by line and put down amendments. Many of us considered that proposed timetable wholly inadequate. That includes some who voted AYE in the second reading vote.
This meant that this Programme Motion as defeated, by 322 NOES (opposing the timetable motion) to 308 AYES (supporting it). This happened after a lot of work behind the scenes in which I was involved, as a Labour Whip. That’s a lot of talking and listening and analysing and building consensus.
Government responded by saying they will now pause this Bill.
Effectively this means the EU are highly likely to approve the Prime Minister’s request for an extension, which we forced him to ask for via the Letwin Amendment on Saturday. So it looks almost impossible that we will leave the EU on 31st October.
More later. I have a busy day ahead, with various meetings and then the continuation of the debate (and votes on) the Queen’s Speech. This was postponed from Monday and Tuesday to make way for the WAB, and now the WAB has been postponed, we are picking up where we left off. Today the theme is the NHS. Tomorrow the economy.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 15.58 Tuesday 22nd October 2019
In the Chamber at the moment there is the second reading of the government’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill. We will vote on this at 7pm, and we will then vote on the Programme Motion, which sets up a timetable for the rest of the process of considering this Bill. The Programme Motion is utterly inadequate for a Bill which changes virtually everything about how we run our country. It allows us only three days, which is woeful. We could, and should, be sitting on Friday and over the weekend. We could, and should, stress the need for an extension to the scheduled date of departure. The government has refused to negotiate any of this with the Labour Chief Whip, which is unheard of and undemocratic.
I will therefore be voting against the Second Reading of this Bill, and against the Programme Motion.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 20.45 Saturday 19th October 2019
For my Saturday evening, I’ve been preparing for appearing on BBC Sunday Politics West Live tomorrow. This has combined consumption of hot lemon and honey to try to recover more of my lost voice and closely re-watching Keir Starmer’s Speech from the dispatch box today. He systematically and with crystal clarity took apart the Prime Minister’s version of the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship with the EU. I watched with my notebook and pen in hand. You can do the same, with or without notebook and pen or hot lemon and honey. The link to the relevant section of Parliamentlive.tv today is here.
I’d rather Keir took fewer interventions personally, but that’s a mark of how collegiate he is. I’d prefer a longer line of his argument. Hence the notebook and pen.
You can watch me on Sunday Politics in the West Country tomorrow morning on BBC I-Player or the tellybox.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 17.18 Saturday 19th October 2019
We won – the Letwin amendment passed!
You can see me in my lucky red shirt, which I save for telling (counting and presenting the results for) votes we are likely to win, on the BBC news website. My colleague Matt Western took his first turn announcing the result – I have a bit of voice now, thanks to my husband at home and my colleague Chris Elmore in the Whips office dosing me with hot lemon and honey (plus excellent vegan chocolate cake – thanks Chris!), But not enough to announce. Still, I understand the result was shown on screens outside at the People’s Vote rally, which apparently brought cheers to the crowd. More on the implications for a people’s vote shortly.
Now there are strange things here – Oliver Letwin was greeted warmly by people on the edge of the crowds outside who had gathered for the People’s Vote Rally. But he has said he wants to vote for an exit deal. However, as a result of his amendment passing, the government failed to push their motion on the deal to a vote.
So what does this all mean? Well, it means the terms of the EU Withdrawal (Number 2) Act 2019) (the so-called Benn Act) now kick in and the PM is legally required to ask the EU for an extension.
It also means that government will put forward a Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) next week, with the second reading on Tuesday. That will be amendable, so expect to see amendments on keeping the whole of the UK in a Customs Union (something I suspect there is a parliamentary majority for), and the Kyle-Wilson proposition for a confirmatory vote aka second referendum. In case you were wondering, that didn’t get voted on today because the government ended up not moving their second motion on Parliamentary consent for leaving with no deal.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 14.14 Saturday 19th October 2019
We are now coming towards the votes. Or possibly vote. First up, Letwin amendment.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 10.56 Saturday 19th October 2019
PM is still being questioned. Number 10 is briefing that if the amendment proposed by Oliver Letwin and others is passed, they will pull the main proposition – i.e. they will not put the PM’s deal to the vote. PM has not said that himself in the Chamber, but it does rather put a spin on his remarks.
The Letwin amendment effectively withholds Parliamentary consent to the deal unless and until the necessary legislation is passed – thus effectively triggering the EU (Withdrawal) (Number 2) Act (also known as the Benn Act), which requires the PM to ask the EU for an extension on the date of leaving the EU.
So, if this happens, there will be a delay, but still no agreed deal. If there is no vote on the deal, the PM will then not put the proposition to leave without a deal to a vote. Which means there might not be a vote today on a second referendum or confirmatory vote on the deal, with remain as the other option.
As I write, I am in my office, sucking cough sweets (I’ve lost my voice) and watching the PM being questioned strongly from all sides and all viewpoints. But he is ducking out of saying what his office is briefing journalists, that the deal will not be put if Letwin amendment passes.
Chaos. Next up: the debate on the actual main proposition and Letwin amendment. I’m going back to the Whips office now and then into the chamber, for my shift as on-duty whip on the front bench – if you’re watching, I’m wearing my lucky red shirt and will be on the left side of the Speaker.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 10.18 Saturday 19th October 2019
PM is being questioned on his statement. The House is packed. There is an atmosphere reflecting the importance of the day. Whatever happens today, it is not over, because even if the deal did pass, there would have to be legislation to enact it, which would be amendable, for example with an amendment requiring a confirmatory public vote on the deal, with remain as an option (the so-called Kyle-Wilson proposition). This has been tabled today as an amendment to the second proposition, the government proposal to take us out of the EU with no deal, if we don’t pass the deal. But we still don’t know if that proposal will be put.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 09.11 Saturday 19th October 2019
I’m in the Whips office waiting for our meeting to start, before the Parliamentary day begins.
On the Order paper: the Prime Minister will make a statement and we will get to ask him questions (not me, I’ve lost my voice!). Then we vote on the so-called ‘Letwin amendment’ to the main proposition – which requires the government to abide by the EU (Withdrawal) (Number 2) Act (the Benn Act) to seek a delay rather than take us out without a deal.
HOT NEWS: government has just announced they will not be pushing their main proposition if the Letwin amendment passes. I am no longer sure what they are up to. More will be revealed but it looks like there will only be one vote after all today. But it’s not over.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 19.53 Monday 14th October 2019
Last week, we prorogued legally for a change, and today back for the State Opening of Parliament, with all the pomp and ceremony and lots of red velvet robes (that’s in the House of Lords, not the Commons).
It’s not the Queen’s fault but the speech was even more disappointing than I expected. It was mostly a party election broadcast for the Tory Party, who are clearly gearing up for an election, as we all are. The commitments to real action were minimal, but there were plenty of warm words about supporting education, tackling crime and enforcing law and order. Also some more warm words about helping people with mental health problems but without the commitment to proper funding which I know is needed for people to get the help they need.
We are now in the days of debate about the Queen’s Speech and I will be speaking tomorrow, in the day themed ‘UK in the World’. Later this week, the Prime Minister will attend the European Council and put forward some sort of Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration for the Future Relationship with the EU – also known as ‘the Brexit deal’. If something gets agreed by the European Council, then he will propose it at a specially convened Saturday sitting of Parliament this Saturday. It’s likely that this will be highly charged. It’s also likely that there will be many amendments to any proposition and I am expecting one to be about having a confirmatory vote on any deal, with remaining in the EU as the other option. Then next week we will vote on the Queen’s Speech. There could be many other responses to what the PM brings back from the European Council and I will report on this later in the week.
Meanwhile, I am glad that I went for a long run at the weekend – even though it was raining, it was great to be out in the Autumn trees. I ran half a marathon distance in slightly longer than the time it took Kipchoge to run a whole marathon the previous day. He did have teams of pacers and a car with a laser beam to guide his pace, mind. I had my friend and the Autumn colours, it was exactly what I needed to set me up for this week.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 17.14 Thursday 3rd October 2019
And now on the way back from Parliament to Bristol, after another rollercoaster week for the country ad for Parliament.
How about some high spots? The second reading debate of the Domestic Abuse Bill was a brilliant example of Parliament at its best. We spent most of yesterday on this, working collaboratively and cross-party on a much-needed piece of legislation which has widespread support and from which a great deal of good will come. People brought their expertise and their professional knowledge, including me – my speech focussed on my previous work with domestic violence perpetrators. People told upsetting and often harrowing stories about the suffering of constituents they had helped, or wanted to help but not been able to. Two MPs, Rosie Duffield and Naz Shah, spoke movingly about their own experiences of abuse. There were constructive suggestions for improving the legislation at committee stage and the Ministers responsible welcomed these.
Marking Black History Month, Diane Abbott made black history as she spoke for the Labour Party from the dispatch box at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, the first woman of colour to do that (the Prime Minister was giving his speech at Tory Party conference, so he was represented by Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary).
I was very proud to be an MP yesterday.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE: 10.53 Monday 30th September 2019
I’m on the train back to un-prorogued Parliament, after last week’s astonishing and sometimes very upsetting rollercoaster. After I wrote the below, the debate continued into the night with a long session of questions to the Prime Minister following his so-called ‘Update to Parliament’, which, in truth, was anything but.
I finally got called to ask my question at about 20.40, by which time emotions were running very high and language had become heated at best, upsetting and downright unpleasant at worst. I’d wanted to focus on the PM’s utter lack of plan, disregard for the law and seeming unwillingness to work with the whole House to find compromises. Instead, I ended up reflecting back to him his behaviour over the previous two hours, which was contemptuous at best of the nation’s elected representatives. I asked him to apologise to the people of Bristol West, as his contempt for me trying to do my job representing them is in effect contempt for them. He did not.
Some of my colleagues asked him to stop using certain words frequently used to inflame public opinion to dangerous levels towards Members of Parliament. I understood why they did, and I understand why so many MPs heckled the PM – it was an appalling display. However, I chose to respond with silent dismay, as many others did, including large numbers of MPs from his own side. I’m trying to stick to that, as I am deeply concerned that the public is seeing just what the Prime Minister wants the public to see- a Parliament locked in perpetual argument and anger, not trying to find a compromise or put forward alternatives. I believe that the Prime Minister and his advisor Dominic Cummings want to keep us in a state of anger and upset, so that they can play their ‘Parliament vs People’ strategy. I believe that the people who voted ‘remain’ in the referendum are being badly let down by this government and I will do everything I can, including channelling my frustration effectively, to represent those of us who still believe that the best possible relationship with the EU is full membership.
On Thursday, Parliament voted not to go back into Parliamentary recess, as the government wanted. I was proud to announce the results of that vote – several notable Tory MPs, including most of those who are still members of the Tory party but have been removed from the Tory Whip in Parliament (Dominic Grieve et al) voted with us. Tory conference is still going ahead, but Ministers and MPs will need to be on standby to return to Parliament. Judging from conversations I have had with Tory MPs, and seeing their faces in the Chamber last week, there are many who are very unhappy with their Prime Minister’s approach. They need to work out what they are going to do about it, just as we in the Opposition parties are working together to try to solve this current crisis. More later.
LIVE BLOG Update 15.55 Wednesday 24th 2019
And we’re back. It’s a bit like Pam Ewing’s dream in Dallas way back in the 1980s when she wakes up and Bobby is still in the shower and JR never got shot after all.
I am typing this from the House of Commons members’ library. In the Chamber we are on the second of five Ministerial Statements, following two Urgent Questions, on the Yellowhammer report into no-deal-Brexit preparedness. After this there will be one on Iran, and then the big event of the day, Prime Minister making an ‘update to Parliament’, after which we will all get to ask questions. As is usual in this element of the Parliamentary day, and especially on such important matters of national significance, Mr Speaker tries to call as many MPs as possible to ask a question, and I expect he will call any and everyone who wants to.
As a whip, I have been involved in ringing round MPs I am responsible for and making sure they can get back to Westminster for today and be prepared to be here tomorrow and for the next two weeks. Everyone wants to be, but of course, expecting that we would remain prorogued, some have constituency events booked in which need cancelling. But we don’t actually know yet what will happen next week. The government look likely to push for votes tomorrow for us to go back into recess, to allow them to have their party conference next week, and/or a General Election.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 15.30 Tuesday 24th September
I am still in the Labour conference fringe meeting where Keir Starmer is doing a Q&A. Speaking now about the Supreme Court ruling – he asks “does anyone in this room think that we were shut down for five weeks so he could prepare his Queen’s Speech?”. We should be proud of our judicial independence.
Chair is taking alternately questions for Keir about Brexit and not about Brexit. He was just asked what job he would like in Parliament if not on Brexit. He reminds us that whatever happens we will be dealing with this for years but that we have so much more to do – inequality across our country of health, of opportunity and of influence – all affected the result in 2016 and all still have to be dealt with whatever happens with Brexit.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 15.22 Tuesday 24th Sept
Guilty! The Baroness Hale, on behalf of the 11 judges on the Supreme Court, delivered with excoriating precision a unanimous verdict that the Prime Minister acted illegally when he advised and asked the Queen to shut down Parliament.
The Speaker has now called us back to Parliament for 11.30 tomorrow morning.
I am in a Labour Conference fringe meeting where Keir Starker is speaking. He says this points to the need for a written constitution.
He also confirms that the Labour Party would not vote for a further recess if that’s what the PM asks for tomorrow.
He is being asked about the Supreme Court decision and about Labour policy on the UK’s relationship with the EU.
He says it is tricky to find a way to have a referendum before a General Election.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 08.55 Tuesday 24th Sept
I’m back. Greetings from Labour conference. More on that later.
Today in about 90 minutes, the Supreme Court will rule on whether or not the UK Prime Minister was acting illegally when he decided to prorogue Parliament. If they do, it looks like that will mean the decision is invalid. I will go back to Parliament as soon as possible, so I can get back to representing the people of Bristol a West as they elected me to do. I am very frustrated by being shut out of doing half of my job for the last two weeks – it’s great having more time for more constituency work, more doorknocking, more campaigning, more casework. But I am a Member of Parliament and the clue is in the name. At this time of national crisis more than ever, I should be in Parliament, scrutinising and challenging the government.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 11.29 Thursday 12th Sept
On Monday we in Parliament passed a binding motion requiring the government to publish their own report on the potential impact of the UK leaving the EU without a deal, codenamed ‘Yellowhammer’.
It’s a quick read, but an anger-inducing one. In relation to potential impact on goods crossing the border between EU and UK:
“Unmitigated, this will have an impact on the supply of medicines and medical supplies. The reliance of medicines and medical product supply chains on the short straits crossing makes them particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays.”
“Certain types of fresh food supply will decrease.”
“Some cross-border UK financial services will be disrupted.”
“Law enforcement data and information sharing between the UK and the EU will be disrupted.”
“Low income groups will be disproportionately affected by price rises in food and fuel.”
It’s more than infuriating to note that some of us have been asking questions about all of this for months, years, to be told by government minister after government minister that we are scaremongering.
I’m not scaremongering. I can read and analyse existing complex arrangements and I have been sitting on regulatory committees for months dealing with possible impacts of a no-deal Brexit and asking these questions. I know that if we leave with no withdrawal agreement we will simply be a third country to the EU, a member of the WTO, who will be bound by WTO rules not to give us preferential treatment over other WTO members unless there is a recognised Free Trade Agreement in place or in sight. That’s not the EU being mean. That’s the EU sticking to WTO rules. I’ve been seeing the pro-Brexit campaigners outside Parliament carrying placards reading ‘WTO rules now’. That’s what this means. Delays, price rises, shortages and the lowest paid will be the worst off. I’ve known this for months. I have been trying, with colleagues, to get this acknowledged by the government for months, and now it is official, in their own government document.
This what a no-deal Brexit means. It’s a national crisis, the like of which we have not seen in post Second World War UK. The Brexiteers are trying to dress it up as a ‘Clean Brexit’ to make it sound nice and shiny. It’s not. It’s a mess which will affect people’s lives across the country and for a long time.
And still Parliament is prorogued.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 16.39 Wednesday 11th September 2019
Parliament was prorogued in the early hours yesterday, which means that while we are still MPs, and can act on our constituents behalf in constituency work, we are prevented from representing them properly in Westminster and from scrutinising the government properly. At a time of national crisis, this is disgraceful.
However, the Edinburgh Court Of Session has now ruled, this morning, that this is not lawful.
We should be recalled.
I went to work as usual yesterday, in Westminster, where I had several meetings. Today I was working in Bristol, but I am now returning to London and will be in my Westminster office tomorrow. But we should be sitting in the House of Commons and, despite protests by MPs from the opposition parties today, it seems the government intends to fight this in the Supreme Court rather than recall us to do this vital part of our job at this crisis.
In both locations I have plenty of work to do. However, I believe I should be recalled to formal sitting of Parliament so that I can properly hold the Prime Minister and government to account, challenge them on behalf of my constituents, get answers to vital and urgent questions. I can’t even get my written questions answered – which is doubly frustrating as most of my recently submitted questions were about the impact on Bristol of leaving the EU at all and leaving without any withdrawal agreement.
You can see the questions I had submitted on the possible consequences of a no-deal Brexit on Bristol and read the non-answers here.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 19.30 Monday 9th September 2019
Emergency motion requiring government to publish communications about the prorogue plan and the full publication of the Yellowhammer report of impact of no-deal Brexit, passed 311 – 302.
We are now on to the second emergency debate, proposed by Labour, requiring commitment from government to abide by the law, particularly the #BennBill which we passed last week and has this evening received Royal assent and become law.
Extraordinary that we have to do ask the government to stick to the rule of law but it seems we do, given the PM’s recent statement he would rather die in a ditch than ask for an extension to the departure date.
Extraordinary that the government is not even replying to our motion!
LIVE BLOG 19.01 Monday 9th Sept
Waiting for a vote on the Grieve emergency debate on proroguing and disclosure of information.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is on the front bench as Michael Gove makes the wind-up speech for government and he looks somewhat chastened. I do hope this is because of the earlier points of order by me and others asking him to apologise in the House of Commons for his comparison of Dr Nicholl (the NHS whistleblower who is behind the leaks of the Yellowhammer report into the impact of a no-deal Brexit, because he was so worried about impact on sick people and NHS) with the disgraced former doctor and anti-vaccination campaigner Andrew Wakefield. I raised this last week and he refused to apologise so I raised it again as a Point of Order this afternoon, as did Shadow Health Minister Jon Ashworth. JRM has apologised to Dr Nicholl via the media, but not done so yet on record in House of Commons, which seems only fair to me. Andrew Wakefield has caused the massive drop in the triple vaccination Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) of children, leading to a loss of herd immunity in the UK to measles, a potentially deadly disease. To compare him to an NHS whistleblower putting the national interest before his own career is a disgrace and in my view part of the denigration of experts which so bedevils our national life today.
I wait expectantly.
And now we vote.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 17.38 Monday 9th September
I hardly know where to start! There was so much happen over the weekend I couldn’t keep up on here.
So I will start with right now – the Speaker has granted two emergency debates, which are to be debated tonight. One taking place right now, proposed by Dominic Grieve, is a two-part emergency debate in the form of a ‘Humble Address’ – which is when we ask the Queen to direct the government to do something specific. We support this motion, which asks for the publication of all communications, including private communications, about proroguing (the shutting down of Parliament) between certain key people, including Dominic Cummings, and also requiring the publication of the Yellowhammer report into the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 19.39 Thurs 5th Sept
I’m not sure how this PM and this government could get any more bizarre or any more disgraceful but I am sure they will find a way. Most recently today the PM used West Yorkshire police officers as a backdrop to a blatantly political speech about Brexit and General election – which in my view should lead to a charge of wasting police time.
Following up from the Lords last night, the government caved in the early hours and agreed that the programme motion could pass and the Benn Bill will therefore finish its Lords stage on Friday, tomorrow.
The Leader of the House – Jacob Rees Mogg – used Business Statement today to do various things, including wave to his children in the gallery and insult national hero, no-deal-Brexit whistleblower Dr Nicholls behind the Yellowhammer revelations about the potential impact of no-deal Brexit on medicines and more. He also announced next week’s business, as if normal, but nothing about it is normal. For a start, it’s not a week, it’s just Monday. Suggesting strongly they intend to shut Parliament down on Tuesday.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 23.35 Weds 4th Sept
Hilary Benn’s Bill tonight passed the Commons stages by a majority of 28 and now moves to the Lords. There were impassioned speeches by some of the MPs sacked from the Tory party for voting with us to secure this debate, there was an amendment which passed by default due to lack of government tellers and which could bring back the Theresa May deal! And finally this evening after a further ninety minutes debate MPs voted for an election, and there was a majority, but it was not enough to fulfil the conditions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which requires two-thirds of the House.
Meanwhile at the other end of the Parliamentary estate, the Labour Leader in the Lords proposed a ‘Programme Motion’, to create a timetable for debating the Hilary Benn Bill and a cutoff of Friday this week. Lords do not usually do this (we do in the Commons for most Bills). government has reacted by proposing 84 amendments to the programme motion (also very unusual) in order to filibuster (effectively block, by talking endlessly about this extraordinary number of amendments to a timetabling motion). They are still debating now. You can watch them!
The newest MP made her maiden speech, on her second day. Tan Dhesi, a Labour MP, excoriated the PM for the language he has used about black and Asian people and asked him to apologise for the hurt he has caused – the PM did not apologise, but the clip of Tan has gone viral and Parliamentary convention broken as he had huge round of applause in the Chamber. Jacob Rees Mogg, now Leader of the House, was widely criticised for appearing to snooze off in boredom, lolling on the front bench yesterday. Twitter memes have not been kind.
The mood, the conventions, the behaviour, the majority, the Brexit, everything is in flux, but it is often still seems as if we are in a time warp.
And rain interrupted the cricket at Old Trafford.
What about the negotiations?
The government says they are negotiating a new deal, but the EU says the government has put no new proposals forward to solve the backstop problem (which is intended to prevent a return to a noticeable border on the island of Ireland, but many Brexit supporters do not want). As sacked Tory MP said today in what he said would probably be his last speech in Parliament: “Ireland is treated by some people in here as if the border issue has just been made up to inconvenience them”. Hilary Benn pointed out that even if the PM does get a new agreement at the European Council on 17th October, we wouldn’t have time to pass the legislation by 31st October to enact it. But he also warned everyone that the temptation and tendency to think that exit at any price and in any way, deal or no deal, on 31st October, is the route to ending Brexit negotiations is entirely wrong: “No Deal will not be the end of Brexit, it will only be the end of the beginning”.
Even with a deal, this would be the case: the deal is only the withdrawal agreement. Negotiating the long term relationship starts afterwards and will likely take years.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 18.51 WEDNESDAY 4TH SEPT
Waiting to vote again, on amendments to Hilary Benn’s Bill and on the Bill itself in the ‘Committee of the whole house’ stage. We sometimes do this, the committee stage in the whole house, for big Bills. Usually most Bills go through this stage in committees of 17 or 19, cross party with proportions of MPs to reflect the composition of the Commons.
Earlier we had some moving speeches from Tories who were last night sacked from the Tory party for voting with us, for putting national interest before party.
Live Blog update 17.01
About to vote on second reading of the EU (withdrawal) (Number 6) Bill so we can then move on to the committee of the whole house straight away.
Results shortly. Information here.
Live Blog update 10.45 Weds 4th Sept
Procedural note: until the Bill (EU Withdrawal Bill no. 6) is presented later today we cannot get a physical copy in Parliament or an official Parliamentary link. This will happen early afternoon and I will post link then.
Amendments are being tabled now. They will not automatically be debated or voted on. That’s up to the Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. Again, I will post these later
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 8.22 Weds 4th Sept
Keir Starmer made it clear that today we (Labour MPs) will not vote for a general election, as this would mean trusting the PM not to take advantage of a dissolution of Parliament to take us out of the EU with no deal. We have to remove that risk, he says.
He ended with stinging words about Dominic Cummings (the Prime Minister’s lead adviser and Leave campaigner) and Boris Johnson, who he says are destroying their own party. He made it clear that this will not end well.
Is Cummings even a member of the Tory party I wonder? He doesn’t seem to like it very much. He just seems to have his own agenda. So far, however, it’s not going well. He has helped his boss turn the Tory parliamentary majority from a wafer to a ghost in the space of hours. And lose his first vote.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE 08.02 Wednesday 4th September 2019
Now waiting to hear Keir Starmer, Labour’s EU Exit Spokesperson, interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme at 8.10am.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 07.33 Wednesday 4th September 2019
This is is going to be another tricky day. For everyone.
1. There will be a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer who should be announcing the end of austerity and a rise in public funding for public services. That’s the unsubtle manoeuvre of a government that hopes to impress the electorate any day soon. Schools have been promoted as a recipient.
Tricky for him: a no-deal Brexit could wipe out all the money he thinks he has to spend.
Tricky for MPs representing constituencies with high levels of deprivation – from what has been trailed it looks like this is not for all schools and likely to focus on the schools in better off areas, which typically receive less per head because of the additional funding for the additional needs.
2. Yes, more Brexit. After the Chancellor comes the Hilary Benn Bill to make it as hard a possible for PM to take us out of EU with no withdrawal agreement.
3. Motion from the Prime Minister to call for a general election.
Tricky for him: he doesn’t have a majority to get anything passed, after his astonishing cull last night.
Tricky for the rest of us who want to end this Tory government: there is a risk that voting for a general election would leave the PM free to take advantage of the dissolution to take us out of the EU with no agreement. My constituents tell me they want us to focus on stopping this Brexit, but many also tell me they desperately want a change of government. It’s not likely we would back a general election on this Prime Minister’s terms.
4. All of this is hugely unsettling and anxiety-provoking for individuals and businesses who are directly affected. Please do have a look at my blog on this.
5. And then there’s the cricket. And it’s raining.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 00.09 Wednesday 4th September 2019
What happened to the Tories who rebelled against Boris Johnson tonight?
In the last hour the 21 Tories who voted for the motion tonight have all been suspended from the Tory Parliamentary Party. This list includes respected former Ministers and Secretaries of State, including two former Chancellors, a former Attorney-General, one of the most widely respected MPs in the House of Commons (Alistair Burt, hugely skilled and collaborative former Foreign Office Minister who resigned from Theresa May’s government earlier this year to vote against a no-deal Brexit) and others including Justine Greening and Nicholas Soames, who is Winston Churchill’s grandson.
These MPs are in despair at their own party’s slide towards hard Brexit and the consequences for this country. They still count themselves as Tories, and so I have many differences with them over economic and other policies; but I also have huge respect for them this evening for being willing to do what must have been very hard and go against their own party, which all of them have served for a long time, for the sake of what is best for the country.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 23.43 Tuesday 3rd September 2019
I’m at home now after the votes and Jenny Chapman’s Adjournment debate on the impact of a no-deal Brexit on sheep farming. Might sound a bit niche but because of massive increases in tariffs the EU will have to charge on the import of UK lamb it is likely that it will become economically unviable without a lot of government help.
We in the opposition parties were joined by 21 Tories which helped to give us a majority of 27 votes. This gives us control of the order paper tomorrow to debate Hilary Benn’s European Union (Withdrawal) (Number 6) Bill 2019.
On the way out of Parliament at nearly 11pm the pro and anti Brexit demonstrators who had been out in Parliament Square – the ones I passed were being very matey across their divide – some who were pleased about the result commiserating with some who weren’t. Maybe gives hope that our divided country can heal.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 19.44 Tuesday 3rd September 2019
So – as expected – the House of Commons showed overwhelming support for the emergency debate and we are in the opening speeches. We have a maximum of three hours to debate which means it will finish at 21.51 this evening and will then be followed by votes. The mood in the Chamber is certainly lively! It is however am extraordinary debate, as Jacob Rees-Mogg, now Leader of the House, is making a lengthy and somewhat patronising speech. He says he can’t remember when he was told about the plan to prorogue Parliament. Well I certainly can (I was in the middle of an Arabic lesson by Skype when the headline came across my screen and had to explain what I had just discovered, in Arabic). I would be shocked that the Leader of the House, who actually went to Balmoral to announce this plan to the Queen and ask her to announce it, couldn’t remember when he was told he was going to have to announce to the Queen the government is going to shut down. I would be shocked by this information if it was believable, even though it probably didn’t involve trying to explain prorogation in Arabic.
Why does this matter? Because we are in the middle of a national crisis, we need Parliamentary sovereignty and scrutiny more than ever and this man is trying to shut us down and laugh it off. It’s a disgrace.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 16.34 Tuesday 3rd September 2019
And that’s Boris Johnson’s majority gone. Phillip Lee crossed the floor of the House of Commons just as the Prime Minister started to give his statement on the G7 shortly after 15.30, leaving the Tory Parliamentary Party and is now sitting with the Liberal Democrats. That’s not a surprise, but it does rather raise the question of how Johnson thinks he can run a government with no majority of MPs.
What happens now? there are rumours that the government will table a motion to bring about a General Election but it would need a two-thirds majority of MPs and I think most MPs are keen to focus on the immediate problem of getting obstacles in the path of a no-deal Brexit, given that the PM can and almost certainly will prorogue us some point next week (still not confirmed).
Assuming the emergency debate is granted, there are likely to be votes later this evening around 10pm. The debate can last up to 3 hours or 10pm, whichever is the earlier. At that point, there could be a closure motion – to vote for there to be a vote! – and then a vote on the motion itself.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 15.08 Tuesday 3rd September 2019
Now in Parliament, we have started the Parliamentary day. There will be an application under Standing Order 24 (SO24) after the three Ministerial Statements for an emergency debate today on the proposed Bill mentioned below, to make it very hard for the Prime Minister to take us out of the European Union with no withdrawal agreement. The motion which will be debated later, if Sir Oliver Letwin is granted his emergency debate, is here.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 09.52 Tuesday 3rd September 2019
If you are following the day in Parliament look out for what comes after Foreign Office questions. There is an item on the Order Paper there called ‘Urgent Questions (if any), Ministerial Statements (if any).
Pretty sure we can expect some of both. At these there is a front bench initial exchange and then backbenchers on all sides try to catch Speaker’s eye to ask whichever Minister it is a supplementary question on behalf of their constituents. Speaker tried to call everyone. Sometimes this takes a whole and I expect today is one of those days!
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 08.11 Tuesday 3rd September 2019
Like every other MP I am on my way back to Westminster for the first sitting after the summer recess which many of us thought should have been cancelled anyway.
Last night the Prime Minister announced he will attempt to force a General Election if the government is defeated today on moves by Opposition MPs to require the Prime Minister NOT to take the UK out of the EU on 31st October without a withdrawal agreement agreed by the House of Commons unless he has the consent of the House of Commons.
Hilary Benn MP, chair of the cross-party scrutiny Committee on the UK departure from the EU, has tabled this Bill. Various means might be employed today to get it heard, debated and passed as quickly as possible. The Bill is called the European Union (Withdrawal) (Number 6) Bill 2019.
Currently the Parliamentary Order Paper (the agenda) does not mention this Bill. Almost everything on this order paper could change – the only really fixed points are what happens first and what happens last. First up is Foreign Office Questions – plenty of questions on Hong Kong, Brazil, Kashmir. I will attempt to catch the Speaker’s eye and be called for a supplementary Question on one of them.
At the end of the day, my colleague and friend, member of Labour’s Brexit team, Jenny Chapman, has an Adjournment debate on the implications for the sheep industry of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. This might sound niche, but it is important, the consequences are potentially really dramatic and it is an example of the very many problems with the UK leaving without a withdrawal agreement. I will aim to stay for Jenny’s debate, though Adjournment debates are usually only half an hour long and are between the proposer and a government minister.
The Prime Minister has undoubtedly raised the stakes by threatening to remove the Tory whip from any and all rebels from his own party, regardless of how loyal they may have been to the previous Tory PM. However, he may find he has made one threat too many. There are many highly patriotic MPs with a strong sense of duty in all political parties and there will undoubtedly be some Tory MPs who will not be bullied in this way and will vote with their consciences to try to halt leaving without an agreement. The Parliamentary website has not yet uploaded this Bill to the legislation pages but the link is here and I will add this again when it is up.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 08.42 Monday 2nd September 2019:
What am I listening to?
I have been mixing up listening to the Test Match Special podcast (after last Sunday’s incredible cricket match in Headingley!) with listening to the FT Politics podcast and the London Review of Books linked podcast Talking Politics. Both podcasts are free on the usual podcast apps. Both offer valuable information, analysis and insights as well as opinions. In my view, both do a good job of being engaging, thorough and interesting. I also sometimes dip into Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking. Other podcasts are of course available.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 8.00 Monday 2nd September 2019:
Things are moving really fast and we aren’t even back in Parliament until tomorrow. It emerged last night that Boris Johnson has threatened Tory MPs with having the Tory Whip removed and deselected for any general election if they rebel against the government in order to vote with the opposition parties to pass a law making it illegal to leave the EU without a deal. This is extraordinary and not, at the same time. On the one hand, it is entirely normal for a Prime Minister to expect that the MPs in his party would vote with him in the Commons and to make that clear. But this move would mean targeting MPs who were Tory Secretaries of State only weeks ago. It would also mean that they would be sacked from the Tory Whip for not supporting the government’s willingness to countenance no-deal-Brexit – something which very many Tory MPs and former Ministers have said would be a very bad idea. I won’t mention names but the internet provides easy ways to find out which Tory MPs recently removed their family photos from the desks of ministerial offices and don’t support a no-deal Brexit.
Right now, the prospect of leaving the EU with no agreement appears to be ripping the Tory Parliamentary Party apart. David Gauke MP, until July the Secretary of State for Justice, said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning that he has written to the Attorney-General to ask for confirmation that this government respects the rule of law. This comes following the equivocation by Michael Gove on the Andrew Marr programme yesterday about whether or not the government would respect any law Parliament passes to try to stop leaving the EU without an agreement. He was less than comforting about the supply of food – I’ll come back to that.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 09.40 Sunday 1st September 2019:
Cities and towns across the UK yesterday held rallies and protest events against the prorogation of Parliament. Bristol Labour MPs spoke at the one in Bristol (I was not able to be there but sent a message, which was read out).
A quick reminder: Parliament sits this Tuesday 3rd, Wednesday 4th, Thursday 5th and Monday 9th September. At the moment, the Prime Minister has announced we will then be prorogued, either starting from Tuesday 10th, or any of the days up until 14th September. This prorogue will last until the return to Parliament on 14th October. Parliamentarians have four days to try to stop the prorogation, there are various court processes going on and people are making their views known in MPs’ inboxes and on the streets.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 16.55 Thursday 29th August 2019:
I will be on BBC Radio Bristol at some point between 17.00 and 18.00 this afternoon – I’ve been told about 17.20 – speaking about my reactions to the Prime Minister’s decision to shut down Parliament and stop the country’s elected representatives from doing our jobs and scrutinising the government at this most important point in our country’s history.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 14.26 Thursday 29th August 2019:
People who are citizens of one of the other 27 EU countries and living in the UK:
If you want to continue to live in the UK if we leave the EU will usually need to apply for settled or pre-settled status, unless you already have leave to remain, or are now a citizen of the UK. The deadline for this is not until the end of 2020. However, you may want to apply now, to be sure of your situation if we leave the EU with no agreement.
The government website on the application process is here.
Businesses who trade with customers in the other EU 27 countries
If you trade with, sell to, buy from, work within any of the other EU 27 countries, you are likely to need customs certification if we leave without an agreement.
The government website on the application process for businesses to obtain an EORI number so they can import or export from or to the EU 27 after leaving the EU is here.
Even if you do not trade directly with a customer or supplier in one of the other EU countries, you may be affected if you have suppliers or customers who do.
The government website of information about what to do if you are business to prepare for Brexit in general is here.
The search page for guidance, including on what to do if we leave the EU without a deal is here.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 13.12 Thursday 29th August 2019:
If you want to receive my regular email newsletters specifically about the UK’s relationship with the EU, please follow this sign-up link.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 12.28 Thursday 29th August 2019:
What am I doing about all this?
First and foremost, I represent the people of Bristol West and my views reflect the overwhelming majority of views expressed to me by my constituents: that the best possible relationship for us to have with the European Union is full membership. Yes, there are things about the European Union that I want to improve, but we can’t do that if we are out of it. The EU has been one of the greatest achievements for peace, prosperity and well-being in our continent. We are neighbours, the greatest potential for trade, particularly environmentally sustainable trade, is with our nearest neighbours. Trade and co-operation, and a democratic way of leading that, are great ways of keeping our countries at peace with each other and working together.
I campaigned to keep us within that close relationship, in which we were a leading country, in the 2016 referendum. I’ve since then made the case clearly and regularly in Parliament and elsewhere for us to keep that close relationship. Through my work as a Labour whip, I have helped to build and maintain the co-operation of MPs across all parties to block the UK from leaving the EU so far, particularly without any withdrawal agreement.
I believe that in these times of national crisis, Parliament should already have been recalled to sit in session throughout the summer, should continue to sit, including in the time usually allocated to conference recess. We should be doing this all cross-party and urgently. I have signed the Church House Declaration to this effect.
I am also proud that the public petition for stopping the prorogation of Parliament has at the time I am writing this been signed by more people in Bristol West than any other constituency in the UK. Once 100,000 people sign a public petition to Parliament, it has to be debated. There are already over one million signatures. I stand proudly as one of the people of Bristol West utterly opposed to the PM shutting down Parliament at this time of national crisis.
I will continue my work as a Labour MP for Bristol West, a remain-supporting MP and Opposition Whip, to achieve all of these aims. This means working with MPs from other parties and my own, listening to and consulting people and businesses in Bristol West, and investigating every possible opportunity I will not give up, I will work hard and I will do my very best for Bristol West and the country.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 11.42 Thursday 29th August 2019:
What can Parliament do?
It’s worth remembering that we – MPs – have already stopped the UK from leaving the EU, on two occasions, particularly focussing on stopping us from leaving with no withdrawal agreement in place but effectively keeping us within full membership of the EU. This happened to the two departure dates of 29th March and 12th April this year.
We also most recently amended a piece of Northern Ireland legislation to make it harder for the PM to prorogue Parliament. This successful amendment keeps us in Parliamentary session until 10th September. We’ve got four Parliamentary days before then to try to prevent the new PM from proroguing us, and then to stop him from taking us out of the EU with no withdrawal agreement (so-called ‘no-deal Brexit’) and delay the 31st October departure date. We then, in my view, need to consult the country on what to do next. I believe that this should be in some form of public vote, ideally another referendum, and I would campaign strongly for us to remain within the EU as full member.
All and any combination of these aims will need the use of various parliamentary procedures and techniques.
The Institute for Government gives a good briefing on the various options for MPs for the next few weeks. This is particularly focussed on what we can do if we want to prevent either any departure at all or any departure without a deal. Both, in my opinion, are bad for Bristol and the UK, but the latter is worse and more urgent.
In summary, we will need to use one of the various procedures, or more, in order to try to stop the PM from shutting down Parliament, then to stop him from taking us out of the EU with out an agreement, and then to find a way to go back to the country about the various options.
LIVE BLOG UPDATE at 11.18 Thursday 29th August 2019:
What are the consequences of the Prime Minister’s (and the Queen’s) announcements on prorogation (suspension) of Parliament?
In practical terms, it effectively shuts Parliament out of any formal scrutiny of what the Government is doing, for five weeks. Some government commentators are trying to make this sound like a small thing – that it is only adding a couple of days to the three week break from sitting Parliament to have conference recess. This is disingenuous and misleading. Firstly, we haven’t voted to have that three week conference recess yet and many of us, including me, believe that we should not be voting for a conference recess in any case. I thought Parliament should have been recalled during the summer, and signed the letter from MPs to the PM to that effect.
Secondly, even during recess we are still operating within a Parliamentary session. Throughout the summer recess I have submitted Written and Oral Parliamentary Questions to Ministers, on behalf of my constituents. Select committee reports have been published. Bills are still in the process, all the work we have done on the Agriculture and Fisheries Bills, for instance, and the Immigration Bill, all still stands. When we are sitting, we can ask questions of Ministers during Urgent Questions and Ministerial Statements,. and scrutinise government properly, in real time, in public view. When we are prorogued I can do none of these things and all Bills and regulations not completed all fall. This, whatever your views on Brexit, is profoundly worrying when we are about to take such a huge steps as a country.
Thirdly, there is the length of the prorogation and the timing. When Parliament is prorogued, a perfectly normal thing to do at the end of a Parliamentary session, which usually lasts a year, it is usually for a day or two. This sitting of Parliament has, it’s true, gone on for longer than any other Parliament since the Civil War in the 17th century. But to prorogue us for five weeks, and at exactly the time when we need more Parliamentary scrutiny not less, is outrageous.
LIVE BLOG 11.09 Tuesday 29th August 2019:
This is the start of my live blogging throughout this Autumn 2019. The Prime Minister has just announced that he will suspend (or prorogue, in the constitutional term) Parliament for five weeks and thus end this current sitting of Parliament, until the 14th October. If he is successful in doing this, it leaves MPs very little time for preventing him from taking us out of the EU with no agreement and for any vital legislation or regulations to help reduce the potentially very damaging consequences of leaving.
Some good links I turn to:
Parliamentary website: for information about current and future Parliamentary agenda (known as the Order Paper), legislation, scrutiny committees and more.
Institute for Government: really good for updates, comment, analysis, explanations.