The government’s determination to push the European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Bill through the Commons with such limited time for debate, without thorough consideration of the many implications of such a momentous decision, without presenting a White Paper worthy of the name, without spelling out the choices Britain itself has to make (and costing them), and by doggedly voting en bloc against every single amendment proposed, is a serious affront to the parliamentary sovereignty that they claimed to hold dear.
Having initially tried to exclude the triggering of Article 50 from proper parliamentary process and, when challenged in the courts, wasting almost three months and much money appealing the decision, Theresa May is doing everything she can to meet her arbitrarily imposed deadline of March 31st, recently revised to March 9th so as to avoid an embarrassing clash with 60th anniversary celebrations of the Treaty of Rome.
Proving that she can deliver this, whatever the cost and whatever the consequences, has become her overriding objective, and she is oblivious to the calls for a more measured and considered approach. With the zeal of a convert – remember she was campaigning to Remain until June 23rd – she has closed her ears to anything but the most Brextreme arguments of the Tory right.
MPs of all parties have rightly raised concerns over the economy, jobs, security, trade, research, health, consumer protection, the environment and workers’ rights and the implications for the future relationships between the countries of the United Kingdom, as well as the tricky problem of the land border on the island of Ireland. There have been some impassioned speeches asking questions about issues that are not being given proper consideration, the disproportionate impact on women, the serious threat to working conditions, the inevitable degradation of public services if we become an aggressive low tax competitor, the likely annihilation of world leading nuclear research within Euratom. And most disgracefully of all, the refusal to offer any degree of stability, hope or basic compassion to the three million European citizens who have made the UK their home, built their families and their lives here, paid their taxes and are now reduced to human bargaining chips.
Over the past three days these valid considerations have been dismissed as remoaning, refighting the referendum and attempts to defy ‘the will of the people’. Dozens of Conservative MPs who campaigned for months to remain last year, with the honorable exception of Ken Clarke, have obediently trooped through the lobby against their consciences, pathetically obedient to their new hard right Brexiteer masters to vote against amendments that would have prevented damage to the country and their constituents’ lives.
The Bill will now move to the House of Lords, who will not block it, but who may attach amendments before it is returned to the Commons. Not for the first time since the general election in 2015, we will be relying on their good sense to provide a strong opposition to the hard right of the Conservative party who are strengthening their grip on the government. Above all, they must provide for a meaningful vote in two years on the Brexit deal that goes beyond the ‘’take it or leave it” choice May has offered MPs, providing a chance to consider the actual outcome with the details spelled out, and, if necessary, to blow the whistle before disaster hits.