Weekly Notes: legal news from ICLR — 13 February 2017 [extract]

This is a taster from this week’s roundup. You can read the full report on the ICLR blog here: https://www.iclr.co.uk/weekly-notes-legal-news-iclr-13-february-2017/

Parliament

When is a concession not a concession? When it’s something you could have had anyway.

The government has been miserly in allowing scrutiny of any sort over its plans and negotiations for Brexit, to the extent of even being cagey about what Brexit actually means. Brexit means Brexit is not a helpful definition. Talk of a red, white and blue Brexit, and disparagement of the distinction between hard and soft Brexit have likewise added only confusion to the picture. We were told there was a plan, perhaps even a cunning plan; but when there was a speech, and later a White Paper, there seemed to be nothing cunning about the plan, if any, which just seemed to involve trying as far as possible to have one’s cake while at the same time eating it.

This week, before it goes off to the House of Lords, the House of Commons had a second bite at the Brexit Bill cherry, enabling the government to invoke Article 50 of the EU Treaty, which the previous week they barely nibbled at (see Weekly Notes — 6 February 2017).

This time round just six other Conservative MPs joined democracy hero Ken Clarke in defying the Tory whips, and 52 Labour MPs, including some notable front benchers. Shadow business secretary Clive Lewis, once a key Corbyn ally, now touted as a rival for the leadership, resigned his front bench seat in order to vote against the Bill. But even so, the Bill was voted on its way without a single amendment. Some amendments were debated, but none got enough support.

To achieve this remarkable result the government made a concession, in response to a Labour demand (in an amendment that was supported by Tory rebels but ultimately defeated) for parliament to have the final say on any deal to leave the EU, in the form of what The Week called

a verbal reassurance that MPs and peers would be able to vote on whether or not to accept the deal before it goes to the European Parliament. [However] The government said it would leave the EU with no trade deal, rather than renegotiate, if parliament rejected the terms and conditions.

Although shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer hailed this as a “significant victory for Parliament”, which might provide an opportunity to force the government back to the negotiating table if the EU deal is not good enough, in reality it appears to amount to little more than had already been rather vaguely promised by Theresa May in a speech some time ago, and would probably have happened anyway.

Commentary:

Speaking out of turn? Bercow’s outburst

The other notable event in Parliament this week was a little rant / shot across the bows / “clarification” by the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, who, responding to a point of order in the Commons on 6 February 2017, said he was “strongly opposed” to the idea of President Trump addressing Parliament when visiting the UK, which he said was not an “automatic right” but an “earned honour”.

I would not wish to issue an invitation to President Trump to speak in the Royal Gallery,” he continued. “As far as this place [the Commons] is concerned, I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism, and our support for equality before law and an independent judiciary, are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.”

His statement was welcomed by some, according to the BBC, but was criticised by others as a breach of his duty of impartiality and an overstepping of his role. There was huffing and puffing about him having to resign, but in the end an Early Day Motion lodged by a conservative MP, James Duddridge — “That this House has no confidence in Mr Speaker” — has so far only attracted one signature, that of Mr James Duddridge. You can see if any more MPs choose to join him, on this page of the Parliament website.

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The ICLR publishes The Law Reports, The Weekly Law Reports and other specialist titles. Set up by members of the judiciary and legal profession in 1865.

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