This is getting old. Just once, I’d like to be able to say that the frontbench of Labour had done something well. Actually, I won’t even set my standards that high – I’d settle for principled these days. But alack, you all know what I’m about to say. Sigh.
I was in Portcullis House yesterday for a few hours; every Westminster commentator of note was swanning around the place, clearly wanting to say they were there for posterity. As it happens, the Tories wrong-footed Labour spectacularly immediately, with David Jones announcing that the government was prepared to offer parliament a vote on the final deal with the EU – before it went to the European Parliament even. This brought a smile to Keir Starmer’s face, and he didn’t wait long before he put out a statement saying:
“This is a significant victory for parliament, and follows months of concerted pressure from Labour. Labour has repeatedly said that parliament must have a meaningful vote on any final Brexit deal – that means MPs are able to vote on the final deal before it is concluded; that the Commons has a debate and vote before the European Parliament does; and that the vote will cover withdrawal from the EU as well as our future relationship with the EU. This eleventh hour concession is therefore welcome, but it needs to be firmed up as the bill progresses through both Houses.”
Only, it wasn’t really a concession of any kind. The government had already said it was happy to keep parliament up to date and that it could vote on the whole thing at the end, if they really wanted to – what Labour was supposedly “pressuring” the government to do was to offer a “meaningful vote” on the final deal, i.e. one in which the government has to go away and get something better if rejected. Not, let me stress, a vote which means we either take the deal on offer or we leave the EU without any deal at all. So you see, the concession wasn’t a concession in anyway whatsoever.
As others have already pointed out in other outlets, usually the government talks up a concession in a Bill while the opposition talks it down as not being enough or even nothing at all. The fact that yesterday saw that situation reversed for the first time I can recall – the government insisted it had given up nothing, stating that this was a simple reiteration of existing policy, which of course it was – is not a good thing from a Labour perspective. I’m sure we’ll see it all again in one form or another today. Sigh.