The pause on the Repeal Bill, a piece of legislation that will take the 1972 European Communities Act out of commission, has been lifted. The Committee Stage of the Bill roared to life yesterday and will continue for the next seventeen years (I exaggerate slightly). A host of twenty Tory MPs are threatening to rebel and vote for a host of amendments to the Bill (or vote down government backed amendments), causing May’s government to wobble further, just when it least needs another such wobble to occur. So here’s my question: why are they bothering to try and push this Bill through the Commons in the face of so many objections from their own side right at this very second?
Labour are making a lot of noise about forcing the government to make changes that will allow Brexit to be paused if the government doesn’t manage to get a deal out of the EU. While this isn’t strictly untrue – if the government are really bloody minded about getting this Bill through the House and there exists a majority for an amendment, you can put pretty much anything in such an amendment – it is certainly bending the truth a little. When Labour voted the Article 50 Bill through the Commons with no amendments, it essentially handed the government the ability to do anything it liked in regards to Brexit. The Bill meant that the government could trigger Article 50, something which means unless we revoke said triggering (and the Tories don’t seem minded to do that at present, to put it mildly), then we are out of the EU come what may on March 30, 2019. The government doesn’t have to give parliament anything further if doesn’t wish to on this.
All of which brings us back to the Repeal Bill. The government doesn’t need to have it passed anytime soon; it won’t affect Brexit happening or what kind of Brexit we end up with in the slightest. Sure, I take the point that having the 1972 Act still on the books in 2019 will cause some legal confusion, but we’ll have a lot of legal confusion to deal with regardless. In fact, having the 72 Act still around at the time will likely cause there to be less legal confusion, as we’ll at least keep the status quo on that front while we deal with the fallout from everything else. Why doesn’t May put the thing aside for a few months at the very least, deal with the rebellions offline, and then put it to the House at a time when she knows she can get it through unamended?
The answer is, of course, simple: the Eurospectics are pushing for the Bill to come back right now, regardless of the fact that the government is neck deep in scandal, May’s premiership is wobbling all over the place, they are facing rebellions galore on it, and furthermore don’t absolutely need to pass the Bill anytime really soon anyhow. Again, to repeat, it won’t affect whether Brexit happens or not in the slightest. Yet it is ripe with symbolism for the Eurosceptics. That’s enough these days.
Paul W says
Symbolic action is sometimes very important: it can be a statement of intent. In this case it gives a clear signal to 17.4 million UK electors that their ballot papers will not be used to fuel the boilers of the Westminster-Whitehall establishment.
Alternatively, the audience isn’t domestic; it’s foreign, specifically, the EU negotiators. There is a theory that they are deliberately stalling the beginning of trade talks in the hopes that the clock will tick down to April 2019 with no deal in place; and that in that situation, the UK would back down and cancel (or at least indefinitely postpone) Brexit.
Passing this bill, especially with the (legally unnecessary but symbolic) ‘fixed exit date clause’, would be a signal that in the event of no deal being reached in time the UK will still be leaving.
In the game of chicken currently being played by the UK and the EU, it’s the equivalent of May putting a brick on the accelerator, strapping herself into a straitjacket, staring Barnier right in the eyes and daring him to swerve.