‘THE APPROACH to today’s business sets an extremely concerning precedent for our democracy,’ Tory leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom said yesterday, as Parliament attempted to wrestle control of the order paper, and in doing so render the government powerless.
‘We will therefore be opposing today’s Business of the House motion,’ she said.
‘This Parliament should be in no doubt that any alternative solution requiring a further extension would mean the UK participating in European Parliament elections. After nearly three years since the referendum I believe that this position would be unacceptable to the people of the United Kingdom.
‘The government will continue to call for an agreement which delivers on the referendum of 2016 and maintains a deep and special partnership with the European Union.’
Tory MP for Gainsborough Edward Leigh intervened, he said: ‘This is a historic moment today, where the government has lost control of the order paper. Tonight we will probably whittle down matters just to one option which has the most support in the House and we all know that that is probably likely to be a permanent membership of the Customs Union.
‘Then on Wednesday, my right honourable friend, the alternative government, and not the Labour Party, but the other alternative government, my honourable friend from West Dorset will take control of the agenda.
‘As I understand it, he will then produce a Bill to implement what probably will mean a permanent membership of the Customs Union.
‘And I then put this to the government, us Conservative MPs won’t have a choice then, we will either have to have permanent membership of the Customs Union, because the order paper will have been taken over, or we have a general election, or we prorogue Parliament. I think it would be a dereliction of duty of this House if we were to abdicate our responsibility and have a general election.
‘You cannot duck the issue by proroguing Parliament, you can’t act like Charles I. We voted Leave because we wanted to give control back to Parliament and it is like kicking the football out of the stadium because you are losing the football match.’
Tory chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, William Cash, then interjected: ‘I have grave concern about the procedure involved. To overturn, to invert the Business of the House in this way seems to me to be utterly perverse.
‘The reason why government business takes precedence is because of democracy. If one looks at the referendum result, it was decided by Parliament to give the decision to the British people, not to this House.
‘And I have said repeatedly that we operate, and it is true, on the basis of Parliamentary government, not government by Parliament.
‘If it is a referendum by a sovereign act of Parliament, we actually conferred the right upon the British people to make that choice, to which this House voted six-to-one, it is not an opportunity for Parliament to take back control, having given the decision to the British people.
‘It was mentioned the other day a precedent that went back to 1604. As it happens there is another precedent in the 1650s which is when this House became completely anarchic, and different factions began to make decisions without reference to any government policy.
‘Oliver Cromwell came down to this House – and look at the mess that we are in now and the anarchy which is prevailing with everybody in this House making different decisions in these indicative votes.
‘Cromwell came to this House and he said: “You have been here too long for anything useful that you may have done. Depart I say, and in the name of God go!” that is what he said.’
He concluded: ‘These indicative votes are just a means of trying to unravel the decision that was taken. I believe it is undemocratic, I think it is in defiance of our constitution, it is in defiance of our procedures.’
Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset, said: ‘I am concerned about the constitutional innovation in this which I believe this to be deeply unsatisfactory. It is an indication that the House no longer has confidence in Her Majesty’s government. The whole point of the government having control of the timetable is that it is an expression of confidence.’
The House of Commons then voted by 332 to 277, a majority of 45, to seize control of the order paper from the government and have a series of indicative votes.
The Speaker selected four of the eight motions put forward:
- Motion C: Committing the government to negotiating ‘a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide Customs Union with the EU’ as part of any Brexit deal – proposed by Tory former chancellor Ken Clarke.
- Motion D: Referred to as Common Market 2.0, this option would mean joining the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area – proposed by Tory MP Nick Boles.
- Motion E: This is for a confirmatory referendum, giving the public a vote to approve any Brexit deal passed by Parliament before it can be implemented – proposed by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson.
- Motion G: The motion aims to prevent the UK leaving without a deal, including a vote on whether to revoke Article 50 – stopping Brexit – if the EU does not agree to an extension – proposed by the SNP’s Joanna Cherry.
Labour indicated it would support Motion C for a permanent Customs Union.