This week in Parliament is the lull before the storm. A few uncontroversial bills have got started – including one to protect elephants through tighter measures on the ivory trade. But the real attention is focusing on the debate next Tuesday. On Tuesday, 12 hours’ debate has been dedicated to the Lords amendments of the EU Withdrawal Bill.
There was plenty in the press when the Lords defeated the government 15 times over the process and outcomes of the Brexit timetable. The outcry was that the unelected Lords should not be trying to stifle the progress of the elected government. This is particularly relevant under the Salisbury Convention, which states that the Lords should never try to stand in the way of a government manifesto pledge. It certainly seems the case that the Lords are playing with fire when they try to pretend they have the moral high ground over an elected government’s manifesto. Too much of this type of behaviour could result in profound Lords reform.
However, it should be remembered that ultimately the Commons gets its way. The Lords are a revising chamber and in that role they seek to offer advice – through amendments and votes – on where they think the government might be mistaken on policy. If we in the Commons disagree, we simply vote down the Lords amendments and get on with it.
The problem is that the government does not necessarily have the support of the Commons and so next Tuesday will be the start of a series of showdowns between the government and Parliament. Amendments to the Trade Bill and the Customs Bill will follow, and then we have the final, meaningful vote on the deal with Brussels. No one seems to be sure of the numbers, so the outcome is uncertain.
Every MP seems to have their own red lines. Whilst I would still prefer we remain in the EU, I can’t see any point in going through all this unless we can take advantage of our own trade policy. So, my red line is one that secures trade deals with countries around the world – including the EU. The alternative would be to stay in the EU, but that is undemocratic and so unacceptable.
There is a sense of an impending storm here in Westminster. It is a well-known Chinese curse that you should “live in interesting times”. These sure are interesting times.