Today, the government succeeded in suppressing an attempt by would-be Conservative rebels to ensure that MPs had the power to prevent the Prime Minister from leaving the European Union without a deal. The amendment failed with 303 votes in favour and 319 against.
The implications of this vote are huge.
In place of the amendment, the government has agreed a compromise with Conservative backbench MPs. In the case of a no-deal, the Department for Exiting the European Union has suggested that the minister responsible should make a statement before MPs about the next steps. Although MPs will be given a vote on this statement, the Department for Exiting the European Union has agreed that this vote should take place ‘on neutral terms’.
What does this mean?
This means that MPs will simply note what has just been said, and do not have the power to make the usual alternations to the statement using amendments.
However, it is up to the Speaker of the House of Commons to decide whether votes will take place ‘on neutral terms’ or not. This means that the Speaker of the House of Commons (John Bercow) will decide during the address whether the minister’s statement is amendable or not.
What have the government said?
The government’s public motive for blocking the amendment is that it does not want parliament to ‘bind the hands’ of the executive as it negotiates Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
As pointed out by Conservative MP Anna Sandbach, parliament will only be voting on the deal after the government has concluded its negotiations. It is therefore, wrong to suggest that by giving MPs a greater say over the negotiating process, it is in any way binding upon the Prime Minister at all.
Why does this matter?
In severely limiting the power of amendment, Theresa May has reduced the ability of parliament (all the MPs) to hold the government (Conservative ministers) to account in the event of a no-deal with the European Union.
Not only does this threaten the long-standing relationship between parliament and the Prime Minister, but it removes the safety net of parliament in the event of a no-deal with the EU.
Why should this anger leave voters?
Many who voted to leave the EU did so to ‘take back control’. At the time, it was assumed that this meant taking back decision-making powers from Brussels to Westminster. However, the Prime Minister has set a dangerous precedent by limiting the power of the British parliament in deciding how it wants to leave the European Union – especially in the event of a no-deal.
If leave voters thought Brexit meant empowering British democracy, this vote enforces the opposite.