A sticky situation
The Treasury found itself in a sticky situation at the beginning of the week, with an amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper designed to scupper the ability of the Government to alter regulations around taxation passed by MPs.
The Finance Bill, which in effect turns the Autumn Budget in to law, included provision for a no-deal Brexit scenario. Clause 89 of the Bill enables the Treasury to alter regulations around taxation that currently involve the EU without consulting Parliament. Cooper’s successful amendment withholds these powers unless either the Brexit deal has been passed, Article 50 has been extended, or MPs have voted to approve a no-deal Brexit.
This amendment could make it difficult for the Government to mitigate the damage of a no deal scenario, as the scope to release more funds in the event of a no deal are narrowed. However, the Amendment only applies to relatively minor tax laws and does not prevent taxes being raised.
Grieve creates sticky wicket for Prime Minister
Hot on the heels of Yvette Cooper’s amendment came another from Conservative backbencher and former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. The Grieve amendment, passed by MPs, would require the Government to return to the Commons within three days of the withdrawal agreement being rejected. Now, the amendment abates fears that if the Prime Minister were defeated again, she would have continued to wind down the clock, before holding a vote just days before the 29th March leaving date.
Indeed, the Prime Minister has been forced onto a sticky wicket. If she fails to return within three days with an alternative option for MPs to vote on, she risks being charged with contempt of Parliament, whilst if she does make an appearance, it is unclear what any alternative plan which could gain the support of the majority of the House would look like.
Not my sticker
The heated debate in the Commons reached near-boiling point on Wednesday, when the Speaker, John Bercow, was challenged by the Conservative MP Adam Holloway about an anti-Brexit sticker which he claimed was in Mr Speaker’s car. Bashing down the claim as “factually incorrect”, Mr Bercow emphasised that the sticker did in fact belong to his wife, who was a fiercely independent woman and not his “chattel”.
The animated exchange comes as Mr Bercow has been described as driving “coach and horses” through accepted normal Parliamentary practice, by allowing the Grieve amendment (which went on to be passed) to be voted on by MPs. The break with Parliamentary convention, and against the advice of the Clerk of the House, to allow a vote on a business motion, has raised concerns that similar tactics may be used by other MPs to undermine the government of the day’s timetable of debates and votes.
Sticking to the timetable?
There was confusion amongst media outlets this week as to whether Prime Minister, Theresa May, will stick to her timetable of leaving the EU by 29th March, with Conservative rebel and remain champion, Dominic Grieve, suggesting that she should strike the date from UK law if her deal is voted down.
However, Theresa May appears to be sticking to her calendar, with Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe, pledging his ‘total support’ for her withdrawal agreement. The word from the PM’s team at the moment is that she wants to see the UK leave the EU, as planned, on 29th March, but if her MPs do not stick to their side of the bargain, will May stick or twist?
Stick & Carrot
In the run up to the vote on her deal, the Prime Minister has lauded some hefty-sized carrots in front of opposition and backbench MPs, in a hope it will be enough for them to back her. It was widely reported this week that she was in contact with Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, in an attempt to get him to force the hands of some Labour MPs.
And now Mrs May has agreed to enshrine workers’ rights into British law post Brexit, despite rejecting the same idea two years ago when it was put forward by the MP for Grimsby, Melanie Onn. The Prime Minister, it seems, has turned 180 degrees, and is willing to enshrine in UK law current rules on paid holiday, equal earnings, and time limits on working hours.
Is it enough? Well, not for Ms Onn, who says she still intends to vote against the “desperate” PM.