Yesterday the HoC voted to pass the Johnson Brexit Bill: Ayes 330 – Noes 231. You can watch the announcement here. That made hardly any waves in our Remain MSM. They must be grateful to that former royal couple’s bombshell announcement as they now can and do fill their spaces with interminable reports on that. They can also thank President Trump for providing material for ‘Foreign News’. The EU and Brexit, as far as they are concerned, have sunk below the radar.
The two papers not shilling for Remain – the DT and The Express – reported n yesterday’s proceedings in the HoC while RemainCentral had the one parliamentary sketch by Quentin Letts. The DM this morning really should be renamed “Megxit Central”!
It’s as if Brexit is now really done, as if what happens next is negligible. It’s as if the MSM followed the PM’s request not to use the “B”-word. It’s as if we peasants, having given Johnson his ‘stonking majority’, should now slink back into our hovels and let him and his minions proceed to do EU deals without much scrutiny – not the scrutiny by the Remain Opposition whose performances yesterday was pitiful in their usual peacocking way (see e.g. here), but the scrutiny by us suspicious Brexit watchers. Here is the report in the DT:
“MPs on Thursday night voted in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at its third reading by 330 votes to 231, a majority of 99. It came after three years of Parliamentary wrangling over Brexit, which is now set to happen on Jan 31. The Brexit Bill has now passed to the House of Lords, where peers will debate it next week. A source in the Lords said the Bill is likely to become law on Jan 22. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the vote was a “significant positive step” to Brexit, adding: “The country did deliver a very clear message that they want Brexit to be resolved.” Sir Bernard Jenkin, the Brexiteer Tory MP, said soon after the Commons vote: “Now we can stop banging on about Europe!” (paywalled link)
That, I think, is a pious wish because the EU won’t stop trying to put numerous spokes into the Brexit wheels. But that’s what the Johnson Government hopes to achieve: let the EU talks take place behind those closed doors, with sell-outs pre-programmed. It’s not as if the EU is going to slink back into obscurity, not with M Barnier at the helm, not when you see this:
“Brussels is said to be refusing to open up trade talks with Boris Johnson until the UK surrenders its fishing waters.” (link)
Yes, that’s conjecture at the moment – but it’s not as if we haven’t experienced the EU’s negotiating tactics before, it’s not as if we have already forgotten who will lead these trade talks: M Barnier who has repeatedly said that nothing can be achieved by the end of this year. So we’ll have to watch, Johnson’s and the Tory MP’s glee about yesterday’s vote notwithstanding.
As to the actual debate – it was as dire as those on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was calm, not shouty, and, well, boring. Here’s what the DT picked up from yesterday’s proceedings:
“The teeth-grinding war of parliamentary attrition is over, with Conservative MPs easily dealing with amendments tabled by their opponents this week: some of which aimed to tie the UK’s hands in negotiating its post-Brexit future, while others amounted to little more than legislative virtue-signalling.” (paywalled link)
The author of that report, Asa Bennett, adds the following acerbic observations:
“Opposition MPs have tried to push a variety of other amendments […] that have shown their desire to tie the Government’s hands remains strong. Proposals that would have put Parliament in the driving seat of the UK’s negotiations over its post-Brexit future, rather than the Government, were all thrown out. MPs tried to guarantee themselves a vote (on an amendable motion of course) on the negotiators’ objectives and whatever they agree as a future relationship, and they sought to order ministers to directly break their promise of a clean break with Brussels in favour of “close alignment with the EU single market”. But their efforts proved to be in vain.” (paywalled link)
Just so – and that’s precisely why we out here have to keep watching: Remain has not nor will give up. Let me also disabuse you of the notion that the Remain Opposition was keen on scrutinising that Bill. There were more MPs attending the business statement of the Leader of the House – still Jacob Rees-Mogg – than the following Brexit debate. The benches only filled up as it came to the final vote. Asa Bennett concludes his report:
“While Tory MPs get Brexit done, their opponents are on the backfoot. Rather than rely on the power of their arguments, they are resorting to their beloved weapons: pointless posturing and virtue-signalling. If that is the best Mr Johnson’s critics can do, they are not going to give him much to worry about post-Brexit.” (paywalled link)
That is sadly true, and underlines what I wrote above: that it’s up to us outsiders to watch the forthcoming trade talks.
The Bill will now go to the HoL which is, as we all know, Remain to the core. As several speakers in the HoC pointed out yesterday – the current and last minister of the DExEU, Steve Barclay being one of them – ‘the other place’, in HoC parlance, can work quickly if they so desire. We’ve seen that when they rushed through the various Surrender amendments last year. That ‘other place’ must be aware of Johnsons’ musings about reforming the HoL, so the following observation makes much sense:
“The House of Lords will almost certainly try to throw its weight around, not least because Mr Johnson’s enemies do not have to worry about the election tilting the balance of power decisively in that chamber. But there is only so much peers can realistically do, as any awkward amendment the Government does not like would be swiftly unpicked by MPs and sent back to the Lords. Peers cannot try anything that directly contradicts the Tories’ manifesto unless they wanted to risk the chamber’s future, or to give ministers perfect justification to pack the Lords with Brexiteers.” (paywalled link)
Johnson also plans to reshuffle his cabinet next month, with the DExEU department being reabsorbed in the other ministries. That means that Steve Barclay, minister of DExEU, will be out of his job. He did refer to this in his winding-up speech before last evening’s vote. The Times’ Quentin Letts picked it up and I cannot resist to quote his delicious prose:
“DExEU used to be Westminster’s big fixture — and Whitehall’s Golgotha, devouring ministers and officials. Soon it will be nothing more than a few blobs of Blu-tack on a wall where sniper portraits of Gina Miller and Lady Hale hung. Mr Benn [Lab] piped and whistled a question: which departments would henceforth handle Brexit? The end of DExEU means curtains for the select committee that quizzed it. Mr Benn chaired it and bent conventions out of shape. A chunk of parliamentary botheration is sliding into the English Channel. Mr Barclay dodged Mr Benn’s question but was assiduously courteous to him and Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary whose frontbench job also disappears. Maybe Sir Keir will find other things to do.” (link, paywalled)
Ah – does Mr Letts perchance refer to the ongoing Labour Leadership campaign? While that is going to drag on, I’ll keep my beady eyes on the proceedings in the HoL and shall watch for other, EU shenanigans.
Finally: today is the anniversary of this column! I certainly hadn’t planned to be ‘at it’ for so long. If you want to go down memory lane, here’s the link. What difference that one year made! But that experience strengthens my suspicions: I don’t trust That Lot, I will keep watching them and I won’t stop writing until we’re really Out on the 31st of December 2020.