“Ignore the will of the people at your peril” is the full-page headline in the Daily Express today, with the union flag emblazoned behind it. The Sun asks if it will be “Great Britain or Great Betrayal”.
The headlines concern the 12-hour debate of the 15 amendments from the House of Lords which will take place inside the House of Commons over the next two days.
Of the 15 amendments the Government is to accept one (a completely tokenistic) amendment which states the UK will be able to choose to stay in EU agencies after Brexit. On three further amendments it is offering compromises and the remainder it will simply vote down.
But the area of paramount importance and which is to be debated this afternoon concerns whether Parliament should have a ‘meaningful’ vote on the final withdrawal agreements.
Pressure has been applied to pro remain MPs who have threatened to vote against the Government. They have been warned they face jeopardising May’s negotiating power in Brussels by both colleagues, and the press (see two of the headlines above). And May issued a final plea calling on them to not undermine her negotiating clout.
The Sun’s rather menacing headline suggests that pro remain MPs would be responsible for an apoplectic situation should they seek to secure Parliament the right to a meaningful vote. They claim it would be a ‘great betrayal’.
I can imagine the pressure the pro remain MPs are under. But a vote that doesn’t involve Parliament in a meaningful way is not sufficient and is not acceptable. It is crucial that Parliament has a role on one of the most important decisions the UK is going to take in the immediate future.
Furthermore, the kind of promises that were made in the campaign can’t be met. No discussions currently hint at a deal which will match up to what was promised. So, in such circumstances the House of Lords is right to insist there must be a serious parliamentary debate.
The conclusion to this debate might be that the Government seeks an extension to the negotiating period or that the question should be put to the people again or that it withdraws notification of the intention to leave the European Union which can be done up until the 29 March 2019. All of these scenarios are entirely plausible.
Whatever happens in the next two days Parliament must get its say before the die is cast.
All MPs must search their conscience and do the right thing so that Parliament has a sincere voice and the authority to scrutinise the negotiations going forward.