Another day, another thoroughly depressing example of why, in the post-EU referendum era, the House of Commons seems intent on proving that it no longer has any worth.
In the last two weeks, peers in the House of Lords have voted for two important amendments to the government’s brief bill to allow Theresa May to trigger Article 50, beginning the two-year process of the UK leaving the EU — the first defending the right of the 3.3m EU nationals living and working in the UK to stay here, as I wrote about in my article, House of Lords Defends Right of EU Nationals to Stay in the UK Post-Brexit, as the Tyrant Theresa May Vows to Overturn Amendment, and the second guaranteeing MPs a final vote on the final Brexit deal in 2019, as I wrote about in my article, On Brexit, the House of Lords Do What MPs Wouldn’t Do, and Pass An Amendment Guaranteeing Them A Final, Meaningful Vote on Any Deal to Leave the EU.
Last night, however, MPs voted to drop those amendments, and the House of Lords then complied, paving the way for Theresa May to trigger Article 50 by the end of the month.
And yet both these amendments were hugely important examples of politicians resisting the tendency towards tyranny shown by Theresa May and her pro-Brexit ministers since last June’s EU referendum, when a narrow majority of those who could be bothered to vote called for us to leave the EU — in a referendum that was not legally binding, and that should not have been regarded as such, although the government has persistently behaved as though it was, This is in spite of the facts that referendums involving major constitutional change generally require a two-thirds majority, and not a simple majority like that in the EU referendum, when 51.9% of those who turned up to vote backed the Leave campaign.
Just as alarming is the fact that the simple question asked in the referendum didn’t deal with what leaving the EU would entail — whether we should prioritize efforts to restrict immigration, even though most observers seem to regard any significant effort to restrict immigration as impossible, and even if that means us crashing out of the single market and the customs union, which experts regard as economically disastrous.
And yet, Theresa May, who only became Prime Minister after the referendum, and has no mandate from the people, decided that MPs shouldn’t be consulted about Brexit, and had to be taken to court to be reminded that sovereignty in the UK resides with Parliament, and not just the Prime Minister.
Despite this, MPs then gave away the power the courts reminded them was theirs, voting to pass, without amendments, the derisory little bill allowing May to trigger Article 50, which she and her ministers had put together after their second court defeat in the Supreme Court in January. This was a profoundly disturbing betrayal by MPs, as I reported at the time in my article, On Brexit, MPs Give Away Sovereignty, Vote to Allow Theresa May to Do Whatever She Wants, because, as I stated:
75% of MPs supported staying in the EU at the time of the referendum, including 185 Tory MPs and 218 Labour MPs, and to represent the 16.1m of us who voted to stay in the EU (48.1% of those who voted), at least 294 MPs should have voted against this bill, not just 114 of them.
And yet, once again, MPs have failed to challenge the government sufficiently, although last night their turnout was at least closer to the percentages in the referendum. On the first amendment, guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals to stay in the UK, MPs voted by 335 votes to 287 to drop the amendment, and on the second amendment, on giving MPs a meaningful final vote on any deal after the conclusion of Brexit talks, MPs voted to drop it by 331 votes to 286.
Nevertheless, both topics are far too important not to have been insisted upon at this stage in negotiations — the first for reasons of decency, to prevent EU nationals living and working here from being treated as “bargaining chips,” and the second to prevent the kind of executive overreach that, alarmingly, Theresa May has been demonstrating relentlessly since taking office, and on last night’s turnout Tory MPs who represent constituencies that voted to remain ought to face deselection from their voters.
In its report on last night’s vote, the Guardian noted that the House of Lords “then accepted that decision by 274 to 118,” with Labour leader Lady Smith explaining that “continuing to oppose the government would be playing politics because MPs would not be persuaded to change their minds.”
“If I thought there was a foot in the door or a glimmer of hope that we could change this bill, I would fight it tooth and nail, but it doesn’t seem to be the case,” she said, realistically, unfortunately, given MPs’ obstinacy.
Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, was less understanding, complaining, perhaps rather unfairly, that “Labour had the chance to block Theresa May’s hard Brexit but chose to sit on their hands,” although his addition comments certainly summed up the absolutely unacceptable situation faced by the 3.3m, many of whom, of course, are married to British citizens, and have lived and worked here for decades, as much a part of the fabric of British do society as anyone else. As farrow said, “Tonight there will be families fearful that they are going to be torn apart and feeling they are no longer welcome in Britain. Shame on the government for using people as chips in a casino, and shame on Labour for letting them.”
The Guardian also quoted Nicolas Hatton, the founder of The3million, which lobbies for the rights of EU citizens in the UK, who said, “The hearts of 3 million EU citizens living in the UK will have sunken today when they heard that MPs had voted down the amendment to article 50 giving them guarantees. This was the last chance and I struggle to find words to express my utter desperation that EU citizens will now be used by the government as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiation.”
The Guardian also described “angry reaction from British people living on the continent.” Dave Spokes for Expat Citizen Rights in EU, which has more than 7,600 members in 27 EU countries, said, “It is worrying that our government chooses to ignore the concerns of its own citizens and the evidence put to its select committees that citizens’ rights should be confirmed immediately.” he added, “The government’s own white paper said it had engaged with citizens’ groups in Europe, but we have yet to find one group that has been approached by the Department for Exiting the EU. We do wonder what the outcome might have been had they actually done so.”
Showing the scale of the government’s delusion, however, David Davis, the Brexit secretary, put out this statement following the final votes in the Lords, which features the Tories’ new branding of the UK as “Global Britain,” rather than the imbecilic friendless reality, as the Tories press ahead with removing us from the myriad benefits of EU membership with still no case made for why it is so important for us to remove ourselves from a trading bloc that has been extremely helpful for the UK.
Davis’ fantasy statement was as follows: “Parliament has today backed the government in its determination to get on with the job of leaving the EU and negotiating a positive new partnership with its remaining member states. We are now on the threshold of the most important negotiation for our country in a generation. We have a plan to build a Global Britain, and take advantage of its new place in the world by forging new trading links. So we will trigger article 50 by the end of this month as planned and deliver an outcome that works in the interests of the whole of the UK.”
For the 16.1 million of us who are still abandoned by our elected representatives, it is hugely important that we do not give up. We need to be organised to resist the Tories’ nonsense as Article 50 is triggered and negotiations begin, and we need to make the case as forcefully as possible and as often as possible over the next two years that Brexit will be a self-inflicted economic disaster on a scale that is simply unacceptable, and that thinking it isn’t — primarily because of misplaced notions about the significance of the UK, and simplistic efforts to play down the scale of the challenge in cutting ourselves off from 43 years of laws and treaties within the EU — is wishful thinking of the most dangerous and deluded kind.
On amendment 1, covering EU nationals
Against the amendment (335)
Labour: 6 (Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Rob Marris, Graham Stringer, Gisela Stuart)
For the amendment (287)
Lib Dems: 9
Plaid Cymru: 3
Conservatives: 2 (Alex Chalk and Tania Mathias)
On amendment 2, giving Parliament a vote on the outcome of the Brexit talks
Against the amendment (331)
Labour: 6 (Ronnie Campbell, Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Graham Stringer and Gisela Stuart)
For the amendment (286)
Lib Dems: 9
Plaid Cyrmu: 3
The Guardian later noted that eight Tory rebels had abstained: former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who “accused the government of a ‘frankly deranged’ plan not to guarantee MPs a vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations,” plus Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Ben Howlett, Neil Carmichael, Bob Neill, Antoinette Sandbach and Andrew Tyrie.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Here’s my latest article, criticising the MPs who, last night, passed the government’s Brexit bill for a second time, refusing to accept two key amendments voted for by the House of Lords – guaranteeing the right to remain in the UK for the 3.3m EU citizens living and working here, and guaranteeing themselves a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal in 2019. Refusing the first shows the same heartlessness and lack of common decency as Theresa May and her Brexiteer ministers, turning 3.3m valid members of British society into mere “bargaining chips,” while refusing the second threatens to make their own role worthless. Theresa May can now trigger Article 50, launching our departure from the EU. This is an extremely sad day for Britain, and those of us who refuse to accept the deluded nationalism, the fantasy economics and the racism and xenophobia of the Brexiteers need to continue to point out that Brexit can be stopped at any time, and that, as the awful truth leaks out over the next two years about how ruinous it will be for our economy, it must be stopped.
As always, I recommend people to read Ian Dunt, the author of the very necessary ‘Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?’ and the editor of politics.co.uk. Here are his two latest columns – about how the Tories’ three Brexiteers really don’t know what they’re doing: http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2017/03/14/no-deal-brexit-govt-is-bluffing-with-cards-everyone-can-see
And about how Theresa May – incapable, it seems, of being anything other than vicious to anyone who isn’t in her own party and bowing down before her – has provoked what may be the end of the union by her unacceptable behaviour towards Nicola Sturgeon: http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2017/03/13/indyref2-brexit-has-put-the-existence-of-the-uk-at-risk
A couple of perspectives from the Guardian, via Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/14/britain-tories-union-scotland-brexit
And here’s Raphael Behr echoing my own very serious concerns that Theresa May is cold and arrogant and brooks no criticism whatsoever, alienating the EU leaders with whom she needs to show diplomacy, and also, of course, with Nicola Sturgeon: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/14/theresa-may-brexit-talks-prime-minister-diplomacy-eu
When David Knopfler shared this on Facebook, he wrote:
Being constantly the left-facing rock trying to stand against the sewage coming down from on high, as journalist Andy Worthington is, can’t be easy. I find much to recommend in his observations here…
Thanks for sharing, David, and for your comments!
Elsewhere, I responded to a comment about how untrustworthy our leaders are (they were referred to, accurately, as clowns), and how Scotland may now leave the union, by stating, “The clowns should grow up and put their foolish toys away. What are we supposed to do in London, where we also voted to stay by over 60%? The clowns are here, and won’t let us secede from their addled, infantile notion of a ‘free’ ‘Global Britain.’ How astonishing that what was basically a mob vote has been opportunistically seized upon by incompetent isolationists in the Tory Party to destroy everything that the pro-EU British establishment (both Tory and Labour) had been creating for so many years. I have no time for neoliberalism, but everything that made Britain regarded as cool and economically strong over the last 20 years came from internationalism and EU membership, not isolation. Cut off, we will wither and die, a truth which is self-evidently so very obvious, and yet my homeland is stuffed full of idiots with an inflated nationalistic self-regard that would be pitiable if it weren’t so devastatingly dangerous.
Check out George Monbiot’s new article, looking primarily at Scotland’s increasingly compelling reason for leaving the union as a result of Theresa May’s arrogance and idiocy. This paragraph analyses the current situation:
Ministers are already trying to reconcile us to the possibility of falling out of the EU without a deal. If this happens, Britain would be the only one of the G20 nations without special access to EU trade – “a very destructive outcome leading to mutually assured damage for the EU and the UK”, according to the Commons foreign affairs committee. As the government has a weak hand, an obsession with past glories and an apparent yearning for a heroic gesture of self-destruction, this is not an unlikely result.
And this is a sharp analysis of the crushed politics of England v the Scottish spirit:
Whenever I visit Scotland, I’m reminded that Britain is politically dead from the neck down. South of the border, we tolerate repeated assaults on the commonweal. As the self-hating state destroys its own power to distribute wealth, support public services and protect the NHS from ruin; as it rips up the rules protecting workers, the living world, our food, water and the very air we breathe; as disabled people are pushed off a cliff and poor people are evicted from their homes, we stand and stare. As the trade minister colludes with the dark money network on both sides of the Atlantic, threatening much that remains, we shake our heads then turn away.
Sure, there are some protests. There is plenty of dissent on social media; but our response is pathetic in comparison with the scale of what we face. The Labour opposition is divided, directionless and currently completely useless. But north of the border politics is everywhere, charged with hope, anger and a fierce desire for change. Again and again, this change is thwarted by the dead weight of Westminster. Who would remain tethered to this block, especially as the boat begins to list?
David Watterston wrote:
What about the millions of UK citizens in the EU… did they not try and resolve this issue ages ago and were told by Brussels it is off the agenda until article 50 is triggered….
This is from Migration Watch’s briefing, ‘The British in Europe – and Vice Versa’, David:
What would happen to UK citizens living in the EU – and EU citizens living in the UK – should British voters choose to leave the European Union?
8. The government’s paper ‘The Process for Withdrawing from the European Union’ argues that British citizens in the EU should not assume that rights acquired under free movement rules ‘would be guaranteed’ if the UK were to vote to leave the EU. However, in such a circumstance. international law would guarantee the rights of Britons living and working in EU member states. Under a principle enshrined by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, withdrawal from a treaty releases the parties from any future obligations to each other but does not affect any rights or obligations acquired under it before withdrawal. This is backed up by research conducted by the House of Commons Library.
9. In addition, any action to remove British citizens currently in EU member states would directly contravene Article 19 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, under which collective expulsions are prohibited. The collective expulsion of foreigners is also forbidden under protocol four of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article four of which reads: “Collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited.”
So this means that British citizens can’t be kicked out of EU countries. But EU citizens can be kicked out of the UK? What legal rationale could May apply to justify this?
She’s trying to show that she’s tough, Tom, but in fact she’s alienating everyone, which is a very bad idea, as she has to actually negotiate with the 27 other countries of the EU, who have much more power than she does; who have all the power, in fact. She has nothing.
So she’s using the EU citizens as “bargaining chips”, which is despicable from a point of view of decency, and also as part of her strategy, as all of the countries whose nationals are living and working here will only be offended by this stance.
I really can’t stress to you enough how May and her advisers are the worst thing that could possibly have followed the disastrous referendum. See my Facebook post here about May’s latest outrageous claims: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155155425308804&set=a.10150687732288804.452718.738143803&type=3&theater
As I stated:
Wake up, Britain, and smell the tyranny! In the video on the government’s newly launched Plan for Britain website, Theresa May has the audacity to say, about the Brexit vote, “Last summer’s referendum was not just a vote to leave the EU. It was an instruction to change the way our whole country works, and the people for whom it works, forever.”
We are officially in some kind of weird dystopian fantasy, where the most brutal politicians of our lifetime see themselves as saviours, and where a simple yes/no vote in a referendum in which the Leave campaign’s victory was small, and whose outcome was not legally binding, is being reinterpreted as a mandate for the most colossal and unaccountable changes — in short, whatever the Tories under the bigoted authoritarian Theresa May, and the deluded three Brexiteers, Davis, Johnson and Fox, think they can get away with.
Please, my fellow citizens, wake up from your slumber and rise up!
And here’s the Labour MP David Lammy’s tweet (one of many by al maker of commentators) about the humiliation of the ‘Plan for Britain’ website crashing: https://twitter.com/DavidLammy/status/842416756857659392
He wrote, “Just tried to look at the ‘Plan for Britain’ website. It is broken. No words.”
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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