Withdrawal Bill: Amendment 7 Mythbuster

In the wake of the government’s major defeat on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, many myths have arisen that have wrongly attributed both motivations for why Parliament made the decision it did, and what the consequences of that decision are.

We thought we’d shed some light on what is actually going on and clear up the main myths that have come out of the debates.

Myth #1: Clause 9 is essential for a smooth Brexit

As the government had already said that they would be bringing forward a separate bill to implement the withdrawal bill, it was not clear why the government needed the exceptionally broad powers in clause 9.

The aim of amendment 7 was to give some power back to MPs in light of the worryingly broad powers the government wanted to give itself in clause 9 in the bill. These wide Henry VIII powers, without amendment, would have given the government a blank cheque to do whatever it wanted, including rewriting or scraping existing legislation, in order to implement the withdrawal agreement with the EU. MPs from all sides, as well as both Leave and Remain supporters, have expressed grave concerns about the breadth of these powers.

Putting it lightly, the staunch Brexit supporter Sir Oliver Letwin said clause 9 contained “mischief” while Jacob Rees-Mogg said the clause “gives some powers that trouble even Eurosceptics” and that he “never felt comfortable with the self-amending part of the bill”.

Unfortunately, after the vote rather than listening to the widely held concerns of MPs (even those who didn’t end up rebelling), the government doubled-down on its claim that the powers in the bill are “essential”.

Myth #2: The MPs that voted for Amendment 7 are just rebels that want to block Brexit

Some parts of the media have been quick to frame the Conservative rebels as a band of MPs hellbent on blocking Brexit. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Far from it, the debate around amendment 7 was deliberate and thoughtful, and focussed on carrying out what many who voted for in the Brexit referendum - for soverigity to be returned to the UK Parliament from Brussels. There are two points to keep in mind here: firstly, many of the MPs that rebelled on amendment 7 are not regular rebels; and secondly, their motivations are far from being about blocking Brexit and more to do with carrying out exactly what the referendum vote was framed as being about, that is, returning sovereignty to Parliament.

The MPs that supported amendment 7 are hardly a bunch of hardline rebels. Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General, has only rebelled once over a local issue. In contrast, many of the MPs who were quick to criticise the rebels are themselves rebels! Nadine Dorries for example, who labelled Grieve’s actions as “treachery”, has rebelled 43 times. Admittedly while many MPs supporting Amendment 7 did campaign for Remain, they were joined by staunch Eurosceptics like Dennis Skinner.

Jacob Rees-Mogg mounted a defense of those supporting amendment 7, saying their arguments were in “good faith”. He called for less animosity, saying “those of us who opposed the Government when they were very pro-European should not criticise Members… when they decide to take the reverse position of the one we took in previous years. What they are doing is completely reasonable.”

Myth #3: Parliament shouldn't get a say on the deal. Countries don’t negotiate deals with Parliaments.

Wrong! The UK is the exception and not the rule among our neighbors - no involvement from Parliament in treaty-making in the UK is a hangover from the days when England was an absolute monarchy. We have a whole section in our report, ‘A Democratic Brexit,’ about the problems with how the power to negotiate trade is concen trade in the hands of the government, and how sidestepping elected representatives in these wide-ranging deals is in fact far from being the norm in democracies.

The full transcript from the debate can be read online here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-12-13/debates/77F256AC-E26E-48F1-99B8-99DDD554B289/EuropeanUnion(Withdrawal)Bill