The government has fought, kicking and screaming, against giving our elected representatives in Parliament a whisper of a debate - let alone a vote - on the withdrawal agreement with the EU. This is a deal of monumental significance - one which will bring into effect the single greatest constitutional change that the UK has undertaken in peacetime history. A deal which will have long-lasting implications for our policy at home and relationships abroad for decades to come.
We were told that Brexit was about ‘taking back control’. But you would be hard pressed to find any evidence that anyone but a handful of ministers were taking back control.
Yet MPs fought back against the government’s power grab. They came together to back Dominic Grieve’s amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to guarantee Parliament a vote on the withdrawal agreement with the EU. This was then strengthened by the House of Lords, which gave MPs the power to step in if the government fails to reach a deal with the EU, or if the deal they put to Parliament is found to not be in the best interests of the UK.
Now, the government wants to tear the heart out of Parliament’s meaningful vote.
4 reasons why MPs must have a meaningful vote
1. The UK is a democracy
It’s a democratic outrage that, for the greatest constitutional change in the UK’s peacetime history, the government wants to reduce Parliament to little more than a rubber stamp. Even if the government has the best will in the world towards securing the best possible withdrawal agreement, it is hardly a secret that the Cabinet itself does not know what it wants. Their spats have been played out in broad daylight, across the front pages of newspapers, for all to see.
This is a government riddled with indecision, infighting, and uncertainty. If the government fails to reach a deal with the EU, or if the deal they reach is not sufficiently good for the future of the UK, MPs must be empowered to act.
2. Protection from an all powerful-executive
The government is leaning on an archaic ‘Royal Prerogative’ power over treaty-making to take back control - for themselves. The government is acting with nothing less than contempt for Parliament, contempt for the elected representatives of the people, and contempt for democracy.
But the move to rip the heart out of Parliament's meaningful vote is merely a continuation of a trend towards centralising power and averting scrutiny that was established in the early days of the May premiership. It was our Prime Minister, in her Lancaster House speech, who warned those who sought to scrutinise the government’s Brexit plans that they were acting against the national interest.
MPs are the last safeguard against a government that could go off the rails. Yet if the government gets its way, there will be no role for Parliament in deciding the next steps, and no automatic role for Parliament if the government fails to reach a deal or decides to leave with no deal.
3. MPs, as our elected representatives, should have the final say
The idea of defending MPs will be a bitter pill for many to swallow. Our system of representative democracy is flawed. You may well live, like many do, in a ‘safe seat’, where election after election your vote doesn’t matter. You may feel like you have no power to make your MP sit up and listen to the concerns you have about the things in your community that matter to you.
Unlock Democracy has long campaigned for fairer voters, and to fundamentally change the way we do politics. But right now MPs are our only recourse to action in the UK’s dysfunctional democracy. And if you think it’s hard to make your MP sit up and listen, then try getting hold of a government minister.
4. A meaningful vote will - in no way - stop the government from carrying out Brexit
The point of giving a meaningful vote to MPs to to enable them to take action in the event the government fails to reach an agreement with the EU, or MPs think the deal they have secured is not in the best interests of their constituents.
This is what a constitutional crisis looks like
There is under year to go until the UK formally leaves the EU. We are staring over the precipice of a cavern, squinting in the dark in search of details of the deal that will shape our country for years if not decades to come. All the while we have a minority government propped up by a dodgy £2bn deal with the DUP. The Cabinet is publicly fraught with indecision, with the Prime Minister resorting to primary school tactics to try and mend frayed relationships and bring the warring sides together.
This is what our democracy has come to. We are not waiting for a constitutional crisis, we are in the midst of one - this is what a constitutional crisis looks like.
MPs must act today. They must crack down on the government’s power grab and stand up for democracy.
Has the House of Lords stopped Brexit? (Politics.co.uk)