Dominic Grieve’s latest effort to obstruct Brexit has attracted much comment due to its extraordinary abandonment of any further claim that its author’s objective is really about restoring or reasserting Parliament’s rights or traditional constitutional principles.
Eyebrows have justifiably been raised at the plan to allow the Government’s control of Commons business to be replaced not by the House, in the form of a majority of MPs, but by a minority of MPs. So much for all the smug claims that the Remainer rebellion amounts to Parliament ‘taking back control’.
As I argued on Sky News last night, this reveals an effort simply to get what that minority want, regardless of the knock-on effects on Parliament or our democracy – they evidently doubt they have a majority of MPs on board, so rather than try to persuade others they propose simply to make a minority sufficient to control the business of the House.
One figleaf that has been inserted into the amendment, apparently to try to justify that step, is a provision that the 300 would have to be cross-party, including ten Government MPs. Supposedly that rebuts the suggestion that this would allow an Opposition or an alliance of the Opposition and minor parties to fatally disrupt a Government.
Except the amendment does not quite say that – as ever, it’s worth reading a lawyer’s exact words rather than simply accepting assurances about intent. Here is the precise wording (with my emphasis):
‘…a Motion in connection with the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union in the name of at least 300 Members of the House elected to the House as members of at least five parties and including at least 10 Members elected to the House as members of the party in Government shall stand as the first item of business;’
So such a motion would not require the support of ten MPs from the governing party, only ten MPs ‘elected to the House as members’ of such a party. In other words, MPs who had defected, or resigned the Whip, or been expelled from the governing party would still count as lending support from the Government benches. How convenient.