November 12, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
The word ‘chaos’ barely does it justice. The scenes at the House of Commons on Monday were simply farcical. It leaves me seriously wondering what on earth the Government were thinking, and also admiring a great example of how Parliament can hold the executive to account. The winner on this occasion was again Nigel Farage and the losers from this are no doubt Theresa May and the Home Office. In case you are wondering what I am talking about here it is, and I can barely write it without shaking my head…….The Government tried to have the vote they had promised on the European Arrest Warrant WITHOUT actually having a vote on the European Arrest Warrant. Yes, you read that right.
Here’s what happened. Or first, let’s start with what was SUPPOSED to have happened. What was supposed to have happened is that Theresa May, the Home Secretary – had managed to charm most of those Tory Eurosceptic MPs into voting for the UK retaining the EU Arrest Warrant as part of a package of 35 measures related to criminal justice in the EU that we would opt back into on December the 1st. The Tories had been bounced into having a vote on the issue by clever work from Ed Miliband in Prime Minister’s Question Time two weeks ago – in which he sought and received a promise from David Cameron that the vote would be held before the Rochester & Strood by-election next Thursday (which Miliband accused the PM of delaying the vote for).
So yesterday a load of MPs turned up to the House of Commons expecting to vote on whether to retain the EU Arrest Warrant – with Labour and Lib Dems promising to support the government in doing so, only to find that for some reason the Government had only put 10 of the measures into the motion. This DIDN’T include the EU Arrest Warrant, even though Parliament had been led to believe it would do. The Government argues that no legislation was needed to opt back into the EU Arrest Warrant but a ‘statutory instrument’ was required for the 10 measures on the motion. YET the government was saying that if the motion was passed it WOULD cover the EU Arrest Warrant. As Ann Treneman in the Times pointed out -“It was about a clutch of regulations but not the one thing that everyone wanted to talk about, rebel over, shout out loud about”.
So, before the debate even started, John Bercow, the Speaker of the House, stood up and accused the government of breaking its promise to hold a vote, accusing ministers of employing “some sort of artifice”. He said that MPs would be “contemptuous” of the Government’s behaviour, and that if they held a vote on the motion in front of the House it would not be a vote on the EU Arrest Warrant.
Yvette Cooper – the Shadow Home Secretary, then stood up and agreed with Bercow, then joined the Tory Eurosceptic rebels in forcing a vote on whether to continue with the debate. That vote was won by only 9 votes – by 251 to 242 – and had they lost, it would have been one of the most humiliating defeats for a Prime Minister seen in living memory. Undaunted, Cooper pushed on – bringing in an arcane Parliamentary procedure to delay any vote on the issue for a day – insisting that the Government put a motion before the house including all 35 measures in. She said that if May didn’t do that , she would be “playing fast and loose with the criminal justice system and fast and loose with this parliament.” It was when Cooper uttered the line “I wish to put the question that the question be not now put” that made all around realise that the situation facing the Government was really serious.
Again, a vote was held – with David Cameron having to rush back from dinner at Mansion House in full white tie and tails to join the vote, adding himself to the many Conservative MPs who had done off to dinner thinking it was safe to do so after the narrow victory early in the day. The Government won this vote by 272 to 229 – a majority of 43. Once this had happened – and the vote on the motion was held – the victory for the Government was easy – by 464 votes to 38 – which is a majority of 426 – as the Government did indeed have the support of Labour and the Lib Dems.
But Labour weren’t finished. They argue that the vote was only on the 10 measures in the motion. They want the other 25 to be put to the House and properly debated and voted on. They have said that they will do this on November 19th – which is, as they full well know – the day before the Rochester & Strood by-election.
The Conservatives have thus accused Labour of playing political games and point scoring, but this is rather shallow. They promised a debate and vote on the EU Arrest Warrant to the House and then they chose not to have that debate and vote, for reasons that they haven’t properly explained.
Theresa May is a loser from this. So is Michael Gove for the whipping operation and William Hague for the procedural mistakes. The winner? Nigel Farage. I’m not sure he will able to believe his luck.