LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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The Commons cleaved to the will of the British people last night, Article 50 now awaits its historic date with destiny

If it’s not yet the occasion to uncork the bubbly, it’s certainly time to pop it in the fridge. Last night the House of Commons voted down the House of Lords two amendments to the bill on exiting the European Union. Both amendments threatened to severely close down precious negotiating space in the upcoming Article 50 talks. Following the Lords’ decision to not further disrupt the bill’s passing, the Queen is now expected to give the bill Royal assent before the end of the week.

Amendments dear boy

The first amendment would have assured the future residency rights of EU nationals currently living in the UK without a quid a pro-quo from the EU.  The UK government would then be on the back foot in trying to secure the same rights for three million Britons living in the European Union. The amendment was voted down 335 votes to 287

Similarly, demands for formal ratification were far more dangerous than a simple Parliamentary vote – already promised by the government. Fortunately, this too fell short of a majority among MPs: 274 votes to 135. Had more MPs weighed in on the side of the Lords, final ratification would have been scheduled well before the two-year expiry on the Article 50 negotiations. In the worryingly likely event that Parliament voted it down, the Government would then be obliged to return to the negotiating table. A second bite at the cherry would be very unlikely to play in the UK’s favour.

Unsurprisingly, the Liberal Democrats made a last-ditch attempt at reinstating a version of the meaningful vote in the form of a parliamentary veto on the outcome of the negotiation. It too failed, by 156 votes. Lest we forget, there is no legal reason why Britain cannot un-trigger Article 50. A veto would be catastrophic.

A scare, if not a scrape

In the end, these were all comfortable defeats, but the margins should still have been much greater. Each amendment not only defied the will of the British people, it also promised to make life harder for the Government’s negotiators, increasing the possibility of a poor outcome and raising the temptation of a largely pro-EU legislature to pull the plug on Brexit entirely, regardless of what the people said at the referendum.