The Brexit Bill survived with rather more ease than I anticipated: a majority of 22 against the Opposition amendment to deny the bill a second reading (318 votes to 296 votes).
The opponents of the bill stated that they were not trying to derail our withdrawal from the EU, but that their concern was that the bill is unbalanced in that it gives too much power to ministers in supervising the Brexit process and too little influence to Parliament. Clearly, there is an argument to be had on this, and I entered into that argument in this column a couple of weeks ago ( http://www.desmondswaynemp.com/ds-blog/the-brexit-bill/ )
We need to judge politicians not just by their words however, but by their actions.
The purpose of a second reading debate is to explore the general principle of a bill. Examining the detail of a bill follows in a separate series of debates on the committee stage (for which seven eight hours days of debate have now been set aside)
The principle of the Brexit bill, accepted on both sides, is that there is a need to provide continuity and certainty after Brexit by incorporating EU law into UK law so that it continues to apply after we leave, as it does now. Otherwise there might be a chaotic departure from the EU.
If the Opposition accepted this argument (–and they said they did), but nevertheless were worried that the bill gave too much power to ministers, and too little to Parliament, then the proper parliamentary way to proceed would have been to have supported, or perhaps abstained, at second reading, then to seek to amend the balance of powers in the detail of the bill at the subsequent committee stage. To have voted –as they did- against the second reading is to vote against the principle of the bill and to try to kill it outright.
Whatever opponents say about their motives, for them to have voted against the second reading is deeply worrying about their commitment to our departure from the EU.
MPs are not objective observers. We are partisans. Forgive therefore, my suspicions about the motivation of parliamentary opponents who campaigned to remain in the EU, nevertheless now say that –as democrats- they accept the referendum result, but then vote against the principle of the bill that is essential to deliver Brexit.
They say that they are defending parliamentary sovereignty against a power grab by ministers (because the bill gives those ministers the exclusive right to draw up regulations that will make the thousands of changes necessary to our law, before presenting the regulations to Parliament to be approved or rejected).
Where was their concern for parliamentary sovereignty when these EU laws were made in the first place, with no role at all for Parliament in that Process?
The opponents of the Bill say they want Parliament to be involved in the detail of drawing up the regulations: that would take years.
I have spoken before in this column of the desperation of those who want to hang on in the hope that something will turn up to prevent us leaving the EU. Delay is the essential ingredient to such a strategy of hanging on in that hope. Nothing is more suited to supplying that delay than the current tactics of those who voted against this bill.