Monday, 17 December 2018

Brexit - the impasse continues - Vote of No Confidence in the PM

Monday 17 December, the Prime Minister made a statement to Parliament about the EU Council held on 13 / 14 December.

Prime Minister's Statement 17 December

Council conclusions 13 December

Key points:
 
Certain negotiations are continuing "to explore further political and legal assurances."   No detail of these negotiations was offered in the statement - e.g. exactly what "legal" assurances are being discussed.


Mrs May set out the EU Council's conclusions relating to the Ireland / Northern Ireland backstop which both sides plan to avoid if at all possible.  IF the backstop is required the EU “would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop.”

The Withdrawal Agreement - which at the moment very few MPs appear to support - will come back to the House of Commons in the week beginning 7 January and with a Vote to be scheduled in the week beginning 14 January.

The Prime Minister rejects the idea of holding a further referendum.  Mrs May said, "Finally let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum.  Another vote which would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy, that our democracy does not deliver.  Another vote which would likely leave us no further forward than the last.   And another vote which would further divide our country at the very moment we should be working to unite it."

The statement has not taken us very much further and has certainly not removed any of the uncertainty.  To wait almost a further month before a vote on the withdrawal deal takes place can only add to the uncertainty and obviously shortens the timescale to achieve any alternative.

Previous post - Friday Brexit update - The Impasse


No Confidence in the Prime Minister:

The Leader of the Opposition stated that a Motion of No Confidence in the Prime Minister would be tabled. See the debate 17 December.

On Votes of No Confidence see House of Commons - Public administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee - 11 December - Any clear expression of 'no confidence' could topple government, warns committee.

The Report Summary states - "Some have expressed the view that the mechanism for bringing about an early general election provided by Section 2(3) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has superseded the pre-existing conventions around the confidence of the House in the Government. While it is correct that only by the statutory provisions of the Act can a motion of no confidence lead to an early general election, this has in no way affected the ability of the House to express no confidence in the Government through other means. Outside the terms of the Act, if the House were to express no confidence, unless that authority could be restored, the Prime Minister would be expected to give notice that he or she will resign, but only when he or she is in a position to recommend to the Sovereign an alternative person to form a new administration. In the event that no alternative person can be found, it remains available to the House to bring about an early general election under section 2(1) of the Act."


It transpired that this Motion of No Confidence in the Prime Minister could not be debated unless the government made Parliamentary available to debate it !  See the view of the Speaker set out in Points of Orders 18 December.  The Opposition could still, under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 table a Motion of No Confidence in HM Government and that would have to be debated.


For some interesting thoughts on this see AL's Law - Is Jeremy Corbyn's no confidence vote 'stunt' a bigger deal than he realises? 

Mr Ian Blackford MP - Scottish National Party - Emergency debate:

Mr Ian Blackford MP was successful in obtaining an Emergency Debate under Standing Order 24 of the House of Commons - see Hansard 17 December.

See the Hansard Record of the debate held on 18 December.   The debate began with a motion - "That this House has considered the outcome of the Prime Minister’s recent discussions with the European Commission and European Heads of Government regarding the Withdrawal Agreement, and potential ways forward."  After 3 hours the debate came to an end and the motion lapsed.

See this post for a previous Emergency Debate held on 11 December 2018 and the Hansard Record of that debate.

A point of interest:

Referring to the EU Council's conclusions Mrs May said, "As formal conclusions from a European Council, these commitments have legal status and should be welcomed. They go further than the EU has ever done previously in trying to address the concerns of this House." [Mt emphasis].

I believe this to be somewhat misleading.  EU Council Conclusions provide powerful political direction  to the EU but, whatever Mrs May meant by the term legal status, they are certainly not legally binding.  This is explained by the EU in their document Council Conclusions and Resolutions:

"The Council of the EU negotiates and adopts not only legal acts but also documents such as conclusions, resolutions and statements, which do not intend to have legal effects. The Council uses these documents to express a political position on a topic related to the EU's areas of activity. These types of documents only set up political commitments or positions - they are not foreseen in the treaties. Therefore, they are not legally binding."  

This is consistent with Article 15.1 of the Treaty on European Union - "The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political directions and priorities thereof. It shall not exercise legislative functions."

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