Theresa May has been accused of giving MPs a “meaningless vote” on Brexit, as the House of Commons prepares to consider her Withdrawal Agreement once again today.
Labour former minister Chris Bryant made the claim as he questioned the point of the extra sitting on Friday given the doubts over the impact of the Government’s motion.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom confirmed the Withdrawal Agreement will be subject to a vote, although this will not cover the future relationship with the EU.
She argued the motion, if agreed, will trigger an automatic extension of the Brexit process from April 12 to May 22, with a subsequent Withdrawal Agreement Bill helping to clear up other matters.
But shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz warned the motion could risk seeing the law “being broken” as it does not meet the requirements of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, raising a point of order, sought to reassure MPs and said: “When the House listens to the rationale behind it, when it hears the full context of it, I’m sure the House will accept it is not only perfectly lawful, perfectly sensible and is designed to give this House an opportunity of availing itself of a right the European Union has given to us to avail ourselves of an extension until May 22.”
“The view of the Government is simply we could not let the time limit expire at 11pm tomorrow, of allowing this House the opportunity of availing itself of that right.”
“It is perfectly reasonable and it is perfectly lawful.”
But Mr Bryant said: “I’m happy for us to sit tomorrow but I would just say that if it’s absolutely clear… that tomorrow’s motion is not a meaningful vote then it’s a meaningless vote, and consequently there’s little point to us sitting.”
“And the one precedent I’m absolutely sure the House always abided by in the past and will abide by probably tomorrow is when the Government comes up with a policy, a change of mood, change of style, a different way of doing business which is too clever by half, it always loses.”
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the latest development was another “Groundhog day” for Brexit.
But he insisted that whatever the outcome, Gibraltar had worked hard to prepare the ground for all eventualities.
“The decision by the UK Government to bring back the Withdrawal Agreement for debate to the House of Commons demonstrates how important it has been for us to have all angles covered for Gibraltar,” he said.
“That’s what we have done.”
“Because of our work to protect Gibraltar in the Withdrawal Agreement, we have the security of knowing what our nation’s position will be if the Agreement is approved by the UK Parliament.”
“For now, the final outcome of what might happen continues to remain unclear.”
“If the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved, it may be that other options potentially leading ultimately to eventually remaining in the EU may come into play more effectively.”
“Once again, we are at a crucial and determinative moment, as we have been for the past month on and off. It’s another frustrating Brexit vote Groundhog day all over again.”
Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the GSD, said the latest move by Mrs May was predictable, adding that the growing clamour of voices calling for a second referendum must not be ignored.
“The latest attempt to put Mrs May’s bad deal to parliament is the latest but predictable twist in this saga,” he said.
“There is momentum building for a people’s vote which we hope will continue as it gives us the best chance of remaining.”
Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon, who leads the Together Gibraltar party, said she was saddened by the spectacle in the UK Parliament.
“The new depths into which the UK Parliament is plunging is truly sad to watch,” she said.
“A Prime Minister trying to squeeze votes for a moribund deal in exchange for a promise of her resignation, and a set of Conservatives mulling over whether to vote for a deal they have been so against to satisfy their personal agendas and ambitions.”
“The indecision in the Commons at the moment is astounding and therefore it is paramount to continue to campaign for a people’s vote so that decisions affecting the nation’s future are made openly by the people, for the people.”
Yesterday, Prime Minister Mrs May’s plans were compared to a blank sheet of paper as MPs tore into the Government’s handling of Brexit.
SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart said: “I’ve actually got the real business for next week and this is it here – a blank sheet of paper.”
“They just haven’t got a clue what’s going on anymore, they’re totally at the mercy of events, of parliamentary arithmetic and all sorts of party shenanigans.”
He also mocked Mrs Leadsom’s leadership hopes, noting: “She’s not amongst the favourites this time.”
“Maybe if she promises to resign immediately after she gets elected, her chances will be boosted significantly.”
Mrs Leadsom offered Mr Wishart “a slice of Colin the Caterpillar” cake in her office to mark Mr Wishart’s recent birthday, before adding: “In spite of his slightly less than generous remarks, the Prime Minister of this country has done enormous service and absolutely shown her determination at all times to put her country first and second of all make sure we leave the European Union in line with the referendum.”
Tory former minister Sir Edward Leigh said his colleague Sir Oliver Letwin would take control on Monday to continue the indicative votes process to consider Brexit deal alternatives if the Withdrawal Agreement was not approved before then.
He said: “There is nothing to stop him now under our procedures from whittling down the options to one option, which almost certainly given the results last night would be permanent membership of the customs union.”
“There is nothing to stop him putting this in a Bill, there is nothing stopping him making that an Act of Parliament and then the choice will be between – and I say this to my colleagues – permanent membership of the customs union or a general election.”
Mrs Leadsom replied: “I certainly feel that this House needs to agree to fulfil on the 2016 referendum and the Prime Minister’s deal offers the means by which to deliver on that referendum, but at the same time for those who don’t want to leave the European Union, to offer the closest economic and security partnership – it is a compromise and I do urge colleagues right across the House to back it.”
Tory MP Julian Lewis (New Forest East) also said MPs had been left “in tears” at the prospect of “yet again” being asked to vote on the same proposals when they had “twice taken the difficult decision to vote against a three-line whip”.
MAIN PHOTO: Europa Point is battered by waves in a Levanter storm that has lashed Gibraltar for two days with gale force winds and strong swells. Photo by David Parody