A view on former Attorney General Dominic Grieve’s rejection of the Prime Minister’s “slap in the face” compromise to get the Brexit Bill through a fractious Commons
With the Conservative Party enduring significant internal debate on leaving the EU and how Britain does it (which is often not all that ‘internal’ after all) the urbane Dominic Grieve is determined to deal a body blow to the Government. The driving force for this being the fear of a No Deal scenario, details on the customs union and the Northern Ireland hard border prospect.
As a seasoned QC, the former Attorney General’s charge stems from what he sees as an “unacceptable” change to “compromises” on getting the beleaguered EU Withdrawal Bill through the Commons on Wednesday next week. In fact, he went as far as calling it a “slap in the face”.
So, what does this mean for the whole process in the UK Parliament?
It means Grieve, as an arch-Remainer, has seized ground at a critical moment in securing legislative foundation for how Brexit will take place. With the ongoing prospect of such a tight vote in the Commons, this is a significant development in the run-up to Wednesday and an inevitable rough ride for the bill through Parliament as a whole.
Grieve’s issue is that the Government has made the bill unamendable; meaning MPs cannot change its provisions. He argues this is “contrary to the usual methods of the House of Commons”. Scholars on parliamentary procedure will pour over this. No doubt copies of Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice will become even more dog-eared.
Essentially, the most ardent Brexiteers’ dream of a so-called Hard Brexit is fading fast. And the UK’s retained place in the single market seems increasingly likely, even if on a diluted basis. But much of the debate will circle around when a ‘meaningful vote’ – as the PM committed to – is actually a ‘meaningful vote’ on such a contentious bill. Brexit means Brexit, after all.
Add to the mix that the Rebels are stridently on the march.
They were already emboldened before Grieve’s latest intervention by fanciful notions of a no confidence vote on the PM from Brexiteers, the vague threats of Brexit Secretary David Davis resigning, and typically eye-catching commentary from Boris Johnson. Characters like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Anna Soubry stirring up the media pot from very different perspectives creates a headache for Downing Street and the Brexit department.
But the intervention of Dominic Grieve is not to be underestimated, even if the Solicitor General Robert Buckland tries as hard as he can to assure everyone that the Government will strike a “balance” to accommodate all sides of the argument.
Dominic Grieve knows parliament like the back of his hand. He is respected and known for his attention to detail and centrist Tory stance. The man could become a lightning rod for a Government defeat in the Commons. Unless, of course, the PM and the Whips’ Office can mitigate that risk.