Commons Diary: Kirsty Blackman
The SNP's Kirsty Blackman reflects on a week of chaos in Westminster
Just when you thought the whole Brexit issue couldn’t get any worse, this week happened. It was a week that contained far too much news. There have not been that many times in parliament’s history when an MP picking up the mace and trying to make off with it was not the most newsworthy thing that happened that week.
Monday started with the judgement of the European Court, which made clear that the Article 50 notification can be unilaterally revoked. The case had been brought by lawyer Jolyon Maugham QC and six Scots – from the Greens, the Labour party and the SNP – including the House of Commons’ Joanna Cherry QC MP.
Everyone was gearing up for the meaningful vote on Tuesday. Speeches had been written for the last two days of debate. Travel plans had been made accordingly and events and engagements for Tuesday night had been cancelled in anticipation of the votes happening.
Cabinet Ministers and number 10 were making absolutely clear that they were not going to pull the meaningful vote. Then the rumours started. Journalists, on and off twitter, started saying the vote was to be pulled. It was confirmed that the Prime Minister would make a statement and this would be followed by a Business Statement from the Leader of the House.
At this point chaos ensued and it hasn’t really calmed down since. Some Tory backbenchers were furious. Many of those who had intended to speak in the debate took the opportunity to question the Prime Minister during her statement. MPs were really angry and frustrated that the vote had been pulled. The Speaker was uncharacteristically angry at the way the House had been treated and suggested a way MPs could have a proper debate on the pulling of the vote – but this was in the gift of Government whips who refused to do so.
The Brexit Secretary’s statement on the Article 50 court decision was drowned out in news because MPs were clamouring to have their views heard on the Prime Minister’s decision.
Theresa May went off the Europe to try to convince European leaders to attempt to renegotiate a deal they’ve said can’t be renegotiated. A deal that the Prime Minister said was the only and best deal possible.
Oh, and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, in a fairly calm way, picked up the mace and carried it past the bar of the House. He was very polite about the whole thing and gave it back to the Sergeant at Arms and the doorkeepers, but then was ejected from the estate for the rest of the day.
A cross-party People’s Vote event on Tuesday morning made clear – the Leader of the Opposition must table a vote of no confidence in the government. A government taking us into economic disaster that can’t pass legislation doesn’t have the confidence of the House and certainly doesn’t have the confidence of the general public.
The House discussed the Ivory Bill and had a General debate on fuel poverty. No progress on renegotiation was made in the meetings with European leaders. Business organisations implemented contingency plans, the immigration white paper and bill were still nowhere to be seen. Not much governing was being done by the UK Government.
Wednesday morning saw the rumours confirmed that Graham Brady had received the 48 letters required to trigger a confidence vote among Tory MPs. The Prime Minister dashed back from Europe and made clear she would fight to hold on. She went on to win the vote, but I would suggest that a Prime Minister who doesn’t have the confidence of 117 of her MPs and who can’t get legislation through isn’t going to be in the job very long.
It’s worth bearing in mind that while all this is going on, Universal Credit is rolling out across these islands. Foodbank use is increasing, rent arrears are increasing and children are going hungry. The only option to solve this deadlock is for the Prime Minister to give up trying to court her anti-Europe ERG MPs and have a People’s Vote so we can vote to stop this foreseeable catastrophe and remain in the EU.
Kirsty Blackman is SNP MP for Aberdeen North and the party’s depute leader at Westminster