Today the House of Commons will be voting on amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill following yet another Tory defeat in the House of Lords over the legislation. But ahead of the vote, which is seeing the disparate tides of each side of May’s party crash into each other and consume themselves, a leading government Minister, Dr Philip Lee, has resigned.
Fundamentally, Lee’s resignation has come because he is dismayed at May’s attempts – most ironically in the light of the fallacious campaign for Brexit – to limit Parliamentary sovereignty.
The now former Tory Justice Minister said in his resignation statement:
“The main reason for my taking this decision now is the Brexit process and the Government’s wish to limit Parliament’s role in contributing to the final outcome in a vote that takes place today.”
Such a statement rings particularly pertinent in the light of Theresa May’s solicitations to the 1922 Committee to vote with the party lest her ‘negotiating position’ be threatened:
“I am confident I can get a deal that allows us to strike our own trade deals while having a border with the EU which is as frictionless as possible. But if the Lords amendments are allowed to stand, that negotiating position will be undermined.”
It is perhaps astounding that at this late stage the process of Brexit, and not the substance of what it is, is still the subject of Parliamentary debate. It is certainly a sure sign of this government’s fragile position.
It does feel strange that today's drama is still going to be over process not substance of Brexit
— John Rentoul (@JohnRentoul) June 12, 2018
In what is a candid reminder of the sordid ridiculousness of this government’s handling of Brexit, Dr Lee’s resignation statement goes on to say:
“However, as the negotiations are unfolding, two things are becoming clear.
• The practicalities, logistics and implications of leaving the EU are far more complex than was ever envisaged and certainly more complex than the people were told in 2016. The UK is not going to be ready in time, neither is the EU, and both would suffer from a rushed or fudged agreement.
• The outcome that is emerging will be neither fully to leave the EU, nor fully to stay. This is not an outcome for which anyone knowingly voted. In my view, this raises the important principle of legitimacy: I do not believe it would be right for the Government to pursue such a course without a plan to seek a confirmatory mandate for the outcome. And I believe that Parliament should have the power to ask the Government to adjust its course in the best interests of the people whom its Members represent.”
Philip’s resignation comes after the so-called ‘Grieve amendment‘ was rejected by the Tories. Such an amendment, tabled by Dominic Grieve – a pro-EU Tory rebel – would have given the government until the end of November to get agreement on the final Brexit deal and then deferred full Parliamentary control over the next steps if there was no deal by February 2019.
It’s emblematic of the Tory’s ass-stubborn approach to Brexit itself that the amendment was rejected, since it represented a compromise between the government’s approach and the Lord’s amendments. Now, the Commons will vote solely on the tougher Lord’s amendments.
Dr Lee laid out exactly what he would like to see of the Brexit process:
“If Brexit is worth doing, then it is certainly worth doing well; regardless of how long that takes. It is, however, irresponsible to proceed as we are, so we should:
• recognise that the UK and EU are not ready for Brexit and pause, extend or revoke Article 50 so that we do not leave before we are ready.
• re-engage with our European and international friends to talk about how to achieve the aims that we share for the future in ways that respect individual countries’ interests and sovereignty. Since 2016, electorates in many countries across Europe have expressed similar concerns to those that we expressed in the referendum and so much is changing, and will continue to change, across the whole of our continent.
• empower our Parliament so that its role is not limited to making fake choices – such as between a ‘bad deal’ and a cliff-edge ‘no deal’. Our Parliament should be able to direct our Government to change course in our interests. In all conscience, I cannot support the Government’s decision to oppose this amendment because doing so breaches such fundamental principles of human rights and Parliamentary sovereignty. A vote between bad and worse is not a meaningful vote. And I cannot bring myself to vote for it in the bastion of liberty, freedom and human rights that is our Parliament.
When the Government is able to set out an achievable, clearly defined path – one that has been properly considered, whose implications have been foreseen, and that is rooted in reality and evidence, not dreams and dogma – it should go to the people, once again, to seek their confirmation.”
Dr Philip Lee also posted a Twitter thread, further explaining his decision.
My full resignation statement: https://t.co/zvejAcMFrY
— Dr Phillip Lee MP (@DrPhillipLeeMP) June 12, 2018
The fact that May’s government seeks to undermine Parliamentary process for some intangible ‘negotiation advantage’ is watery.
It is in essence the same logic that dictates the aggregation of executive power to achieve efficiency. Such a logic is attractive, sometimes, for its simplicity in theory. Though it is rarely if ever advisable in practice.
The final words of Dr Lee’s resignation statement should ring prophetic and true for MPs in Parliament today.
“It is important that individual ministers and Parliamentarians should be able to influence and speak up on these issues. But effective Government in our country also relies on the important principle of collective responsibility. Resigning my post in this Government will allow me to work towards what I believe can be a better future, inside or outside the EU, for my children, my constituents and my country.
That will start today when MPs vote on the House of Lords’ amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill and I will support the amendment which – if it is adopted – will empower Parliament to reject a bad deal and direct the Government to re-enter discussions, extending or pausing negotiations which are being badly rushed because of the deadline that Article 50 imposes.
We will not change our country overnight – but we can and must hand our children a better legacy.”
Dr Lee’s resignation is yet another nail in the coffin of May’s premiership. Yet again, the discord at the heart of her party is being laid bare.
Each day, May’s position gets weaker, and each day it is as though she has bungs in her ear holes. Yet this sorry, broken government surely cannot continue for much longer.
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