Brexit: Government passes controversial 'power grab' motion allowing it to pass laws without Parliament

Tom Peck

A controversial motion that will grant the government the power to scrutinise Brexit legislation without wider parliamentary input has been passed.

The motion, brought by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom was passed by 320 votes to 301 late on Tuesday night.

It means the Conservatives, despite not winning a majority at the general election, will take control of a powerful Commons committee, and grant themselves the power to replace some aspects of EU legislation without it being voted on or debated in parliament.

With parliament needing to change, amend or import wholesale thousands of laws and regulation to prepare the UK for its exit from the European Union, the EU Withdrawal Bill has been designed to allow for new laws and regulations to be passed via controversial legislative device called a statutory instrument, which are debated in tiny standing committees.

But the government has now voted to give itself a majority on the little known Committee of Selection, which decides the make up of those committees, and in so doing has seized control of the whole process.

A motion allowing the Tories to have a majority on crucial legislative committees that drive the Commons agenda was approved by 320 votes to 301, majority 19.

The change will have an impact on public bill committees, which scrutinise legislation line by line and will no longer mirror the make-up of the Commons but have an inbuilt Conservative majority instead.

If Tory committee members remain loyal, this would allow Prime Minister Theresa May to ensure legislation is passed without fear of opposition.

Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of “rigging” the parliamentary system in its favour. The Labour leader said: “The Tories are now rigging votes in parliament that they couldn’t win at the election. Not content with grabbing powers through the EU Bill, they are fixing majorities that the public wouldn’t give them.”

Traditionally, minority governments do not hold a majority on the Committee of Selection, as to do so would be to effectively override the result of a general election.

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael commented: “This is a sinister power grab by an increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister.

“The Tories didn’t win a majority at the election, but are now hijacking Parliament to try and impose their extreme Brexit on the country.

“It is a bitter irony that Brexiteers who spent their careers championing parliamentary sovereignty have now chosen to sell it down the river.

“This wilful eroding of Parliament’s ability to scrutinise legislation sets a deeply worrying precedent.

“It is now incumbent on all MPs to work together to hold this government to account.”

Downing Street previously claimed the motion would avoid “unwarranted delays” to legislation and claimed it would create “the fairest balance between the Opposition and Government”.

But The Independent revealed last week that the plan to take control of the Committee of Selection was set in motion between the Conservatives and the DUP immediately following the general election, when the Prime Minister knew instantly the loss of her majority would make it impossible to pass the Brexit legislation.

“It was all decided in discussions between the Conservative and DUP whips immediately after the election result,” a well-placed source told The Independent.

“Don’t forget those whips worked hand-in-hand through the Cameron and May mark one governments. So they were always going to in May mark two as well.”

It had been suggested the government would try and quash opposition to the motion by delaying the vote on it until the early hours of the morning, by deploying willing backbenchers to filibuster on the Finance Bill that preceded it.

In the end the vote passed easily.

Introducing the motion, Commons leader Andrea Leadsom suggested there was “historical precedent” for a minority government holding a majority on standing committees, which happened under the Labour minority government of the late 1970s. But in that case, the Labour government began as a majority government and eventually lost it through a series of by-election defeats.

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