MPs have been ringing up to order camp beds to sleep inside the Palace of Westminster. The lobby press are gearing up for some late-night filibustering and voting that have not been seen at Westminster for a generation. The second reading of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that will repeal the European Communities Act of 1972 – which enshrined all EU law as being superior to UK law – was due to take place this Thursday, with the vote next Monday.
The phrase “historic vote” has been used frequently in the last two years: over Brexit, triggering Article 50 and others. But Monday’s vote is in many ways the most important as it will consign to the bin of history all EU legislation and will be the first step towards Britain reclaiming its national sovereignty, as was clearly voted for by 85 per cent of the electorate in this year’s general election.
If you examine the democratic numbers, it’s astonishing that the Remain camp – typified by Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer in a recent Observer article that argued for an indefinite transitional period to leave the single market – believe that history and democracy are on their side. Their logic simply doesn’t add up. Starmer and his fellow pessimists seem to have already forgotten that 500 MPs walked through the lobbies to vote in favour of the Article 50 Act. The referendum itself was legitimised through an Act of Parliament in the Commons, and then you have to include the more than 17 million UK electors who voted to leave.
The Withdrawal Bill marks a return to our self-reliance as a free and democratic nation built over 400 years, re-establishing our right to govern ourselves through our own general elections. No wonder that many Tory MPs are furious that, despite the failure of Project Fear, and despite the clear democratic mandate that Theresa May and her government have to push through the Withdrawal Bill, there is a poisonous mood of uncertainty and division within not just the Commons but also the Tory party itself.
Yes, David Davis has been going on to The Andrew Marr Show to calm nerves and Boris Johnson has been doing the rounds to assure grassroots Tories and other Leavers that he is, of course, 100 per cent behind May. But as one senior MP told me before the new “term” started this week, “The party mood is very fragile. There are echoes of 1972 and 1975.”
The mood is so heavy with threats and intrigue that the Prime Minister’s closest aides have sent missives and cautionary warnings to pro-EU Conservative politicians basically instructing them to vote for the first reading of the Brexit Withdrawal Bill – or else. It is has been reported that as many as a dozen Tory MPs are considering voting against the Bill.
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