Yet again, it has been a week of extreme events in parliament.
Monday started with the Speaker, John Bercow, announcing he’d be stepping down on 31 October. The Tories had been threatening to stand against him in a general election (the convention is that the Speaker is usually re-elected unchallenged). But Bercow clearly decided to spike their guns, leaving MPs startled. Then it was on to votes forcing the government to release its analysis of the Day One effects of a No Deal Brexit (the so-called ‘Yellowhammer’ report), and text messages among 10 Downing Street staff, plotting the prorogation of parliament. Allegations had been made that the Prime Minister had lied to the Queen about the reason for prorogation. MPs hoped the messages would reveal exactly what happened.
That night also saw the government lose another vote for an early general election. The opposition parties won’t allow an early election that could allow Boris Johnson the chance to take us out of the EU without a deal if parliament isn’t sitting when we are due to leave on 31 October.
And then, as Tuesday dawned, at around 1am, parliament finally prorogued, meaning we wouldn’t be due to return to Westminster until 14 October. Its disgraceful MPs won’t be able to question ministers about Brexit (or anything else) for 5 whole weeks at such a crucial time for the country.
However, the Home Affairs select committee (of which I’m a member) wasn’t deterred and decided to hold an unofficial meeting on Tuesday morning to hear from the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and from immigration lawyers about the impact of a No Deal Brexit. What we were told was alarming. The FTA still haven’t had almost any information about the checks that might take place at the UK border. They were worried about delays in moving goods across the channel. Meanwhile, the lawyers raised questions about the status of EU nationals coming to the UK after Brexit. They also explained the problems with an Australian-style ‘points-based’ immigration scheme, which the Prime Minister says he wants, but which they suggested wouldn’t necessarily mean people coming to take the jobs that employers actually need filling.
On to Wednesday, and more drama, as the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that the prorogation of parliament was unlawful. The government’s appealed this ruling, and the appeal will be heard next Tuesday. But it has left MPs in limbo. As things stand, we don’t know if we’ll be back in parliament next week (though we certainly should be)!
Late on Wednesday, the government reluctantly published the Yellowhammer report. It makes disturbing reading. Queues at Dover and in France, delaying the delivery of medicines and foodstuffs (some of which have a very short shelf life, and can’t be stockpiled). Rises in food and fuel prices. Overnight, the police lose access to EU criminal and intelligence databases. The FTA told us that as 1 November (the day after Brexit day) is a holiday in France, it might take a few days until we really know the effects. But there is certainly a lot to be concerned about.
But while Yellowhammer was published in accordance with Monday’s vote, the government refused to publish the messages about prorogation. We have a Prime Minister who blatantly disregards the law of the land. It is absolutely shocking.