This dan­ger­ous amend­ment could strip the Gov­ern­ment of its power

The Daily Telegraph - - Countdown To Brexit - By Nikki da Costa

Any­one who has ever been through the Whips Of­fice would have been shaken to the core by the idea of the stand­ing or­ders – the rules that reg­u­late the Com­mons – be­ing torn up, de­priv­ing the Gov­ern­ment of the abil­ity to sched­ule its busi­ness. I’d heard this was afoot, but see­ing in black and white that the Gov­ern­ment thought it was pos­si­ble was shock­ing.

There’s no doubt No 10 in­tended to shock. It is clearly in their in­ter­ests to en­cour­age Brex­i­teers to re­alise that there is very lit­tle the ar­dently anti-no-deal MPS will not do, but if this amend­ment is tabled, the Gov­ern­ment needs to have wo­ken up ev­ery Con­ser­va­tive MP to the dan­gers.

It would be a huge risk to let the idea grow that this is an in­nocu­ous move that one could safely back. It is dressed up as hand­ing con­trol to back­benchers, but in re­al­ity it is hand­ing con­trol to Labour and the op­po­si­tion par­ties plus a small group of rebel Con­ser­va­tives.

It is al­leged that Do­minic Grieve wants to se­cure a change to stand­ing or­ders so that mo­tions pro­posed by back­benchers take prece­dence. One as­sumes that this is to se­cure an in­dica­tive vote on op­tions in­clud­ing a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.

How­ever, mo­tions on their own can­not bind the Gov­ern­ment, nor over­ride ex­ist­ing leg­is­la­tion, so the sec­ond piece of the puz­zle is how to change the stand­ing or­ders to al­low the in­tro­duc­tion of a Bill by back­benchers and its timetabling through the Com­mons.

To do this you would need three things: an op­por­tu­nity to se­cure a Com­mons vote, an amend­ment and a ma­jor­ity.

The op­por­tu­nity: changes to stand­ing or­ders would not nor­mally be al­lowed as amend­ments to mo­tions such as that on the deal, but it is not dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the Speaker ac­cept­ing them. There are there­fore at least two chances: an amend­ment to the mo­tion to ap­prove the deal, which would need to be tabled on Mon­day, or an amend­ment to the “next steps” vote if the deal is de­feated or amended. If the Gov­ern­ment were to bring a busi­ness mo­tion to gov­ern the next steps vote, it would be a third ve­hi­cle.

The amend­ment: you would need to tar­get the “ar­range­ment of pub­lic busi­ness” and fur­ther em­power the back-bench busi­ness com­mit­tee; you might tar­get gov­ern­ment con­trol over daily busi­ness, and you would look at em­pow­er­ing back­benchers to pro­gramme Bills.

The ma­jor­ity: the op­po­si­tion par­ties and seven or more Con­ser­va­tive MPS will­ing to turn the Gov­ern­ment into a by­stander.

If passed, the Gov­ern­ment would re­tain the ti­tle of ex­ec­u­tive but lose the power that goes with it. Given the lack of a ma­jor­ity, the re­al­ity would be that Par­lia­ment would be able to leg­is­late at will with a hand­ful of Con­ser­va­tive or DUP rebels. There would be no sta­bil­ity and such changes would likely ex­pe­dite a gen­eral elec­tion. Nikki da Costa was di­rec­tor of leg­isla­tive af­fairs at No 10 from Septem­ber 2017 to Novem­ber 2018

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