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We’re running out of time.
Firstly, the official party positions haven’t really changed in the two years we’ve been performing the show. Every time we meet up again after a break, we agree that we definitely need to change the Brexit section, then we look at it and realise that, actually, no. Nothing has changed.
The second is that I wrote the date of March 2019 as a time two years in the future. It’s now, calendar fans, just two weeks away.
We’re running out of time.
You won’t be surprised to hear, therefore, that recess has been cancelled. Parliament will be working next week. I think a gut reaction to that might be ‘Well, good. They get paid enough, they shouldn’t be hitting the ski slopes. This is an Important Time.’ I think that argument may hold some water, but it’s not just the 650 MPs who have had their leave cancelled. It’s the kitchen staff, the cleaners, the political journalists, the MPs staff and lots, lots more. All those people have families, too. Families that were expecting to have their loved ones home with them for the week and now have to cancel their holiday plans.
And yet, possibly, that sacrifice is worth it. All of these people know that their leave is subject to Parliament’s whims. And this is a special period. There is a lot to do. We’re running out of time.
You may be surprised to hear, therefore, that there isn’t much being done next week. One of the minor Brexit Bills is going through the Lords. MPs aren’t looking at a single piece of legislation. Not one. OK, sure, they are looking at some statutory instruments. These are modifications to legislation that have already been passed. We need to pass up to 600 of these things by time we leave. The vast majority are very straightforward, with a bunch of MPs looking at and then approving them. Some are more controversial, so have been allocated 90 minutes of debate each.
That’s what we’ve got a load of statutory instruments. 11 to be precise. That’s roughly 16.5 hours of debate. Most of them are very technical. The chamber will not be full.
‘What about the rest of the time? Surely the government are using this extra week as much as possible. Surely they wouldn’t deprive children of a parent during their half term?’ I hear you ask.
Well. I’m sorry to say that what we’ve got the rest of the time is the dreaded ‘General Debate’. This is where an interesting topic is debated, such as ‘anti-semitism in modern society’, or ‘potential future free trade agreements’ or whatever. MPs take it in turns to say how much they like things (free trade agreements) or how terrible things are (anti-semitism). The trouble is that nothing concrete changes as a result. It may as well be a sixth form debating club. All of this might be fine, except…
We’re running out of time.
This clock pressure is a problem. The Big Brexity Bills need to be passed. Sure, we can’t begin the process of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill until the House has agreed to a deal. Other bits could be progressed, though. We need to sort out: Agriculture, Fisheries, Immigration, Trade, Healthcare, the Environment and more. Of course, the reason none of this is going through the Commons is that, until we’ve got a deal that a majority can get behind, they are concerned that tricksy amendments might be put down. They don’t want a sudden rebellion on a binding amendment that will scupper plans. Which is why we’re all in limbo. Waiting. At work.
Monday – Todays SIs are on the army, financial services (x2) and ‘cross-border mediation’. Then there is a general debate on ‘serious violence’. The Lords are doing lots of technical things.
Tuesday – Hold the phone, people. There’s a Brexit Bill making progress today. Woop! The Lords have the Healthcare Bill in committee today and again on Thursday. Details below.
SIs today are about financial services, the minimum wage and medicines (x2). The general debate after is on the ‘NHS Ten Year Plan’.
Wednesday – PMQs. Again, the Corbyn / May clash has become so formulaic these past few months, it’s often the questions from backbenchers that are most interesting.
After that excitement, we’ve got SIs on car insurance, ‘aquatic animal health’ and fertilisers. This is all followed by a general debate on ‘anti-semitism in modern society’.
Thursday– Have you had enough SIs for one week? Well, so have the MPs. The only business today is debating potential free trade agreements. The Lords are having another peek at the Healthcare Bill.
Friday – Nothing on today. Both chambers are closed. Presumably, so everyone can still have a long weekend together.
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