A new year offers a fresh opportunity to start again. Refreshed and energised, we can all take the chance to look at old problems in new ways, and find ways forward that didn’t appear to us in the festive fog of December.
Well, don’t tell anyone in Parliament that. Because the Brexit battles recommenced in earnest this week and on a first glance it appears, to use Theresa May’s catchphrase, “nothing has changed”. Well not quite nothing, actually. The most significant developments of the week saw the passage of two amendments which, in the process that will follow over the coming weeks, strengthen the hand of MPs against that of the Government.
The first amendment restricts the ability of the Government to raise taxes in the event of a no deal Brexit, seeking to make the price of no deal so high that even hardcore Brexiteers are unwilling to pay it. The second Government defeat reduced the period they have to respond to a defeat in next week’s “meaningful vote” from 21 calendar days to 3 sitting days. It had been suspected that the PM’s plan was to “time out” her opponents, using delaying tactics to force the choice down to the May Deal versus no deal. Well, the amendment passed this week has made that strategy much tougher to execute, and opened up alternative options beyond those two.
For many years, the British political system was described as an “elective dictatorship”, a phrase first coined by Lord Hailsham in 1976 to describe the dominance of the Government over Parliament. That dominance has been waning over the past couple of decades anyway, and MPs are more independent-minded than ever.
The Brexit process has catalysed a new phase of Parliament using its ultimate powers and refusing to allow the Government to always have its way. Many Brexiteers are also great champions of Parliamentary Sovereignty alongside Britain leaving the European Union. It is a rich irony that this sovereignty is now being used to seek to undermine Brexit itself. Parliament is taking back control.