Amomentous event in British and European history is scheduled to attain fruition in three weeks’ time with Thursday’s approval of the House of Commons of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill. The legislation will now go to the House of Lords where peers could give it a more incisive hearing, but are still unlikely to block its passage. The concurrence of the Lords is intrinsically a constitutional procedure.
The ruling party does not boast a majority in the House of Lords; small wonder the Prime Minister’s official spokesman has told the House not to frustrate the progress of the legislation. While the event will rank as a watershed development, the process over close to four years, within the UK and between Westminster and the European Union headquarters in Brussels, had acquired the character of a roller-coaster narrative.
Ergo, Brexit represents the distinction between an event in history and the process. For the likes of Theresa May and Mr Johnson, if not the Conservative party as a whole, the moral victory is profound. The United Kingdom is now on track to leave the EU by 31 January. The victory of the Leave lobby fructifies the affirmative vote, however marginal, in the referendum on 23 June 2016.
The euphoria in the midst of the damp English winter must be tempered by the prologue to the withdrawal. The Prime Minister won the vote on the EU withdrawal bill at third reading by 330 votes to 231, a majority of 99. No, it was scarcely a wholly convincing margin, let alone a thumping victory. Before Mr Johnson’s election, MPs had thwarted Ms May’s Brexit bill and threatened to do the same to the next Prime Minister’s revised deal.
Notably, the composition of the new Parliament is now strongly pro-Brexit, given Mr Johnson’s sizeable Tory majority. The bill passed without amendment in the Commons in marked contrast to tortuous previous efforts of Ms May and Mr Johnson to get Brexit legislation through before the election. At the end of the day, an emotive issue remains unsettled.
Opposition MPs did try to force an amendment committing the government to allow unaccompanied child refugees to continue to be reunited with their families in the UK after Brexit. The previous government had accepted an amendment from the Labour peer, Lord Dubs, seeking continued protection for child refugees after Brexit; but Mr Johnson jettisoned that remarkably humane commitment after the third election in as many years.
A firm decision cannot readily be expected in a country that has known three dispensations from 2016 to the present day (Theresa May I and II) and Boris Johnson. It is fervently to be hoped that the issue will be deat with in the new immigration bill. Seldom have parties and politics in the British court been so mired in uncertainty. The trade deal may yet turn out to be another contentious issue. Let not the welfare of the child be overlooked in the next bout of negotiations between adults.