This was first posted on Facebook on 8th September 2020, with support from my Ko-Fi network.
Today’s PMQs were less of a fiasco for Boris Johnson than last week’s, despite his Secretary of State for Northern Ireland admitting in the Commons yesterday that yes, the proposed changes to the Withdrawal Agreement did break international law in a “limited and specific way”.
Boris Johnson is given notice of questions, so he cannot really expect Keir Starmer to have asked him about the Internal Market bill, though he claimed that he did.
Keir Starmer instead asked a series of searching questions, with examples, about the government’s absolute failure to deliver a working test, track, and trace scheme in England. Boris Johnson reiterated that the UK was tracking lots of people, most people didn’t have to travel far for a test, and why wasn’t Starmer being more supportive of our wonderful NHS?
(The UK government’s test, track, and trace system has been a monstrous failure in England because it was largely carried out by Serco, who are notoriously bad at doing things either cheaply or well.)
Ian Blackford pointed out that the Internal Market bill rolled back devolutionary protection for the Scottish government against interference by Westminster in devolved matters.
Alistair Carmichael, the LibDem MP for Orkney and Shetland, noted that he would oppose the SNP government holding a “wildcat independence referendum” (that is, one that didn’t have a Section 30 order to make it binding) because that would be against the law, and he asked on what basis Boris Johnson could oppose it, since he was justifying breaking the law himself.
Bob Neill, the Tory MP who asked such a stunner of a question of Brandon Lewis yesterday, got an early PMQ and asked Boris Johnson a softball queston about Gibraltar. As Gibraltar voted by overwhelming majority to Remain, it was a bit sarcastic, but all Johnson had to do was say how much he supported the people of Gibraltar, which he duly did. I suspect Bob Neill of being got at overnight.
To be clear, though:
The Internal Market Bill will pass.
Bob Neill’s backing down from yesterday’s stance was clear proof that criticism of the bill for breaking international law will be confined to opposition MPs and retired Prime Ministers, and that Keir Starmer will not attempt to explain the problems with it to potential Labour voters.
Conservative MPs will not risk their careers by standing up to Boris Johnson. (See my post of 19th July.)
The House of Lords may try to revise the bill, but as Brandon Lewis has claimed the changes to the Withdrawal Agreement as a manifesto commitment, the House of Lord changes can be overriden by the Commons.
We are in for it.
Number 10’s excuse for revising the Withdrawal Agreement with a bit of domestic legislation, is that the Withdrawal Agreement was pushed through at such speed in December that there wasn’t time for it to be properly scrutinised.
This is quite true. Boris Johnson and his Brexiter supporters insisted loudly that their Withdrawal Agreement did not need to be scrutinised, MPs were just to pass it and have done with it, “oven ready Brexit”, and the UK would leave the EU with that Withdrawal Agreement on 31st January 2020, no more “dither and delay“, an “oven-ready deal“.
Remember how in The Martian, the emergency food supplies intended for Mark Watney never get sent because to save time, the mission director tells the experts not to hold up the launch with those pesky detailed checks?
But at least there, everyone meant well.
Boris Johnson thinks that by 2022 we’ll all be ready for a Festival of Brexit.