MPs have just voted on the first set of amendments to James Wharton’s #LetBritainDecide bill. There is still a great deal more debate to be had in the Chamber, but based on this morning’s offering, it’s not worth clearing your diary for this report stage, unless you enjoy filibustering and mischievous use of obscure parliamentary procedure to delay a bill. This morning we had a geography lesson from Mike Gapes about the populations of each of the overseas territories, an account of the ‘grilling, gruelling’ debate that Martin Horwood enjoyed at a school in his constituency, and a debate about what it is that the people of Gibraltar take joy in. Labour MPs have slowed down in the division lobbies, thereby filibustering as they walk, even though they haven’t voted down the amendments in question. Chris Williamson has just made his second unsuccessful point of order. At one point an MP tried to intervene on Martin Horwood, asking ‘will the honourable gentleman give way?’ Another MP muttered sourly ‘will the honourable gentleman give up?’
They aren’t giving up. But one of the amusing elements of today has been the wonderful willing suspension of disbelief on the Tory benches that enables the MPs present to vent the kind of righteous but entirely pointless fury that we can see below:
— Let Britain Decide (@BritainDecides) November 8, 2013
Labour is triggering votes on Referendum Bill amendments and then not taking part. Last one: 299-0. Absurd time wasting procedural trickery.
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) November 8, 2013
— Claire Perry (@claire4devizes) November 8, 2013
Deeply frustrated to see Lab and Lib Dem MP’s now trying to deprive British people of their right to have a Referendum #LetBritainDecide
— Anne Marie Morris MP (@AMMorrisMP) November 8, 2013
Of course, they do have a point: the Tories are currently the only parliamentary party who want to give people a say. But this Bill was never going to be the vehicle with which to do that: it was a way of shutting them up when the going got tough over the Queen’s Speech.
But in that sense this Bill has been extraordinarily effective. Even the turmoil caused by Adam Afriyie’s amendment has enabled the party to show that it is largely united on Europe and more interested in tripping up the Opposition on European policy than making life difficult for the Prime Minister. The rebellion on the Afriyie amendment is about voting records, not a question of the Prime Minister’s leadership. And as these lovely furious outbursts from Tories about the failure of Labour and the Lib Dems to #letbritaindecide show, the Bill has given the party a real zeal for fighting opponents, not one another.