MPs are finally making their way out of Parliament – or staying for Ed Miliband’s late night adjournment debate – after the first day of Committee Stage of the Article 50 Bill. As explained earlier, the real fireworks are expected tomorrow, and any flashes of drama today came from MPs complaining about the lack of time available for scrutiny. This ended rather noisily in a roaring match between Alex Salmond and Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle over the amount of time allocated to the SNP for speeches in the extended session. Earlier, MPs had chastised Natascha Engel when she was in the Chair for not allowing a number of amendments to proceed to a vote.
The Deputy Speakers were getting it in the neck when the fault for the lack of time available for scrutiny lies with the Government. Naturally, ministers do not want this bill to take up any more time than necessary. And naturally, conscientious backbench and Opposition MPs do not want the Brexit process to begin without due scrutiny. Normally Committee stage takes up around 11 days, and is a sterile affair in which no-one changes their mind because the sessions are controlled by the whips. Today, the Committee of the Whole House was impassioned and MPs were trying to persuade those from other parties to join their cause. But it still ended up going the way of a normal committee stage, with the government winning all votes tonight on the amendments that the House did divide on.
Ministers have been accusing those who tabled amendments of trying to wreck the Bill. This is quite often the case with controversial legislation, but the political price that Labour in particular would pay for appearing to go against the will of the people has been so great that Jeremy Corbyn has had to upset many of his supporters within his party by saying that the party will back the Bill whether or not it gets its way with the detailed amendments it has been trying to push.
In this instance, the accusation that someone who wants to tease out more detail on Brexit, or who wants Parliament to have a meaningful say on a deal that, whether you support Brexit or not, will change so much about the way Britain trades and interacts with its closest neighbours, is unfair. Some MPs do want to stop Brexit. But many others are trying to do their job as scrutineers. Often they don’t, especially at Committee Stage. But on an issue as big as this, it is understandable that some are rather frustrated that they aren’t getting much of an opportunity to do their job.