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Chris White and Tiffany Burrows summarise the dramatic events in Parliament which took place on 4th September.

In an extraordinary day in British Politics, the Prime Minister was defeated in his second and third votes of his premiership in the Commons, the first PM in history to do so. It capped a day where events moved apace:

  • The Benn-Burt extension Bill completed its passage in the House of Commons;
  • The House of Lords attempted to defeat a Government filibuster on a motion to speed up debate of the Benn-Burt Bill;
  • Labour rejected Government calls for an election in a vote in the Commons, but may strike a deal if the Benn-Burt Bill receives Royal Assent before Monday afternoon;
  • The Government announced its one year Spending Round.

Spending Round

After PMQs yesterday afternoon, the Chancellor stood up to announce his one year Spending Round. In any normal political circumstances, his increased spending announcements would have made the front pages but the electioneering give-away was drowned out by the Brexit theatrics, which continued at full throttle into the night.

Key headlines

  • All departments would receive funding increases. In particular, there is to be a 6.3% real terms increase in Home Office spending (the biggest in 15 years), Defra is being given £432 million of funding to “set word leading environmental standards” and an extra £2.2 billion of funding for the MOD;
  • The Chancellor added an extra £13.4bn in public spending for 2020-21 - the real increase totalling £13.8bn;
  • An increase school spending by £7.1 billion by 2022-23, compared to this year;
  • A £6.2bn increase in NHS funding next year;
  • Councils will have access to new funding of £1.5 billion for social care;
  • £54 million of new funding to reduce homelessness;
  • An additional £2bn was committed to deliver Brexit;
  • £3.6 billion for the new Towns Fund;
  • The Government’s priority for its “new economic plan” is to rebuild national infrastructure;
  • For the devolved nations:
    • Scotland – £1.2 billion of extra funding for next year
    • Wales – an extra £600 million of funding
    • Northern Ireland – an extra £400 million

MPs vote through the Benn-Burt Bill in blow to Government

The Prime Minister faced his second and third defeat of his premiership in a Commons showdown. The first was the passing of the Second Reading (Government defeated 329-300), followed by a similar defeat at Third Reading of the Benn-Burt Bill (327-299), which seeks to prevent a no-deal Brexit. The Bill seeks to forces the Prime Minister to get Parliament’s approval for a deal before 19th October, or to table a vote in both Houses of Parliament so it can approval no-deal Brexit.  If neither of these succeed, then the Bill mandates that the Prime Minister must write to the EU to seek an extension to Article 50 to 31st January 2020. If an alternative date is offered, there must be a vote in Parliament within two days, or before 31st October.

These defeats came after the Prime Minister was defeated in his first Commons vote on Tuesday’s emergency debate, in which MPs brought forward a motion to allow the Benn-Burt Bill to be debated.

Sending the lobby into a frenzy, it appeared that Labour MP Stephen Kinnock tabled an amendment to the Bill allowing Theresa May’s deal to be brought before the House for a fourth time and it was ‘accidentally’ passed due to the absence of the no tellers. It was actually a ‘cunning trick’ by the Government, who thought that the rebels would try and take out the amendment in the Lords, activating ping-pong due to the disagreement between the Commons and the Lords.  This would have taken up further time and perhaps pushed the debate past the moment when the PM could prorogue Parliament, shutting it down until 14th October.  Instead rebel MPs and Peers vowed to leave the amendment in, and in any case the amendment wasn’t ‘watertight’, meaning that instead of bringing back the May deal for a vote in the Commons, it only means the PM must notify the EU that the request for an extension is to bring back the deal.

Peers go through the night

While the Benn-Burt Bill was being debated in the Commons, peers were considering for the first time whether to introduce a business motion to curtail debate. This has never been done before in the Lords which has historically been self-regulating, and the motion sought to set the timetable for its consideration of the Benn-Burt Bill.  If passed, it aimed to force completion of Second Reading by 7pm on Thursday, and all remaining stages by 5pm on Friday.

Government and Brexit supporting peers instead were trying to filibuster the debate, tabling over 100 amendments to which around 90-120 peers would endlessly talk to it, forcing around 200 votes. The Lords had completed only 15 votes by 1.30am when suddenly the House adjourned for the evening amid rumours that a deal had been done with the Government which would allow passage to be completed by Friday evening in return for Labour support for an election.

Election or no election?

The Government’s motion calling for an early general election was defeated late yesterday evening, despite ‘winning’ by 298-56, as the Official Opposition abstained in an unprecedented move.  This is because under the provisions of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, two thirds of MPs (434) need to support an early election, or it will not be successful.

Neither of these rejections were unexpected, but both put pressure on the PM and give more control to Labour than No.10 would like. However, figures in Labour are seemingly at odds over the official position of when and if they would back the motion for a general election. Corbyn expressed his willingness at the despatch box  to support an election once the Benn-Burt Bill made it on to the statute book. This view is at odds with his Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer who insisted that Labour will not back an election that takes place before the 31 October deadline. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell seemed to back Starmer, rather than his Leader when he said he thinks an election would be “later rather than sooner because I don't think people want something before the European Council and it may well be beyond that.”

The SNP seemed to u-turn on their initial support for an election in mid-October and the Lib Dems remain ardently opposed to an election until the Benn-Burt Bill passes,  with leader Jo Swinson telling the PM that once this has happened, that he can “bring it on”.