What crunch Brexit vote at Westminster means for Scotland

It has spawned some of the most bitter inter-parliamentary strife in centuries, and now the impact of Brexit's impact on British politics will be fully realised.
Theresa May's Brexit plans could be thwarted. Picture: PA WireTheresa May's Brexit plans could be thwarted. Picture: PA Wire
Theresa May's Brexit plans could be thwarted. Picture: PA Wire

After over a dozen defeats were inflicted on the British Government by their colleagues in the House of Lords, the EU Withdrawal Bill, which formalises exactly how and when the UK will leave the European Union, is heading back to the House of Commons.

Theresa May is gearing up for a fight within her own party as she tries to steer through a Brexit vision that has lacked both clarity and support.

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In Scotland, talk of a ‘Constitutional Crisis’ over Brexit no longer seems too dramatic after Holyrood voted to withhold ‘legislative consent’ for the aforementioned bill.

Theresa May's Brexit plans could be thwarted. Picture: PA WireTheresa May's Brexit plans could be thwarted. Picture: PA Wire
Theresa May's Brexit plans could be thwarted. Picture: PA Wire

We look at the potential impact in Scotland of the ‘showdown’ over the substantive details of Brexit.

The Main Event

12 June, almost two years exactly on from the UK’s surprise vote to leave the EU, is shaping up to be the day of the defining parliamentary vote on the formalities of the country’s departure.

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PMQs: SNP challenge Labour and Tories to back Brexit Bill amendments

A letter from the Conservative Party Chief Whip, Julian Smith, has already been leaked, urging MPs not to stray too far from the parliamentary estate on Tuesday.

The DUP, said to be furious over recent positive noises from key allies of Theresa May over legalising abortion in the province, will once again be relied on for support.

The Brexit Bill moves some parts of existing EU law on to the British statute book, while removing some others.

In the House of Lords, the Bill has been significantly altered, with 15 amendments ranging from the Irish border, to the removal of the date (next April) when the UK will leave the EU.

These amendments are non-binding, and it is expected that many of the Lords’ changes could be voted down, with parliament prepared for a mammoth session of voting and debate.

Voting patterns

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Both of the main parties in the House of Commons are set to face down major rebellions over the EU Withdrawal Bill.

As many as 20 Tory MPs could rebel on some of the Lords’ amendments that seek to ‘soften’ the UK’s departure.

Labour are set to back 14 of the 15 amendments, but crucially, will be whipped to vote against the change that would put Britain in the European Economic Area (EEA).

Two of the party’s Scottish MPs, Martin Whitfield and former Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray, will defy Jeremy Corbyn and vote to remain in the EEA.

This could expose wider tensions in the Scottish party, with some of the party’s MSPs in favour of staying in the EEA.

The Scottish Conservatives are not immune to internal strife either, with one of their contingent, Paul Masterton, putting his name to an amendment with 12 other Tory rebels backing remaining in the EEA.

SNP MPs, for their part, will almost certainly vote as a unit, and are determined to highlight similarities in the positions of the Tory and Labour leaderships.

Westminster Leader Ian Blackford used PMQs to challenge both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on the amendments, showing the party is keen to use any chaos arising from a ‘hard’ Brexit to its potential political advantage.

‘Power Grab’

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In a rare moment of genuine parliamentary suspense (most voting results in the Commons are known in advance) it isn’t guaranteed either way how the ‘divisions’ will go next week.

No matter the outcome, it is unlikely that there will be an immediate thawing in the icy relations between the Scottish and UK Governments over the devolution of repatriated powers from Brussels.

The two sides have been at an impasse for well over a year, with Holyrood’s vote against legislative consent in May seen as a significant moment in the country’s looming ‘constitutional crisis’.

The matter of that vote will be laid before the Supreme Court next month, with SNP Brexit Minister Michael Russell warning today that ‘dangerous times’ lie ahead as the Brexit Bill continues to make uncertain progress through the House of Commons.

The stand-off over the Brexit Bill’s “power grab” shows no sign of abating, and if Theresa May gets her way in Westminster next week, it could yet be a watershed moment for devolution, and a sign that the stalemate over the Brexit settlement is only just beginning.