MPs accuse government of rushing through landmark Brexit bill

PUBLISHED: 11:10 22 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:22 22 October 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of being 'scared of scrutiny' over the short time he has given MPs to scrutinise the withdrawal agreement bill. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of being 'scared of scrutiny' over the short time he has given MPs to scrutinise the withdrawal agreement bill. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

MPs are furious that they have been given just three days to scrutinise hundreds of pages of the Withdrawal Agreement struck between Boris Johnson and the EU.

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With a second reading vote due around 7pm, parliament will have been given less than 24 hours to signal their support or opposition to the bill in principle, with the prime minister hoping to have the entire process wrapped up by Thursday.

Expert commentators called the timing "ridiculous".

Labour MP David Lammy, who supports a second referendum, accused Boris Johnson of being "scared of scrutiny" in a tweet.

He said: "Giving MPs so little time to scrutinize one of the most consequential pieces of legislation we'll vote on is as transparent as it is cynical.

"Boris Johnson is scared of scrutiny because he knows the withdrawal agreement is a disaster compared to our current deal inside the EU."

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas pointed out in a tweet: "MPs had more time to debate the Wild Animals in Circuses Act (affecting 19 animals) than they will to decide the future of 65 million people.

"It's hard to think of anything which better illustrates this Govt's contempt for people, parliament & democracy."

Fellow Green Party MP said: "To claim can be properly scrutinised in three days is nonsense."

Labour's Yvette Cooper, who said she was reading the bill all night, said it was "crucial" to get the detail right on issues like EU citizens' rights in order to avoid another Windrush. She said that the government should "be sensible" and should give more time.

Independent MP Rory Stewart also said he had been working through the night on the bill and also said more days were needed to digest it.

"If we are going to deliver Brexit, we need to deliver it in a way that Brexiteers and Remainers believe was taken through parliament fairly," he told the BBC.

The agreement and its associated legal text comes to 435 pages, according to the Hansard Society's Ruth Fox, who said in a tweet that having just three days to consider it was "ridiculous".

Law and policy commentator David Allen Green said: "It would take me at least two weeks to even have a general sense of all the implications of this bill," calling it an "immensely complex and time-consuming exercise".

"It has been irresponsible of government not to publish this bill before now, in draft for consultation," he continued.

"It is yet more irresponsible for the government to try and to push it through the Commons in three days. And it will be most irresponsible of all for MPs to let them do this."

Tory loyalists reacted scornfully to the complaints. James Cleverly said on Twitter: When MPs claim we don't have enough time to debate the Withdrawal Agreement Bill it is worth remembering that we've had over 500 hours of Brexit debate and the Speaker said that a debate on the deal today would be 'repetitive and disorderly'."

Using the analogy of buying a house, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said he saw no reason why MPs could not "move quite quickly" to approve Brexit.

"If I had been thinking about buying that house for three years, if I'd been debating it with my wife and family for 500 hours, I think I might be able to move quite quickly when the opportunity arose," the Cabinet minister told the BBC.

"I suspect there will be MPs who would not have voted for this even if they had had until Christmas to debate this.

"The Labour Party front bench, for example, said they were against this Bill long before it was even published.

"If you want Brexit done, then vote with the government today and we can leave by the end of October."

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