Government accused of 'House of Cards' politics as it avoids Brexit scrutiny

PUBLISHED: 11:29 06 February 2019

Ian Richardson as scheming chief whip Francis Urquhart in TV's House Of Cards. PA Wire

Ian Richardson as scheming chief whip Francis Urquhart in TV's House Of Cards. PA Wire

PA

The government has been accused of trying to sneak Brexit legislation through Parliament with little scrutiny.

One MP accused it of playing “House of Cards politics” as it pushes hundreds of pieces of secondary legislation - known as statutory instruments - through Parliament in the final weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29.

These pass through parliamentary committees, but do not necessarily need full House of Commons approval.

The government has around 600 statutory instruments relating to Brexit that it is planning to push through Parliament before Brexit.

But just 117 statutory instruments have so far passed, while up to 40% have not even been laid before Parliament - the beginning of their legislative journey.

Now ministers have been accused of using tactics to further limit the extent to which MPs can scrutinise legislation to speed the statutory instruments through and ensure the UK is ready for a no-deal Brexit.

Normally they are used only for technical and usually obscure changes to primary legislation.

But the unprecedented number now going through Parliament and the pace with which they are being passed has led to fears that more controversial measures are being sneaked under the radar without MPs spotting them.

Labour MP Martin Whitfield, a supporter of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said: “Taking back control never looked so bleak and undemocratic.

“If they don’t want it questioned, you can bet it’s bad.

“This is the most important decision for this country in years and it’s disgraceful to see ministers trying to do it in the dark. This is House of Cards politics, not fit for anywhere but the telly.”

And shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the website Business Insider: “We have raised directly with government ministers and at each SI committee the way in which ministers are seeking to drive through delegated legislation that often they themselves do not fully comprehend and whose impacts has not been properly assessed,”

The Treasury in particular has been accused of giving individual committees huge numbers of statutory instruments to scrutinise in single sessions, meaning MPs, often with little expertise, have just hours to trail through hundreds of pages of technical details.

Ministers have also been accused of having failed to produce a number of impact assessments, or doing so just minutes before MPs scrutinise them.

Shadow Treasury Minister Anneliese Dodds said: “I am deeply concerned by the significant nature of the legislation passing through delegated legislation committees relating to financial services.

“This legislation is passing through regulatory procedures that were not designed for changes of this magnitude.

“The Conservatives expect us to pass legislation without information that they have themselves deemed necessary to produce. Trust in government is contingent on transparency which this government is failing to provide.”

There are growing concerns that the problem will only grow as the government rushes to get huge amounts of Brexit-related legislation through Parliament before the scheduled exit day of March 29.

The Treasury has not commented.

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