Confusion reigns as usual in the UK over Brexit, After Boris Johnson’s defeat on Saturday and his subsequent childish behavior in sending an unsigned letter requesting an extension from the EU as required by law, his government had hoped to bring up his Brexit deal for another vote today but a few hours after his party said so, speaker John Bercow said that parliamentary rules did not allow for a motion that had been defeated once to be brought up again before parliament without substantial changes and this bill did not meet that standard, thus stymying Johnson’s attempt. Of course, there may be other maneuvers that Johnson can try and the situation keeps changing by the hour.
But another struggle is going on with regard to abortion and LGBT rights. As we have all become familiar with by now, the UK is made up of four entities (England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales) with each region having the ability to legislate on matters that are outside the range of the laws made by the UK parliament. In Northern Ireland, the legislative body that meets at Stormont has not met since January 2017 due to various unresolved issues among the Northern Ireland parties. In its absence, the UK passed laws that granted the same abortion and same-sex rights to the people of Northern Ireland as enjoyed by the rest of the UK and those laws were due to go into effect at midnight tonight.
The Democratic Unionist Party has said that they will try to reconvene the Stormont legislature in order to block these changes from going into effect.
Members of Northern Ireland’s assembly are due to return to the mothballed chamber on Monday for the first time in almost three years to protest against the extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland.
The Democratic Unionist party (DUP) and other anti-abortion members will stage what is expected to be a largely symbolic recall of the assembly at Stormont.
The region’s near-blanket ban on abortion is due to end at midnight on Monday after a historic vote in the House of Commons last July to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.
Same-sex marriage is also due to become legal on Tuesday after a separate Westminster vote in July. The first weddings can take place on Valentine’s Day next year.
However, this attempt is seen as somewhat symbolic since the same impasse that had resulted in Stormont being unable to meet for nearly three years still exists.
Non-unionist parties criticised the recall. A Sinn Féin spokesperson called it “a pointless political stunt which has literally no impact, unless its business is to appoint an executive who does have the power to effect legal change”.
Colum Eastwood, the SDLP leader, also called it a stunt and said the legislation on abortion and same-sex marriage would take effect. Eastwood did not indicate whether the party would attend. One SDLP MLA, Daniel McCrossan, said he would attend.
Stephen Farry, an Alliance party MLA, told the BBC: “I’m profoundly uncomfortable that the first time people are making an effort to have the assembly reconvened is to discuss how we can deny people rights.”
There have been suggestions that Johnson had tried to bribe the DUP, his ‘confidence and supply’ partner in parliament, by giving in to their demands on abortion in order to get them to support his Brexit bill. If that was the case, then he failed yet again because the 10 DUP members voted against, and that was to prove decisive in his 322-306 defeat on Saturday.
Although the UK parliament has 650 seats, the speaker and their two deputies do not vote. Since the seven Sinn Fein members boycott parliament, that leaves just 640 MPs who vote and thus the number needed for the government to win a vote is 320 since I believe that in the event of a tied vote, the speaker by custom votes with the government. The Conservatives have just 288 seats and thus need support from at least 32 other MPs. But the situation is even more fluid since on Brexit there are defectors from both the government and the opposition, so pretty much every vote has become a nail-biter.
Brexit: The gift for politics wonks that keeps on giving.