Jon Craig: Brexit's winners and losers in Westminster
Ken Clarke provided proof that Commons veterans can teach certain newcomers a thing or two.
Was it only 40 hours? At the end of the committee stage of the Article 50 Bill in the Commons, it felt as if the debates on the hundreds of amendments and new clauses had been going on for 40 years.
"The real fight starts now!" Jeremy Corbyn declared after the third reading vote. Really? Heaven help us.
"Pathetic!! was Nicola Sturgeon’s scathing response to the Labour leader after he ordered his MPs to vote for the Bill.
This has been Brexit Week in the Commons, the first of many over the next couple of years, no doubt. But who has had a Good Week'? And who had a Bad Week?
Here are my Brexit Ratings on the key performers in the week’s Commons battles...
1. Clive Lewis
In just a few days the Norwich South MP has gone from “Clive Who?” to joint favourite with Keir Starmer to be the next Labour leader after resigning from the Shadow Cabinet. Conscience? That’s what he said. Opportunism? Well, hours before he quit, he told Sky News one factor he was considering was “the wider interests of the Labour Party”. His leadership prospects, in other words.
2. Lindsay Hoyle
With the Commons in committee for three days, Speaker Bercow had to vacate the chair and Lindsay, the senior Deputy Speaker, played a blinder. His finest hour was a near-red card for Alex Salmond in a furious row with the SNP bruiser just before midnight on Monday, when he shouted in a booming voice that echoed round the chamber: “Sit down!" But he was tough throughout and has significantly boosted his chances of succeeding Bercow as Speaker when he goes.
3. Ken Clarke
After his blistering 'Alice in Wonderland” onslaught' during the second reading debate, the Tories’ Brexit rebel-in-chief joined the revolt in the committee stage on EU nationals living in the UK and fairly consistently voted against the Government throughout the committee stage. He also spotted straightaway, unlike Labour’s Keir Starmer, that the Brexit minister David Jones’s so-called concession on another “meaningful” Commons vote was not all that it seemed. Proof that Commons veterans like Clarke can teach newcomers like Starmer a thing or two and that good speeches in the Commons still matter.
4. David Jones
David Davis’s deputy at the Brexit department was the forgotten man of Whitehall after David Cameron sacked him after two years as Welsh Secretary. Brought back into government by Theresa May, he skilfully batted away the scores of Opposition amendments on what was inevitably a sticky wicket, including intervening swiftly with his was-it-or-wasn’t-it concession to reduce the number of Tory rebels on a second Brexit vote from up to 20 MPs to just seven.
5. Chris Leslie
While the Labour front bench’s amendments got nowhere and appeared wearily repetitive, the former Shadow Chancellor – one of the leading members of Labour’s Shadow Shadow Cabinet now exiled on the back benches – had more success with his new clause on another Commons vote, tempting the seven Tory MPs into the Aye lobby with Labour and the SNP and reducing the Government’s majority to 33, the lowest during the three days.
6. Gavin Williamson
In his first big test, the Government Chief Whip, who keeps a tarantula in his office, ran a brilliantly efficient operation, leaving nothing to chance. Ministerial absence was banned and he even laid on a bus to bring ministers and MPs attending the Conservative Party’s Black and White Party in Battersea back to the Commons to vote. And as a bonus, ex-minister Nick Boles, suffering from a brain tumour, left his hospital bed to vote in a wheelchair.
1. John Bercow
What began as a good week for the Speaker, with applause from Opposition MPs for his speech vetoing Donald Trump speaking in Westminster Hall, turned into a bad one as a growing Tory backlash fuelled fresh moves to oust him and the Speaker in the Lords, former Tory Cabinet minister Norman Fowler, slapped him down. Oh, and Lindsay Hoyle played a blinder in the chair in his absence. There was even a backlash against his oh-so-PC announcement that the Commons clerks will no longer wear wigs. And then to top it off, Tory MP James Duddridge tabled a motion of no confidence in the speaker, telling Sky News that there was plenty of support on the Conservative benches for removing him. Bercow has said he’ll go next year, but his Tory enemies fear the Government wants him stay, because it doesn’t want an anti-HS2 by-election in his Buckingham constituency.
2. Alex Salmond
The former Scottish First Minister’s interventions grew increasingly bad tempered. At the end, when there was no time for a third reading debate, he complained that this was the first time this had happened with a bill of constitutional significance since the Defence of the Realm Act in 1914. Well, Alex, there might have been time for a third reading debate if the SNP hadn’t tabled so many amendments to the Bill!
3. Diane Abbott
Living proof that aspirins work, The Shadow Home Secretary made a swift recovery after the migraine which – she claimed – prevented her from voting at second reading. Labour MPs correctly predicted that, unlike Clive Lewis, she’d back Jeremy Corbyn eventually at third reading. She enjoys being in the Shadow Cabinet, I was told. She was in a very grumpy mood after the third reading vote, however.
4. George Osborne
The former Chancellor missed Tuesday night’s votes on the Article 50 Bill because he was making a speech about, er, Brexit, 200 miles away in Antwerp. We don’t know yet whether he was paid for the Antwerp gig, but the Register of Members’ Interests this week revealed he was paid £52,000 for a speech at Davos last month and £40,000 for another speech to a City audience, taking his total second-job earnings to £720,000 since Theresa May sacked him last year. Oh, and he’s expected to trouser a £200,000 pay cheque from the US investment firm Blackrock, which already employs his former Treasury crony Rupert Harrison.
5. Claire Perry
George’s little helper (she worked for him and remains one of his most loyal supporters) wins the award for the most over-the-top speech. After claiming the tone of the debate was “hysterical”, she then said: “I feel sometimes I am sitting alongside colleagues who are like Jihadis in their support for a Hard Brexit. Jihadis? Some Tory colleagues visibly winced, others cringed and urged her to tone down her language, but she was unrepentant. Other MPs just laughed at her.
6. Keir Starmer
In recent weeks, many Labour MPs have credited the Shadow Brexit Secretary with holding Jeremy Corbyn's often-shambolic Brexit policy together under extremely difficult circumstances. But in the committee stage he appeared less sure-footed and - oddly, considering he used to be the DPP - was surely too hasty to welcome David Jones's vote concession, as Ken Clarke immediately warned him. To make matters worse, from being the bookies' favourite to replace Jeremy Corbyn, he suddenly has a serious rival in Clive Lewis.
But, hey, that's politics!