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Published: Tuesday 11th November 2014 by The News Editor
The Government won overwhelming backing for opting into a package of EU measures but not without battling hours of Commons wrangling and bitter rows over the controversial European Arrest Warrant.
Debate on the Government motion – a draft of the Criminal Justice and Data Protection (Protocol No 36) Regulation – was halted after shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper sensationally moved the “question now be not put”.
The procedural device called a halt to debate and was aimed at postponing debate to another day, with Ms Cooper demanding Home Secretary Theresa May come back to the Commons for a vote covering the full package of measures, including specifically the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
Ms Cooper’s move failed but was still enough to curtail debate by forcing the main vote to take place almost two hours early, despite filibustering from Tory MPs.
The highly unorthodox scenes were a final act to a dramatic series of major rows in the Commons chamber.
The clashes blew up with little warning after it emerged the Government’s motion referred only to 11 of 35 measures which the Government planned to opt into, with the EAW not included in the group being voted upon.
Mrs May insisted the Government regarded the vote as the Commons verdict on the whole package, despite Speaker John Bercow ruling the EAW was not the subject of the day’s debate or vote.
Prime Minister David Cameron returned early from the Lord Mayor’s Banquet to take part in the divisions as did Chancellor George Osborne and other MPs.
Labour’s motion was defeated 272 to 229, majority 43, before the Government, with Labour support, saw its original motion carried by 464 to 38, majority 426.
There were 25 Tory backers for Ms Cooper’s motion, while there were 36 Conservative rebels in the main division, plus a Tory teller.
Mrs May accused the Labour spokeswoman of “playing politics” with the issue in response to Ms Cooper’s motion.
Ms Cooper earlier said the Home Secretary had presided over a “shambles” after hours of Parliamentary wrangling.
And moving her unusual Commons motion, she said last night: “You have effectively said ministers are just going to make it up because the Speaker has been very clear that this does not include a vote on the EAW, you are just going to reinterpret it in any way you choose.
“That is an irresponsible way to treat the House. If you brought this back tomorrow with all 35 measures in we will support it.
“If you will not do so tomorrow then you are playing fast and loose with the criminal justice system and fast and loose with this Parliament and on that basis, Mr Speaker, I think this needs further debate but we should debate now returning to this tomorrow – we have loads of time tomorrow.
“On that basis, I move that the question now be not put.”
Mr Bercow said the move was an “unusual procedure” and explained how Ms Cooper’s motion would halt the current debate whatever the result.
Mrs May, who spoke for almost 30 minutes as MPs and whips assembled, said : ” We have debated the EAW, had you not moved your motion other members of this House would have been able to debate the EAW, but I have to say in relation to the motion you have put, I would say to MPs this is not an attempt to ensure this House has a proper debate, it is not an attempt to ensure this House takes a vote on these important measures.
“I have made clear I think we should be able to continue this debate, I think it is quite wrong for you to have called this motion in the way you have done this evening and I would hope MPs would vote against it.”
Government MPs staged a filibuster to give time for their colleagues to return to the Commons, but several spoke out against the Government and backed Ms Cooper.
In the day’s earlier debate about the procedures followed by the Government, Mrs May said the Government was treating the vote on the group of 11 measures as the Commons verdict on the whole package of 35.
She said: “The vote on the next motion will be a vote on the regulations, which includes within it those measures a package of 35 we wish to opt back into which require to be transposed into UK legislation.
“But the Government is clear we will be bound by that vote and if this House chooses not to transpose those measures and votes against the regulation, then it will be voting against the Government opting into all of the measures, including the EAW.”
In the course of that debate, Mr Bercow confirmed to MPs they were not voting on the EAW.
He blasted the Government for trying to slip out of a vote on the EAW in a move that will leave the public “contemptuous” of ministers.
He told the Commons: “I think I have given a fairly clear indication that this has been a rather sorry saga and the House should not be put in this position.
“I think most of us think a commitment made is a commitment that should be honoured and we should try to operate according to sensible standards rather than trying to slip things through through some sort of artifice.
“It may be the sort of thing that some people think is very clever, but people outside of the House expect straightforward dealing and they are frankly contemptuous, and I use the word advisedly, contemptuous of what is not straight dealing.
“Let’s try to learn from this experience and do better.”
The Speaker told MPs he had spoken to “disinterested experts” and studied the motion before coming to the view that the vote was not on the EAW.
Conservative Sir Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) said the Government “seemed sly” as a result of the situation.
European Scrutiny Committee chair Bill Cash described the situation as a trick that was “tainted with chicanery” and “completely unbelievable”.
“The reason that it is being done in this fashion is to avoid having a real decision taken today as was promised to us by the Prime Minister only a few weeks ago.
“This is a travesty of our parliamentary proceedings,” he said.
Published: Tuesday 11th November 2014 by The News Editor