Opposition MPs have been accused of trying to block Brexit after tabling 146 pages of amendments to the Government’s Article 50 bill – despite it being just eight lines long.
A total of 287 different motions have been proposed by MPs, with the vast majority coming from Labour backbenchers.
The amendments seek to make a range of changes and additions to the Government’s European Union Bill, which is designed to enable Theresa May to trigger Article 50. They will be debated by MPs when the bill returns to Parliament on Monday for its Committee Stage.
Many of the motions aim to force the Government to take an range of actions before negotiations begin, including publishing numerous impact assessments, releasing separate reports on the UK’s relationship with 21 different EU agencies, and consulting with the government of Gibraltar and all the UK’s devolved assemblies.
Others try to dictate the positions Theresa May must take during negotiations with the EU, including demands for the UK to stay in the single market and guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK.
The sheer number and breadth of the amendments has prompted accusations that MPs are trying to block Brexit and frustrate the Government’s attempts to begin negotiations.
Sir Bill Cash, a Brexit-supporting Conservative MP, told The Independent: “There are pages and pages of stuff and almost all of it, between the Labour Party, the Lib Dems and the SNP, is just an attempt to frustrate [Brexit].
“They say they respect and accept the Bill but it’s pretty clear they are trying to hedge it round.
“They want to delay and obstruct and spin it out and string it along. Most of the amendments are designed to ring out the whole process. That’s what the object of the exercise is.”
Mr Cash said many of the motions being proposed were “spurious…but that’s the whole idea”, and argued it was a clear attempt to try to stop Brexit.
“The questioned answered in the referendum was whether you want to remain or leave. It didn’t say ‘do you want to leave with a whole bunch of impact assessments’”, he added.
Peter Bone, another Conservative MP, said: “It’s a cack-handed attempt to hold things up. They think they can delay it and hope something might turn up. [But] they just don’t understand the parliamentary process. They don’t understand Parliament. They don’t understand they are wasting their time.
“I would absolutely say it is undemocratic because they people have spoken and we shouldn’t delay triggering Article 50. I would argue that strongly.
“Most of those now screaming for parliamentary democracy had no interest in it whatsoever under [Tony] Blair."
Tabling so many amendments was “counterproductive” to the Remainers’ cause, he claimed, because the House of Lords, where many people believe the Government is most likely to be forced into making concessions, is unlikely to wade in on issues the Commons has already voted on.
"They’ve got it wrong. All it’s going to do is make it more likely that the Bill will pass. They’ve made a really bad tactical move on this and I think it will come back and bite them", he added.
However, Labour MP Chris Leslie, who himself has tabled 79 amendments, said MPs simply wanted to make sure ministers were being held to account.
He told The Independent: “The referendum may have been conclusive about leaving the EU, but there are a myriad of really significant consequences to this on which Parliament shouldn't be gagged.
“Brexiteers shouldn't be so afraid of scrutiny and accountability. Thankfully most MPs will ignore demands they should stay quiet and docile - the country's future is at stake and Ministers shouldn't expect Parliament to be silent or biddable."
"We've established that Brexit is happening, so it's now a question of what approach the UK will be taking to the departure. With the Supreme Court saying Parliament has this role, amending the Bill to nudge Theresa May off her 'hard Brexit' path is necessary. We shouldn't simply hand back total control to the Prime Minister alone - Parliament needs to have the final say on any proposed deal before it is signed off.
Among Mr Leslie’s amendments are demands that the Government publishes a series of reports outlining its plans for the UK’s future relationship with every EU agency, including the European Chemicals Agency, the Community Plant Variety Office and the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training.
Only a few of the motions will actually be voted on, and the opposition parties are focusing their efforts on securing support for what they believe are the most important ones. These include Labour proposals to force the Prime Minister to give regular updates to MPs during negotiations and to enshrine in law Theresa May’s promise that Parliament will be given a vote on the final exit deal she negotiates with the EU.
The Liberal Democrats are likely to focus their efforts on forcing the Prime Minister to keep the UK in the single market, and trying to secure support for their pledge of a second referendum on Brexit.
The SNP, meanwhile, is attempting to give Scotland a veto over Brexit and has tabled a motion that would make this a legal requirement.
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