Week ahead in Parliament

Homeless man an his tent
Image caption MPs are going to debate whether government spending on homelessness is effective

Parliament's Brexit phoney war continues this week, with key pieces of legislation being held back by the government. The Taxation (Cross Border Trade) Bill and the Trade Bill have both cleared their Commons committee stages, but they may now be marooned in parliamentary limbo until after Easter, while the fragmented tribes of Commons Remainers plot to attach toxic (to the government, anyway) amendments. Proposals on another key Brexit issue - immigration - float in the clouds nearby.

In the Lords, peers have barely begun their detailed scrutiny of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and serious attempts to amend it won't start until after Easter. So much for all the talk of Parliament being swamped by the legislative implications of the Leave vote. Instead, our lawmakers are sweeping up the last vestiges of uncontroversial measures about space ports and nuclear safeguards, and remarking to each other in the tones of a 1950s western, that it's "quiet, too quiet."

Labour's flirtation with the idea of supporting Britain establishing "a" customs union with the EU may have dramatic implications for these and other bills when they do come to the wicket. If Labour whips in favour of amendments along those lines, the government could be in trouble, and Remain Conservatives may face a painful choice between their party and their euro-principles.

But that is for the future. Next week there is a bit of novelty to divert MPs, in the form of two days of "Estimates" debates. The novel bit is that they will actually get to debate, er, the estimates, the government's detailed plans for spending taxpayers' money.

For years Estimates Days were rather strange occasions, on which the Commons would be presented with a select committee report or two to debate, before rubber stamping plans to spend billions of pounds of public money. If any MP had the temerity to stray into the substance of what they were voting on, and suggest that more might be spent on X, and less on Y, they would be ruled out of order by the chair.

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Week ahead in Parliament

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Image caption MPs are launching an inquiry into alleged sexual exploitation by aid workers.

An eclectic week of Parliamentary action beckons as MPs and peers return, refreshed, from their half-term break. Brexit (but of course!) but also Northern Ireland, Oxfam, Carillion, organ donation, and even basketball, all feature.

Those expecting drama, as the Lords sink their remaining teeth into the detail of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, should prepare for disappointment. Despite an order paper groaning with amendments, we are still in the preliminary flirtation stage, where issues are aired, ministers tested and coalitions tentatively assembled. It would be a surprise to see anything put to a vote, except as a gesture. An actual government defeat is even less likely.

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Week ahead in Parliament

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Image caption The Lords will vote on whether to leave the Palace of Westminster during a proposed £3.5bn refit

After a rather frenetic week at Westminster, the agenda, at least, suggests a quieter time in both Houses of Parliament next week - with no votes expected in the Commons.

But that may mean more plotting time for MPs, as the fizz of discontent and rumour around the prime minister continues.

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Week ahead in Parliament

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Image caption Leaks are a common occurrence in the Palace of Westminster

MPs will take a breather from Brexit this week, turning their attention to matters such as the next stage of HS2, and the renovation of their Victorian home.

Meanwhile peers will dive head-first into the deep waters of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. That will mean some intensive politics in both chambers.

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The week ahead in Parliament

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So farewell. Then. European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Having cleared the Commons on Wednesday, this key piece of Brexit legislation now heads off to the Lords, where the rasp of legislative knives being sharpened is already audible.

Look out for reports from normally staid bodies like the Lords Delegated Powers Committee, and the Constitution Committee, which have already criticised the Bill and will almost certainly weigh in again.

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The week ahead in Parliament

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The EU Withdrawal Bill is back - complete with what could escalate into a nasty row over the non-appearance of promised government amendments to ensure powers are passed to the devolved parliaments "without touching the sides".

The powers cover agriculture, fisheries, environmental and energy issues currently regulated through the EU - and the failure to produce the amendments promised by the Scottish Secretary David Mundell has infuriated the SNP, in particular.

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The week ahead in Parliament

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While the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is briefly in hibernation, the accumulation of amendments before its Report Stage consideration will bear watching.

Within hours of the end of committee consideration, a respectable number had appeared, mostly from the parties or the usual suspects - including Labour's Chris Leslie and the Conservative Dominic Grieve.

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Here's what's happening with Brexit in Parliament in 2018

Houses of Parliament Image copyright Alex Hunt

Make the most of the festive break, MPs and peers, and recharge those batteries, because 2018 looks set to be another intense, unpredictable year in Parliament and politics.

On the legislative front it's Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, as major bills on trade and customs hit the Commons in the first week after New Year, with talk of an Immigration Bill, to set up a new post EU system, an Agriculture Bill to replace the Commons Agricultural Policy and a similar Fisheries Bill not far behind.

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Week ahead in Parliament

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After its defeat on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, on Wednesday, the government now faces a dilemma.

How to deal with its rebel MPs? Mailed fist or Love Bomb? Reconciliation or Revenge? Can the core group of Conservatives who defied their whip, and the equally important group of abstainers, best be brought back into line by threats or inducements, or (and for some ministers this may be the worst-case scenario) by accommodating their views?

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Week ahead in Parliament

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Image caption Are the pro-EU Tory backbenchers going to be a threat to the EU bill? (to the right of the picture: Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan)

Paper Tigers, or a lurking threat?

There has been much talk of the possibility of an uprising of pro-EU Tory backbenchers threatening the government majority as the EU (Withdrawal) Bill inches through its committee stage, but as each flashpoint comes, and goes, they remain quiescent (apart from Ken Clarke, anyway).

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