Week ahead in Parliament

Flags Image copyright PA

The difficult votes are piling up in the Commons.

The announcement that the Liaison Committee is to hold a debate on possible UK membership of the EU customs union will provide a kind of appetiser to forthcoming debates on Lords amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and rebel Tory MP amendments to the Trade Bill.

The vote on Thursday won't be treated by ministers as binding on the government, and Conservative MPs may not be whipped to attend, but it may provide an interesting test of Labour's attitude to CU membership - and the utterances from the Opposition front bench will be closely scrutinised.

Meanwhile in another flexing of select committee muscle, the announcement of a coordinating group of concerned committee chairs, to focus on the threat from Russia, demonstrates an increased appetite among the titans of the Committee Corridor to influence policy. (An interesting historical footnote is that the secretary to the group, Conservative Bob Seely, is a descendent of HH Asquith's.)

Image caption Peers defeated the government on Wednesday

This week's Lords action on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is around the clauses dealing with retention of existing EU law, including the guidance to courts and tribunals, and the main powers in connection with withdrawal - restricting the use and scope of delegated powers.

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More defeats to come in Lords Brexit battle

Vote announced Image copyright Hol

They always knew it was going to be tough.

Last night's double defeat in the House of Lords cannot have come as a surprise to the beleaguered band of Brexit ministers in the Upper House.

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Week ahead in Parliament

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Environment Secretary Michael Gove Image copyright EPA/AFP/Getty
Image caption Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Environment Secretary Michael Gove leave the Cabinet after ministers agreed "on the need to take action" in Syria to "deter the further use of chemical weapons"

Even more than usual, next week's parliamentary agenda looks like a basis for negotiation, with every likelihood that the timetable will have to be reorganised to accommodate a series of major statements and perhaps a full-scale debate on military action in Syria.

As I write, no action has taken place, but one way or another such a debate looks highly likely, because the Opposition will certainly demand one, and this Speaker would surely allow an application for an emergency debate, if only to maintain the precedent of recent years for a parliamentary vote before military action.

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What to watch out for after Easter

two toothbrushes
Image caption Don't forget your toothbrush - there could be some late nights for Brexit ping-pong

Parliament is taking a two-week break for Easter but Mark D'Arcy has been looking ahead to its return on Monday April 16th and has identified five things to watch out for.

May will be the cruellest month

MPs should make sure they have a toothbrush and a few changes of clothes handy because they can expect some long nights debating their response to the anticipated sheaf of hostile Lords amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, and determined attempts to stick requirements about a customs union into the Customs Bill, which is due back before them for report stage consideration.

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Week ahead in Parliament

Macron, May and Merkel Image copyright EPA
Image caption Theresa May is reporting back to Parliament on her meetings with EU leaders

Tum te tum te tum....(drums fingers on desk)....tuneless whistle...(finishes Suduko).... It's another low key agenda for next week in Parliament. There is still no sign of the many Brexit bills languishing in legislative limbo, while the whips try and construct a majority to push them through. Instead, the Commons has another general debate - the third in a fortnight - an opposition day and the traditional "anything goes" debate on the Easter adjournment, in which MPs can speak on any subject that takes their fancy.

In fairness, a lot of work seems to be going into ministerial speeches for these debates. One imagines teams of special advisers sweating over laborious pop-culture references for deployment in the bosses' soundbites (Liz Truss channelling Amy Winehouse to remark that the economy was "Back to Black" is the runaway winner in this category at the moment). But MPs seldom have to pass through the division lobbies, and the sense that controversial business is being held back, to the point where the legislative backlog is becoming uncomfortable, is unavoidable. And to make things yet more difficult for its business managers, even bills which the government might have expected to be fairly humdrum and uncontroversial have, perversely, found themselves in the spotlight, thanks to events, dear boy, events.

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Week ahead in Parliament

Theresa May statement on Russia Image copyright HoC
Image caption Theresa May made two Commons statements on the Salisbury attack over three days - there are likely to be further updates to MPs

Another week and still no sign of the big Brexit measures due before the Commons: the Trade Bill; the Taxation (Cross Border Trade) Bill; and less sign still of the promised proposals to reform the immigration system. Unsure of its fragile Commons position, the government is holding them back. So there's a certain element of marking time at Westminster, with big general debates on Wales and the economy and a measure to set the Budget for Northern Ireland.

But with a diplomatic crisis under way, maybe the real drama will be supplied by further statements on Russia and the Salisbury incident. For the government these have the useful effect of re-opening Labour wounds, and rubbing in a little salt, so there must be a temptation to mark each new twist in the saga with another update to MPs.

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Week ahead in Parliament

Philip Hammond Image copyright AFP

For once, the hottest show in town is not Brexit-related.

It's the week of the chancellor's Spring Statement, a pale shadow of the all-singing, all-dancing traditional Budget Day, but still a significant moment in the political (and possibly economic) calendar.

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Week ahead in Parliament

Theresa May Image copyright EPA
Image caption Theresa May will make a major statement on Brexit in the House of Commons

There will be a flare-up in the Brexit phoney war on Monday when Theresa May takes questions from MPs about the policies in her big Brexit speech but after that things quieten down, with sporadic guerrilla activity in various select committees. In the House of Lords many hours of genteel skirmishing lie ahead during the committee stage consideration of the European Union Withdrawal Bill but probably no actual votes.

The rest of the week's legislating - on data protection and energy price caps in the Commons - will provide moments of controversy, but overall the parliamentary agenda continues to be pretty insipid. There is, however, plenty of interesting action on the committee corridor - in particular, the big joint inquiry by the Work and Pensions and Business committees into the collapse of Carillion is simmering away nicely.

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Customs union row puts bills 'in limbo'

Anna Soubry Image copyright PA
Image caption Anna Soubry has proposed an amendment keeping the UK in a customs union

Still no sign of the return to the Commons of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill and the Trade Bill - two vital Brexit measures that have completed committee stage consideration but are under threat of hostile amendment, when they come back before the whole House.

Jeremy Corbyn's speech on Monday has cleared the way for Labour to back Conservative MP Anna Soubry's EU customs union amendment to the Trade Bill - new clause five - which means it could very well be passed. In the Commons as in the Lords, the government is only in danger of defeat if Labour pitches in with Tory rebels.

Read full article Customs union row puts bills 'in limbo'

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."

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