Wily MP plays first Article 50 card

Conservative MP Peter Bone Image copyright PA

In the blink of a Commons eye - it took just 21 seconds on Wednesday - the Conservative MP Peter Bone introduced a private member's bill aimed at cutting through the constitutional imbroglio over the triggering of the process to leave the EU.

His Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50) Bill would require the government to start the formal process by 31 March 2017. The small snag is that it doesn't have a prayer of getting a second reading debate - so why is the wily Mr Bone, a veteran of the private members' bill process, as well as a key anti-EU agitator on the Tory backbenches, bothering?

His bill is already down on the Commons agenda for Friday 16 December - but it's lurking at the bottom, 11th out of 12 bills - and on most Fridays, the Commons is doing well if it reaches the third bill on the list.

As for the rest, they're summarily dispatched in a kind of ritual pole-axing, at the end of the main business, at 2.30pm. The clerk reads out the titles of bills not debated, and then a government whip (or any other MP) shouts "Object!"

And here we reach the point of Mr Bone's exercise.

Because what they're objecting to is giving the bill a formal second reading, without debate. That would allow the bill to go through to detailed scrutiny in committee. This is a kind of hidden legislative trap-door through which favoured legislation can bypass the initial stage of debate, without passing Go. (I first came across this particular parliamentary peculiarity, some years ago, when the whips of both main parties connived to spirit through a bill to exempt MPs' expenses from Freedom of Information legislation, as the expenses storm was a-gathering.)

The point is that when the Bone Bill comes to this point, it can drop through this trap door and spring into legislative life, unless someone shouts that magic word, "object".

And he wonders who will dare? The Government? The Opposition? Some pro-EU backbencher?

If anyone does, they could risk being framed as defying the Referendum-expressed view of the British people, and you can guarantee that micro-seconds later, he will raise a point of order to name (although probably not shame) the culprit.

And then he will just bring his bill back on the next available Friday and repeat the process.

In effect, Mr Bone is playing a game of Commons "chicken".

And to hear the clucking, tune into BBC Parliament at 2.30pm on Friday 16 December, for the first episode.

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