David Cameron and Theresa May came under scathing attack from across the political spectrum on Monday night after reneging on a promise to give MPs a vote on a contentious European issue.
John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, joined the condemnation, warning ministers that the public would view their lack of “straight-dealing” with contempt. One Conservative MP accused the Government of displaying unsupportable “executive arrogance”.
Anger boiled over after the Prime Minister promised that MPs would be given a vote on whether to opt back into the European arrest warrant, a move strongly opposed by dozens of Tory backbenchers.
MPs had believed they were going to be given a vote on whether to opt in to a package of 35 EU justice and home affairs measures favoured by the Government.
But when the Commons order paper was published, it emerged they would only be asked to approve 11 of the 35 measures – and the warrant was missing from the list. The omission provoked hours of procedural wrangling before the package of measures was finally approved by MPs.
Labour denounced the situation as a “shambles”, while angry Tory Eurosceptics accused the Government of dishonesty and arrogance.
With MPs in uproar, there were demands for the Commons to be suspended and the vote to be abandoned. Mr Bercow delivered a wounding rebuke to ministers over the “sorry saga”. He said: “It may be the sort of thing some people think is very clever, but people outside of the House expect straightforward dealing. And they are frankly contemptuous… of what is not straight-dealing.”
Ms May promised that ministers would regard the vote as relating to all 35 measures – even though just 11 were specified by the Commons order paper. But Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, ridiculed the Government’s approach to the vote as a joke and said the Government was in “complete chaos”. She added: “This was supposed to be a debate, a proper debate on the European arrest warrant. It does no such thing today.”
Tory Eurosceptics were withering about Ms May’s insistence that she would regard the outcome as covering the arrest warrant. Sir Bill Cash, the chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, said it was a “travesty of our parliamentary proceedings”. He said: “This is a disgraceful way of going about a very, very important matter. It is tainted with chicanery. It is not the way this Parliament should be treated.”
Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “We have whips scuttling around this House saying a vote will be taken tonight that is indicative of what Parliament thinks about the EAW. This is a procedural absurdity. The Government cannot conceivably decide that one vote is indicative of another vote.”
Tory MPs who want to leave the EU
Tory MPs who want to leave the EU
1/4 Mark Reckless
MP for Rochester and Strood. Will tell his constituents he will vote “out” in 2017 no matter what concessions David Cameron wins from EU. Has called for “level playing field” referendum with no recommendation from Mr Cameron on how people should vote
2/4 David Nuttall
MP for Bury North. Has said: “I am fed up with this country being told what to do by other countries in the EU, which is why I believe we should leave the EU and instead have free trade agreements with EU countries.”
3/4 Heather Wheeler
MP for Derbyshire South. She has said: “I have decided enough is enough and that Britain really is better off out. We should be part of a free trade association, not a political union.”
4/4 Gordon Henderson
MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. He has said: “My reason for wanting to leave the EU is simple. Britain needs to retain control of its own destiny if it is to remain a sovereign nation.”
Mr Cameron had promised two weeks ago to give MPs a say on the warrant as he denied accusations he was trying to delay it until after the Rochester and Strood by-election on 20 November.
He told the Commons: “There will be a vote on it. We are going to have a vote and we are going to have it before the Rochester by-election.”
A protest vote against the Government’s handling of the issue was defeated by a majority of just nine last night when around 35 Tory rebels joined Labour to back calls for a separate vote on the warrant. A further surprise move by Labour to abandon the debate was also defeated.
Earlier Chancellor George Osborne was condemned by Labour over his declaration of victory last week in a row with the European Commission over its demand for a £1.7bn surcharge on the UK.
He had trumpeted his achievement in halving the bill to £850m thanks to Britain receiving a 50 per cent rebate.
But in bruising exchanges, the shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, accused him of a “con trick”. He said Mr Osborne had failed to reduce the demand by a “single penny” because Britain automatically qualified for the rebate.
The Chancellor retorted that it had been far from certain that the UK would get the rebate until he had met other EU finance ministers.
He said: “We have halved the bill, delayed the bill, will pay no interest on the bill and changed the rules of the European Union so this unacceptable behaviour never happens again.” Mr Osborne will be cross-examined by the Treasury Select Committee over the £850m bill.
What is the truth about Britain’s EU bill?
Q: Did the Government know the £1.7bn surcharge was coming?
A: It should have. Budget readjustments are made every year to reflect the comparative economic growth of EU member states. But it is plain that the size of the bill caught the Government by surprise.
Q: Did Britain always know it was going to get a £850m rebate?
A: George Osborne said the Government received legal advice that it was not clear Britain’s automatic rebate applied to the surcharge. Agreement was only reached over the issue last Thursday, he said.
The EU and other finance ministers disagree, and say the rebate was a forgone conclusion. Labour says Mr Osborne cannot produce anyone to back his version of events. However, if the fact of the rebate was so well-known, why was there no publicity about it ahead of last week’s EU meeting?
Q: Is Britain £1.7bn or £850m worse off?
The bill remains £1.7bn, but the actual cash Britain hands over will be £850m. Reports that the UK would lose a further £850m at a later stage as a result have been categorically denied by the Government.
Q: Was the episode cooked up with the EU to make it look like Britain had won?
A: No. The EU and other finance ministers were as shocked as anyone when Mr Osborne emerged and declared victory on Friday. The amounts involved were not even discussed at the meeting. The final agreement had been reached the day before.Reuse content