Opening skirmishes continue before the desperate parliamentary battles to come..

Strictly speaking, the remarkable cross party  initiative to exploit the vacuum at Stormont and introduce abortion reform for NI is not about Brexit. But as diametrically opposed views about the governance and values of the Union are in contention, the two are inextricably linked. The little Ulster version of the Union is being challenged at last. The abortion initiative shows that like the struggles over Brexit, considerable numbers of Conservatives are prepared to put values and country above the interests of party. In the middle of the current political mess in which any likely Conservative government is dependent on DUP votes, this is one rare and  heartening development. In their own terms,  MPs are for once not prepared to leave out Northern Ireland, or treat it as a weird and semi- mythical place, as if  dreamt up by the likes of Tolkien or Pullman and all too suitable as the backdrop to Game of Thrones. The DUP are in a cleft stick. They are affronted by the challenge to Stormont’s prerogatives but they also pretend to be happy at the move if it is a harbinger of direct rule.

From the Guardian’s Peter Walker..

Progress towards an NI Abortion Bill may be slow..

The government has warned the technicalities of making the changes could be complex, without setting out a timetable… But an internal government document on extending abortion rights said the necessary regulations needed to make the change might not be ready until the end of 2020.

“It is expected that setting up the new regime could take 12-18 months,” says the document, seen by the Guardian. The delay would be needed for policy development, a consultation on the process and then analysis of the consultation results.

The document added that officials should look into whether there would be a way to establish interim regulations on some areas.

Stella Creasy’s amendment argued that while Downing Street claimed abortion and equal marriage were devolved matters, the long suspension of the Northern Ireland assembly and executive amid political deadlock meant women’s human rights over abortion were being infringed.

The bill on to which the amendments were made, an otherwise largely technical measure connected to delayed elections and budgets for the devolved assembly, was being considered by the House of Lords on Wednesday, including a further amendment seeking to speed up the extension of abortion rights.

The new amendment, tabled by the Labour peer Alf Dubs, would set a January deadline for the change to be made. It would also place a moratorium on prosecutions for abortion-related offences from October – intended to stop the case of a woman who faces trial in November for obtaining an abortion pill for her daughter. If the bill is amended again it will return to the Commons next week.

A Downing Street spokesman said ministers were “actively considering how we act on last week’s votes, because the amendments as drafted do not function properly and so do not enable the government to deliver on instruction of parliament”.

He said: “We are in discussions with MPs and peers to discuss how best to take this forwards and ensure that any changes agreed by parliament can be delivered.”

Government defeated in Lords as peers vote to beef up anti-prorogation measure in Northern Ireland bill

The Anderson amendment has passed by 272 votes to 169 – a majority of 103.

This means the bill, as now amended, could make it illegal for the government to prorogue parliament in the autumn if the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland has not been restored.

The government will almost certainly try to reverse this when the bill returns to the Commons tomorrow. Dominic Grieve only got his amendment passed by a single vote in the Commons last week, after a government whip forgot to vote, and Grieve lost votes on other related amendments, and so there must be a good chance of this afternoon’s vote being overturned.

The amendment has been tabled by the crossbench peer  Lord David Anderson, the former independent reviewer of terror legislation, with support from Labour and the Lib Dems.

It builds on an amendment to the bill passed in the Commons last week when MPs backed a proposal from Dominic Grieve, the Tory pro-European, calling for fortnightly reports from the government on progress being made towards restoring the power-sharing executive.

If this amendment isn’t overturned when it goes back to the Commons, the new PM  with a nominal majority of only three might try to resort  to the clean slate created by a  new session of Parliament, as reported in the Times  

Boris Johnson could use his first Queen’s Speech to shut parliament and prevent MPs blocking a no-deal Brexit, it was claimed last night.

The Tory leadership frontrunner has refused to rule out suspending the Commons to ensure the UK leaves the European Union on October 31.

Parliament usually closes for a week or two before a Queen’s Speech, in which the government sets out its legislative plans. With parliament closed, MPs could not vote against no-deal. Some MPs warned that the move would be a constitutional “outrage”.

Dominic Grieve, the former attorney-general, said that MPs may have to vote to bring down the government to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Just hours earlier Mr Johnson had set out a series of red lines that appeared to make securing a deal with Brussels less likely. The former foreign secretary ruled out potential compromises on the Irish backstop, including a time limit or a unilateral exit mechanism.

Mr Grieve, who has led parliamentary efforts to try to prevent a no-deal, accused Mr Johnson of trying to appease hardline Brexiteers. He told Today that when it came to “blocking no-deal, technically that may be quite difficult”. He added: “If a government persists in trying to carry out a no-deal Brexit, I think that the administration is going to fall.”

Mr Hunt suffered a blow last night as a key cabinet supporter criticised his plans for Brexit. Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, said that calls for the Irish backstop to be dumped were not realistic. In an interview with Politico, Ms Rudd said of both leadership contenders: “I think they will find they have to compromise.

“I was surprised by what they both said and I think their views will collide with the reality when whichever one wins, starts negotiating and starts dealing with a parliament which may be more difficult than they think to engage with.

“There are lots of unknowns to get through before we get to the end of October.

Philip Hammond the chancellor, has said hit back at arch Brexiteer Jacob Rees Mogg

It is “terrifying” that one of Boris Johnson’s close allies, Jacob Rees-Mogg, believes a no-deal Brexit will boost the economy.

The chancellor, who is expected to exit the government next week, expressed his horror after Rees-Mogg used a Daily Telegraph opinion piece to dismiss the “pure silliness” of Treasury forecasts suggesting a £90bn hit to the economy.

Rees-Mogg claimed there were economic models that showed “the total positive impact of no deal could be in the region of about £80bn”.

Hammond hit back at the argument, saying on Twitter: “Happy to debate scale of negative impact of no deal on the economy – but terrifying that someone this close to a potential future government can think we’d actually be better off by adding barriers to access to our largest market

 No Deal means anything but the “ clean Brexit” No Dealers dream about, warns Anand Menon is director of The UK in a Changing Europe and professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London.  

“Brexit has sucked the air out of our politics, distracting politicians and civil servants alike, and preventing them from focussing on the kinds of issues voters want to see addressed. So why is just getting out not the answer?

Well, for two reasons. And these relate to process and outcome. Britain might leave without a deal, but at some point, negotiations with the EU would have to restart. We’d still need to have a relationship with our nearest and largest trading partner.

And not just on trade. Indeed, perhaps the most worrying aspect would be the way in which the myriad channels of cooperation on security and policing would fall away.

And this relationship would have to be negotiated. The problem is that the EU has repeatedly stated that it would only negotiate these things once the so-called withdrawal issues (citizens’ rights, the Brexit bill and the Northern Irish border) were dealt with.

And, here’s the rub. Dealing with these will be far harder once we’ve left. Because then Article 50 will no longer apply. And for all the failings of that damned treaty article, the one thing it does do is make life easy when it comes to agreeing a deal. This can be done by national leaders, in private, in Brussels, by majority.

Once we’ve left, that process changes dramatically. We switch to a so-called nine negotiation. Which means member state governments and indeed their parliaments will get a say. And each of them will have a veto. Which will be difficult and, as importantly, potentially very, very slow.

And while all this is going on, the Prime Minister will not be swanning around fixing those issues voters care about. He will be firefighting the various emergencies that no-deal will generate – whether that be queues, or shortages, or the fact criminals from the EU will be able to arrive here in numbers because we no longer have access to the databases that list them.

More delay, in other words. And more delay with far greater uncertainty and far less disposable cash. Yes, the Government can borrow to fund investment, and governments since 2010 should have done far more of that. But no-deal will hit our economy, and so reduce whatever fiscal headroom there is to be exploited.

And so whatever the superficial, intuitive attraction, no-deal will not make it easier to focus on other things. On the contrary, it will make it harder”.


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