By Ann Higgins
Rather like London buses (or should I say Tory fringe conferences?), several crucial Parliamentary votes all arrived together over the last few weeks, so here’s my attempt to guide you through the good, the bad, and the ugly of what our MPs have been up to since they got back to work after Easter – and then took time off for the Coronation, and then got back to work again.
To start with the “bad” this is surely the Public Order Act 2023, parts of which were enacted with indecent haste (within days of receiving Royal Assent rather than the usual two months) but not, as we were assured by the Home Office, so that it could be used to suppress protest during the Coronation. Anyone naïve enough to believe this must have been staggered to learn that anti-monarchy protestors who had been liaising with the Met Police for months found themselves being arrested on suspicion of committing the new offence of “conspiracy to commit a public nuisance” and being unceremoniously bundled into the back of a van along with their perfectly legal placards and other equipment (and, as it turns out, a completely innocent Australian tourist) only to be released without charge over 16 hours later. An interesting discussion of the law as it may now be pertaining to protest is to be found here.
One section of the Act which was not included in the above, however, was S17, which exempts journalists from being arrested solely for reporting on protests so again it comes as no surprise that one of those who was arrested for doing just that was journalist Rich Felgate. He reportedly remains on bail to report to the police in August, by which time it is expected that by then S17 will have been enacted; it remains to be seen whether in this case it will be applied retrospectively.
Close on the bad’s heels comes the “ugly” – i.e. the Illegal Migration Bill, which despite some trenchant opposition in the Commons, including a vote against the government by David Davis, ex Tory Home Secretary, received its third reading in the Commons at the end of April and is now wending its way through the Lords, accompanied by implied threats from those who should surely know better about the consequences of defying “the will of the people” which as David Allen Green explains here may have serious implications.
And lastly, the “good” – or, perhaps more accurately the best we can reasonably expect – in the shape of the drastically reduced REUL Bill. Originally promised by Sunak as a bonfire of all retained EU law within 100 days of his taking office (anyone remember his teeth-clenchingly bad campaign advert featuring the giant shredder?) and then transmogrified by a certain Jacob Rees-Mogg into a Bill which would abolish it all by the end of this year unless some minister had deigned to save random parts of it, now Kemi Badenoch has been unexpectedly outed as the Tory voice of reason and save 600 out of 4000+ laws, the rest to be “considered in due course”. As of 15 May, we now know what those are – some undoubtedly worrying but if the House of Lords gets its way, the final decision will be made by Parliament, not by a government minister. After all was that not “the will of the people” when they voted to “take back control”?
And I cannot close without another mention of JRM, who in his speech to the National Conservatism conference on Monday 15 May confirmed what we all suspected: that the introduction of Voter ID was an attempt at gerrymandering by the Tories to suppress the opposition vote, only, he bemoaned, it had backfired, adding “Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding that their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections. We found the people who didn’t have ID were elderly and they by and large voted Conservative, so we made it hard for our own voters and we upset a system that worked perfectly well.”
Thank you for your rare burst of honesty, Jacob: why should EU citizens who have been here for at least five years not have the same rights to vote as any Irish or Commonwealth citizen who has been here only just long enough to get themselves onto the electoral register? After all, Maltese and Cypriot residents can vote as commonwealth citizens so why not all other EU citizens with settled status?