The debate on the controversial European Arrest Warrant descended into farce last night as MPs were told that they were not going to vote on the measure.
The Prime Minister had made a promise for a vote on the key piece of legislation during the Rochester and Strood by-election where he was trying to woo voters looking to switch their support to UKIP.
But in scenes more suited to a Students’ Union, the Speaker John Bercow said that the vote was actually on a technical piece of law.
“Tonight’s vote is on the Regulations, the vote is not, repeat not on the European Arrest Warrant” he told a jeering House of Commons.
He criticised the government’s handling of the Commons debate, saying the lack of clarity had caused irritation among MPs and the public would view it with contempt.
The Speaker said he himself had anticipated a vote on the warrant and told the house it was a “sorry saga” and that “the House should not be put in that position.”
“A commitment is a commitment to be honoured rather than trying to slip things through some sort of artifice,” he said.
Ministers want to rejoin 35 Justice and Home Affairs measures out of 133 they have opted out of, including the European Arrest Warrant, before the deadline of the 1st December.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper seemed amazed at the situation the government found themselves in and simply told the house that it was “a shambles”.
She joined some Conservative MPs in calling for the debate to be postponed and the whole debate delayed until tomorrow.
But this was despite receiving a letter from the Home Secretary which, according to the Guardian, said:
“Dear Yvette, let me be absolutely clear: Monday’s debate and vote in the House of Commons will be a debate and vote on the whole package of 35 measures – including the arrest warrant – which the government wants the UK to remain part of in the national interest.”
MPs voted narrowly to continue the debate after it was revealed that they would not be having a separate vote on the EAW, but only by nine votes.
The Home Secretary said that MPs could still have a say on the Arrest Warrant by debating the other EU justice measures which were actually put on the Parliament’s Order of Business.
Earlier in the day, Jacob Rees Mogg told the BBC Daily Politics that he believed the key topic was not being voted on and thus may not be debated by MPs in the first alert for how the day’s events would progress. This was despite a clear report by the House of Commons Library, who reported:
“The Regulations are to be debated on 10 November 2014 on a motion to approve, although the joint committee on statutory instruments has not yet approved the draft. The draft Statutory Instrument does not concern all 35 opt-back-in measures, but only 11 of them which “require further transposition into domestic law in order to meet the UK’s obligations under them”. The European Arrest Warrant is not one of the 11 measures that require further implementation, so is not covered by this draft.”
Although not formally written down, the government said they would accept the vote as ‘indicative’ of MPs opinions.
But in a night of continued embarrassments for Theresa May, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper invoked a rare procedure to ask that the “question be not now put”, asking Mrs May to come back with a motion which specifically included the warrant.
Mrs May won the vote, but with a worryingly small majority of only 43 after many Conservatives chose to take a stand against the way they felt they – and the voters – had been treated.
MPs then voted on whether to approve the Draft Criminal Justice and Data Protection Regulations with 38 MPs voting against the Government.
This means that the Government can opt in to the controversial measures giving power to the EU over UK Justice and Home Affairs and say they have the backing of Parliament.
UKIP MP Douglas Carswell said this evening, “David Cameron promised a vote on this issue in the Commons. His Whips tried to play it clever and fix procedure. It has backfired spectacularly.
“Government Whips had to summon Cabinet Ministers back to rescue themselves from their own chaos”
He also took to twitter during the debate to say that the Prime Minister himself had rushed back from a white tie banquet to ‘quash’ a vote.
The events of this evening give Ukip an opportunity to argue that the government cannot be trusted to hold a referendum for the public about whether the UK should be a member of the EU, which Cameron has promised to deliver before the end of 2017.
With the Rochester and Strood by election only days away, the party’s supporters can now canvass the voters with renewed vigour.