Sussex MPs fought the law – and Loughton abstained

East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton. Photo credit: Chris McAndrew, CC BY 3.0

The dark days for British democracy are coming in battalions at the moment, but Tuesday’s House of Commons vote on the Internal Market bill still stands out. MPs approved the bill by 340 votes to 256, despite fears that it could lead to the UK breaking international law.

The bill is controversial because it contradicts parts of the EU withdrawal agreement, the so-called ‘oven-ready’ deal which formed the basis of the Conservative party’s 2019 general election campaign. However, the contradiction did not seem to bother 12 of Sussex’s Conservative MPs, who voted to undo part of the agreement they happily voted for in January.

The MPs’ intention to vote for the bill drew criticism across Sussex. In Hastings, whose MP Sally-Ann Hart defended the bill as a means of ‘getting Brexit done’, her Labour predecessor Michael Foster told the local newspaper, “Our best bet of getting a deal is that we show that we can be trusted, that we stick to our word, that we are not lawless in pursuit of a deal which is our objective. I believe [the bill] is going to make it more difficult rather than less difficult. How will other international dealings be possible outside Europe if we can’t be trusted, that we can’t stick to our word?”

Lewes MP Maria Caulfield also voted for the bill, having attracted widespread derision on social media for her inaccurate account of it to her constituents.

The sole, slight exception to the Sussex roll of shame was East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton, who joined former prime minister Theresa May and former attorney general Geoffrey Cox in not voting for the bill at third reading. It is currently unclear whether Loughton actively abstained or whether he was absent for some reason, but he has been publicly critical of the government’s intention to break the law.

In the second reading debate on 21 September, Loughton told parliament, “the Conservative party has always had as one of its most cherished doctrines the importance of upholding the rule of law, so I share, for once, the concern of many lawyers who are worried that these clauses represent a significant risk of violation of the UK’s international law obligations, including the principle of good faith and sincere co-operation.”

It seems that the various amendments made to the bill in committee stage failed to reassure him. He has, however, been mysteriously quiet on the subject on social media. While updating constituents about train tickets and food waste, he has not yet mentioned Tuesday’s vote. He has, however, supported the Brady amendment seeking extra Parliamentary scrutiny on coronavirus regulations. Perhaps he now realises that the similar lack of scrutiny given to the withdrawal agreement is what led Conservative MPs to their week of embarrassment.

If, as has been claimed in some quarters, the Internal Market bill is a tactic for negotiations with the EU, that tactic seems to have backfired, with the UK continuing to make concessions on tariffs and fisheries, while the EU has announced its intention to sue the UK over its breach of the agreement. More than four years after the referendum, Brexit seems less ‘done’ than ever.

How the MPs voted

For: Andrew Griffith (Con, Arundel and South Downs), Huw Merriman (Con, Bexhill and Battle), Nick Gibb (Con, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton), Gillian Keegan (Con, Chichester), Henry Smith (Con, Crawley), Caroline Ansell (Con, Eastbourne), Sally-Ann Hart (Con, Hastings and Rye), Jeremy Quin (Con, Horsham), Maria Caulfield (Con, Lewes), Mims Davies (Con, Mid-Sussex), Nus Ghani (Con, Wealden), Peter Bottomley (Con, Worthing West).

Against: Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Lab, Brighton, Kemptown) Caroline Lucas (Grn, Brighton, Pavilion), Peter Kyle (Lab, Hove).

Did not vote: Tim Loughton (Con, Worthing East and Shoreham).

Follow @SussexBylines on social media