MPs await return of key Brexit legislation as circuses listed on Commons agenda

Circus animals and the anniversary of the death of a former Labour leader are to be debated by MPs, as ministers again failed to announce the return of key Brexit legislation.

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs she hopes Brexit talks with Labour will “come to fruition soon” after she was challenged over when legislation to implement the EU Withdrawal Agreement will be scheduled.

Instead, the Commons will consider the Wild Animals in Circuses (No.2) Bill – which will implement a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses – on May 7, an opposition party motion on May 8, and backbench debates on May 9.

The topics selected for these include acquired brain injury and the 25th anniversary of the death of John Smith, former leader of the Labour Party.

The SNP questioned if Theresa May’s administration is still able to govern, and claimed labelling it a “zombie government” would show “massive disrespect to the living dead”.

Mrs Leadsom can return to the House next week to change the schedule if required to deal with Brexit developments, something the Government has done at short notice in recent months.

Separately, MPs concluded Thursday’s business in the main chamber at 2.59pm – almost two-and-a-half hours earlier than scheduled, making it three out of the four sitting days this week where they finished well ahead of the normal rising time.

Speaking in the Commons, Mrs Leadsom told shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz: “She asks when the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill will be held. She’ll be aware there are cross-party talks under way at the moment so she will be no doubt aware, possibly better than I am, how those talks are going.

“We all hope they come to fruition soon and we do make some progress in delivering Brexit, which is something this House is committed to doing and something we seem to have failed singularly to have achieved so far.”

Shadow SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart also said if the Government delays the announcement of a new Queen’s Speech until after the Withdrawal Agreement is passed, this could drag the timeline “from weeks, to months, to about never”.

He said: “We’re acutely aware that if there is a Queen’s Speech, some members of Her Majesty’s loyal backbench may feel obliged to vote it down in a pique of Brexit rage.”

Mr Wishart added: “To call this a zombie government would be to show massive disrespect to the living dead. The purgatory we will now endure in the business of the House will now acquire a semi-permanent nature.

“Could we have a debate about when a government can no longer call itself a government?

“This Government has lost half its ministerial team and is running out of people to promote and is finding backbenchers saying, ‘No thanks, we’ll have nothing more to do with this shambles of a government’.”

Mrs Leadsom replied: “I was actually hoping (Mr Wishart) might allude to the fact that he’s after Mr Speaker’s job because had he raised that in the context of the question of next week’s Bill, which is to ban wild animals in travelling circuses, I could have questioned him about whether he was in fact hoping to be the next ringmaster, perhaps the new Greatest Showman.

“But of course since we all absolutely love Hugh Jackman, well I do anyway, I’m not sure he could completely fill his shoes.”

Labour MP Chris Bryant
Labour MP Chris Bryant addresses Andrea Leadsom in the Commons (PA)

Mrs Leadsom later joked she travels by broomstick as she is “so frequently accused of being a witch”, with Labour former minister Chris Bryant saying he thinks of her as the Wizard of Oz.

Mr Bryant bemoaned the length of the current parliamentary session, adding: “Today we’ve sat for the 296th day in this session, which makes it the longest session of this Parliament since the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and I think that’s a mistake.”

He said some MPs were struggling to make commitments to their constituents and attend medical appointments due to the lack of notice on what business will be before the Commons.

Mrs Leadsom, in her reply, said: “If I was the Wizard of Oz, he could certainly be a munchkin.

“I don’t think he’d see himself as Dorothy at all.”

Mr Bryant replied: “I quite often do.”

The Commons Leader said the end of the parliamentary session is kept “under review”.

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