The Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is set to push back parliament’s scheduled Christmas recess and announce that the House of Commons will sit next week on Monday, 21 and Tuesday 22 December. This Thursday had been due to be the Commons’ last day before Christmas.
Expectations that Rees-Mogg would make the announcement as early as today were dashed, but he will be making a further announcement on Thursday and there is mounting anticipation that the decision to prolong sitting into next week will be shared with MPs at that time.
The obvious reason for requiring Commons sittings in the week of Christmas is the likelihood of an agreed EU-UK deal being put to the House. Downing Street has not been forthcoming in lobby briefings about the exact legislative process any deal will be subjected to – the spokesman repeating the holding statement that the Leader of the House will announce it first to MPs when he is ready to do so. But the reality is that the deal will certainly be voted on by MPs and will not be enforced without parliamentary scrutiny under royal prerogative powers. By contrast, there is no requirement for a vote on the absence of a deal before the end of the transition period on 31 December.
If a deal is agreed by Thursday then Rees-Mogg will set out the timetable for parliamentary scrutiny at that time. If the negotiating teams are still in talks by then, my understanding is that an alternative explanation for why the Commons will be required to sit next Monday and Tuesday will be offered, such as to vote on an emergency measure.
But the reality is that the government is working on the assumption of a deal being concluded this week and is scheduling the parliamentary time to approve it for Monday and Tuesday next week. That is a stronger signal than the continuing official message coming from government ministers and spokespeople that the failure of the trade talks resulting in WTO terms (or Australian terms as the prime minister likes to call them) remains both the likely and a welcome conclusion to the year.
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