Long-standing problems with how parliament works and how MPs perform their duties have yet to be addressed.
Parliamentary Monitor 2020 is an-depth look at the so-called Brexit parliament which ran from 2017 to 2019. The report finds that Brexit, combined with minority government, had a profound and detrimental effect on the relationship between the government and parliament, and pushed parliamentary procedure to its limit.
Battles over parliamentary rules highlighted the need to update and clarify procedures. Questions remain about how much control the government should have over parliament’s agenda, how emergency debates and humble addresses should be used, the meaning of certain parliamentary terms, and the role of the Speaker. Worrying weaknesses in how parliament scrutinises government legislation were exposed once again. Despite the challenging circumstances, parliament largely continued to fulfil its functions beyond Brexit and spent most of its time considering other issues.
The initial phase of the coronavirus crisis has seen parliamentary consensus around radical, but temporary, changes in how parliament works. Despite this, there is real risk that the problems which defined the 2017–19 parliament could re-emerge without proper reform.
As parliament addresses the problems exposed over the past few years and grapples with the coronavirus crisis, the report sets out three priorities for parliament:
- Ensure there is adequate parliamentary scrutiny of the government. This is particularly pressing given the extraordinarily broad powers being exercised by the government in response to coronavirus.
- Improve and maintain parliament’s technical capability and ability to work remotely. Any moves to return parliament to its usual ways of working following coronavirus reforms should not disadvantage members unable to attend in person.
- Review (and where necessary reform) the areas of parliamentary procedure that proved most contentious during the 2017–19 parliament.
During the 2017–19 parliament, the report finds that:
- The cost of MPs’ security assistance rose to almost 2000% above pre-2015 levels – as MPs faced unprecedented threats to their safety.
- The government used its control of parliamentary time to avoid scheduling any opposition-led debates over a five-month period between late 2018 and early 2019 – a key period in the Brexit process.
- Parliament approved extraordinarily broad powers to make secondary legislation to prepare for Brexit – in exchange for only small improvements in parliamentary oversight.
- Minority government, Brexit and an amenable Speaker gave backbench MPs more influence than usual, which may have had a cultural impact that proves hard to reverse.
- High Brexit drama sparked public interest in parliament, with a 150% increase in parliamentlive.tv audiences between 2017 and 2019 and over six million signing an e-petition to revoke Article 50 – the most popular petition parliament has ever received.