Ian Blackford in Parliament.

There were extraordinary scenes in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions today (June 13), after the SNP’s Parliamentary leader Ian Blackford called for the House to sit in private – then led a walkout of the entire Parliamentary SNP.

He made his demand – inappropriately – during his second question to Theresa May, in protest at the Conservative government using Brexit to steal powers back from the Scottish Parliament.

Speaking on Sky’s (ironically, appropriately-named) All Out Politics before PMQs, Mr Blackford said the SNP was going to adopt a confrontational approach to the government in the light of the way it has handled the EU withdrawal bill – and it seems he was true to his word.

The SNP objects to Conservative government’s plan to retain control of power repatriated from the EU in some areas so it can impose common UK-wide rules. The SNP wants decisions relating to those rules to be reached by agreement but Mrs May wants London to have the final say in the event of a dispute.

The key amendments relating to the government plans were tabled in the Lords, where the SNP is not represented.

MPs were supposed to debate the amendments yesterday, but because of the way the business was scheduled (by the Conservative government), the debate lasted just 15 minutes and many SNP MPs were not allowed to speak.

I was live-tweeting when Mr Blackford took to his feet during PMQs, so here’s a blow-by-blow account of what happened:

This was a reference to the appropriation of powers from the EU that the SNP says should be devolved to Holyrood.

It’s a good point, isn’t it? Theresa May reneged on a promise to her own MPs, so there is no reason for Mr Blackford to trust her on the repatriation of powers.

Motions that the House sit in private are, on the face of it, simply calls to clear the private gallery and switch off media broadcasting equipment. In practise, they can be used to disrupt procedures because the business of the house would be lost. Such motions are also used to air a grievance, which is what I think Mr Blackford had in mind; he wanted an emergency debate on devolution powers.

But he did insist on a vote on the motion right in the middle of PMQs – which is certainly disruptive of procedures and would have had serious consequences for the business of the day.

Then – drama:

More SNP members had questions tabled but they weren’t heard because those people weren’t present. And that was the end of the drama.

But it isn’t the end of the issue.

Mr Blackford and his Parliamentary party have made their position clear and they have already demonstrated the tactics they plan to use. They will disrupt the business of Parliament until they receive satisfaction.

We all thought that reneging on her offer to the would-be rebel Tory MPs was Theresa May’s biggest mistake yesterday.

In an interview after PMQs, Mr Blackford said the SNP would use every measure at its disposal to confront the government on the matter of devolved powers.

If the SNP makes life as difficult for her as it certainly can, then we were all wrong.


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