Run up to the Party Conferences
The House of Commons will adjourn tomorrow for the Party Conferences recess. The House will not resume sitting until 10th October 2016.
The Prime Minister and the Conservative Party will be looking towards the Conservative Party Conference 2-5 October 2016 in Birmingham – perhaps in many ways relaxed by the fact that the Labour Party is unlikely to provide an effective opposition when Parliament resumes in October.
But unexpected things can happen at even the best planned conferences and if there is a single issue which has potential for causing trouble, it may well be Brexit. There are any number of fringe events with Brexit themes. There will be Brexit Ministers present.
Triggering the Brexit Process
Thus far, the Government is still sticking to the line that Article 50 can be triggered using prerogative powers.
The House of Lords Constitution Committee has released a significant report on the invoking of Article 50 (The Report is available online) and it concludes that it would be constitutionally more appropriate for Parliament to approve the process either by way of resolutions in both Houses or by way of a Bill. This may not come as welcome news to the Brexit Ministers.
At paragraph 26 of its report the Committee says: “A legal challenge has been made to the Government’s position that it may trigger Article 50 as an exercise of prerogative power. A full hearing at the High Court is expected to take place in October 2016. We do not intend therefore to express a view as to the merits or otherwise of the differing legal arguments set out above. Rather we consider whether, and if so how, it would be constitutionally appropriate for Parliament to be involved, irrespective of whether the courts decide that parliamentary involvement is a legal requirement.”
It is to be noted that Lord Pannick QC, a very distinguished member of the Committee, very properly refrained participating in this enquiry because he will be appearing as Counsel in the Judicial Review proceedings in October.
The Guardian reports on the Committee Report here: “PM should seek parliamentary approval over article 50, says Lords committee – House of Lords constitution committee says nature of EU referendum means parliament must play central role in Brexit process”.
Problems for the Prime Minister may well come from the Brexiteers in her cabinet and her own back bench as evidenced by a new pressure group largely formed from members of her own party. Named “Change Britain” it is effectively a continuation of the Vote Leave campaign. The Chairman is Gisela Stuart MP but many of the founding supporters are Conservative Brexiteers.
Surprisingly, the Foreign Secretary has recorded a video message featured on the site. The Guardian has this: “Boris Johnson backs Brexit pressure campaign Change Britain – Foreign secretary records message supporting group that aims to push Theresa May to fully deliver EU exit” and the Telegraph has this: “Boris Johnson backs hardline Brexit campaign Change Britain as pressure from senior Tories builds on Theresa May”. Boris would probably have been better off refraining from so overtly supporting this new Brexit pressure group – but clowns invited to the top table are always allowed a certain amount of licence – at any rate for a time.
The Guardian also references this piece in the Telegraph: “Theresa May should invoke Article 50 within weeks, says John Whittingdale”. First elected in 1992, Whittingdale only went into office when David Cameron chose him as Secretary for Culture Media and Sport in May 2015 . His time in Parliament included a scandal relating to lapdancing clubs – see his Wikipedia profile. Mrs May wisely did not include this particular dinosaur in her Cabinet and this may be why he is making trouble.
Perhaps the first prize for Brexit Ministerial ineptitude during last week must go to The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP who is plainly looking for something to do – see this in the Financial Times: “UK business too fat and lazy to seek new export markets says Fox – Pro-Brexit trade secretary angers exporters with ‘rather play golf’ comments”. The Trade Secretary is, of course, in a difficult position. Until the UK has left the EU, it cannot negotiate its own trade deals. So, at the moment he has little to do. Perhaps he could spend some time reading some of the many comments at the foot of the FT article. They are not complimentary.
The one bit of good news for the Prime Minister may be that the State of the Union address of Jean Claude Juncker to the European Parliament seems to have gone down like a lead balloon in most of the European press – see this BBC report: “Brexit: Juncker fails to impress Europe’s media“. There are many good reasons why Mrs May should take as much time as she thinks she needs before triggering Article 50 – not least because opinion is changing in the EU. As time passes and Member States start to consider the full implications of Brexit for their own countries – the negotiating position of the UK may well improve quite substantially.