Back to Work in Westminster

Brexit Issues are Unresolved

The Party Conference Recess is over and Parliament is back in session.  Although the Conservatives had a good Conference (certainly better than the Labour shambles), Teresa May’s government has been getting a rough ride over Brexit Issues both from the Conservative back benches and the opposition over Brexit issues.

The problem facing the government is that a majority of members in the House of Commons were in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union.  See The Conservative Difficulty page.  As of 24th March 2016, 75% of the Members in the House of Commons wished to remain in the European Union.  As of 16th May 2016 the position was 433 for Remain, 147 for Leave and 70 undeclared.  Thus, there has never been a majority in the House of Commons for leaving the European Union.

The problem David Cameron had was that most of the clamour for leave came from a group of Conservatives (principally the Swivel Eyed Loons in the Conservative Party) and the Referendum process he put in place was badly designed.  Teresa May has inherited a mess not of her making.

Paul Goodman, the former Conservative MP for Wycombe 2001-2010, who is now the executive editor of the Conservative Home Blog and a member (1st Class) of the Confraternity of Swivel Eyed Loons has this post on the blog:   “How practicable would it be for the Commons to bring down Brexit?

The answer is, of course, that the Government is stuck with the outcome of the Referendum.  It would not be practicable for the Government now to advocate ignoring the result of the Referendum. But there was not an explicit vote on leaving the single market and that is now a matter for Parliament.  Teresa May must know that leaving the single market would be something of an economic suicide pact.

The Times has this: “Hard Brexit could cost £66bn a year – Leaked Treasury papers reveal lost revenue“.  The Telegraph picks up the story here: “‘Hard Brexit’ will cost Britain £66 billion per year, claims controversial leaked Treasury report“. It is to be noted that this is not an estimate of the total losses to the economy.  It is an estimate of the loss of tax receipts for the Treasury.  

Brexit BusIt will be remembered that Boris Johnson’s Brexit Bus complained of the UK’s contribution to the EU of £350 million a week.  That figure was, of course overstated somewhat. But ignoring that, the claim was that leaving the EU would save the UK  that amount.

There was never any mention by the Leave campaign that a vote to leave would cost £66 billion a year in lost revenues – nor any description of the cuts in expenditure or tax increases which would have to be made in consequence.

The Financial Times has this: “David Davis brushes off Brexit warnings – Minister appears to signal Britain will leave the single market“.

No wonder the saner MPs on all sides of the House are w

Parliamentary Control of the Article 50 Process

The Financial Times has this: “The Commons rebellion over Brexit – May’s conference speech galvanises parliament’s pro-Europeans”:-

There are two reasons why MPs are up in arms. The first is that Mrs May gave a clear indication last week that she wants Britain to end membership of the single market. Her insistence that the UK leaves the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and her tough rhetoric on immigration make this clear.  Mrs May’s comments have rattled sterling investors and British business, which fears the consequences for UK trade.

Now the newly recast Labour front bench is calling for a vote on the terms of Mrs May’s renegotiation. Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader, and Nick Clegg, the former Liberal Democrat leader — are adding their voices to the call.

The second reason MPs are in a mood to confront Mrs May is they believe they are being completely sidelined. She insists she will invoke Article 50, the formal pathway to Brexit, next year without asking the Commons to give its consent. Few, if any, MPs want such a vote to try and pursue a complete reversal of the Brexit decision. But many want a say on the type of UK-EU deal she wants to achieve before she signs off on the Article 50 letter.”

The FT also has a cogent opinion piece by Damian Green who writes the FT’s Law and Policy blog: “Parliament should be central to Brexit, not marginal” and he points out:-

The current Conservative majority came to power in 2015 on the back of a manifesto that promised the UK’s role would be “safeguarded” in the single market. On this basis, the one positive mandate that the government has is to effect Brexit while keeping the UK part of the single market.

The Guardian has this: “Tory MP accuses government of ‘tyranny’ over Brexit strategy – Stephen Phillips seeks urgent debate in Commons amid calls for parliament to be given proper scrutiny of the process of leaving the EU”.

The Telegraph also has this by its Political Editor, James Kirkup: “Brexit means Brexit, but Parliament is Parliament. MPs must vote on how we leave”.

The Telegraph also has this on a live blog of proceedings in the House of Commons: “Theresa May rules out allowing MPs to vote on Brexit plans

Prime Minister Theresa May is coming under growing pressure to allow MPs a vote on membership of the European single market, with MPs from all mainstream parties arguing that the referendum result did not amount to a vote for “hard Brexit”. Conservative MP Stephen Phillips, who backed Leave in the June 23 referendum, warned against the “tyranny” of denying MPs a vote on the Government’s stance in upcoming withdrawal negotiations under Article 50 of the EU treaties.

And former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve QC MP cautioned that the Government could be brought down if it tried to force through a new deal with the EU without MPs’ approval.”

This is what Dominic Grieve told the BBC’s World at One programme:-

There’s a very well-established constitutional convention that any signing of a new treaty or alteration of an existing treaty of importance needs to be put to the House of Commons for its affirmative approval….My view is that this is a matter where the approval of the House of Commons needs to be sought before the Article 50 process is triggered….This constitutional convention would apply even if the Government was successful in fighting off a legal challenge against its plans to invoke Article 50 under its powers of royal prerogative.  The referendum was an advisory referendum and in that sense it has no legal force at all, and for Parliament to be by-passed by the administration because there’s been a referendum seems to me to be a very undesirable step to embark on.”

The View of the Constitution Committee of the House of Lords 

As pointed out in a previous post, the Constitution Committee of the House of Lords considered this issue and its report “The Invoking of Article 50” was published on 13th September 2016.  The Members of this Committee are pretty high powered and, as set out on page 5 of the Report, the Committee also had the benefit of a private seminar on the issues with:-

  • Dominic Grieve QC MP – former Attorney General
  • Lord Hope of Craighead – former Deputy President of the Supreme Court
  • Lord Lisvane, former Clerk of the House of Commons
  • Lord Mackay of Clashfern, former Lord Chancellor
  •  Dr Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the UCL Constitution Unit
  • Jack Straw, forrmer Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Leader of the House of commons and Foreign Secretary.

As may be seen, the conclusion of the Committee was unequivocal:-

The referendum result was clear. Parliament is now responsible for ensuring that the Government takes forward the complex process of negotiating the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union in a manner that achieves the best possible outcome for the UK as a whole. The focus must now be on how Parliament and the Government will work together to that end.

That co-operation should start now. Parliament and the Government should, at this early stage, take the opportunity to establish their respective roles and how they will work together during the negotiation process. The constitutional roles of each—the Executive and the Legislature—must be respected, beginning with parliamentary involvement and assent for the invoking of Article 50.

One gets the impression that Dominic Grieve QC, the former Attorney General,  has the better of this argument.   However, it may well be that the issue will have to be considered by the Courts.

 

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