Iain Duncan Smith has been given another lesson in British constitutional law and the processes of Parliament after former Attorney General Dominic Grieve slapped down a number of claims made by his Tory colleague.
Grieve said he had never been “in any doubt” that Parliament would sanction the UK’s removal from the EU, adding there had been a “fundamental misunderstanding” over the position of Parliament and its processes.
He agreed the Commons debate on Wednesday was a “grand opinion poll of MPs”, much like the referendum was an opinion poll of the public - but neither “changes the law of the land”.
Grieve’s comments come after Duncan Smith was eviscerated by a barrister over a Supreme Court opinion piece. The former Conservative party leader was accused of expressing a “litany of stupid” in his Daily Mail column on Wednesday.
Grieve disagrees with Duncan Smith’s view that Labour handed Theresa May’s government a “blank cheque” to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU.
Yesterday a Commons vote led to an overwhelming majority of MPs agreeing with the Government that Article 50 must be triggered by the end of March next year.
The debate came as the Supreme Court is this week considering whether the Government needs Parliament’s permission to trigger Article 50.
Duncan Smith claimed that if the Supreme Court rules against the government then this would lead to a “constitutional crisis”.
But Grieve told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday: “I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about, firstly the position of parliament over this, and secondly the process.
“I have never been in any doubts since 23 June that, in response to the referendum, parliament would sanction our removal from the EU.
“I’ve never had the slightest doubt about it so the people who have sort of constructed this fantasy castle that parliament was going to obstruct it are, I think, completely mistaken.
“There is then a process issue. Now as the law of the land stands at the moment the government does not have authority to trigger Article 50 and if the judgement of the High Court stands they will have to do it by enacting primary legislation through both houses of parliament in the ordinary way.
“That’s what the issue is that is being discussed in the Supreme Court, which is really very substantially unrelated to yesterday.”
Grieve’s commentary on the process was highly praised.
Although not everyone was impressed with Grieve’s opinion, with Tory MP Nadine Dorries noting the former Attorney General was among those who sided with the Government on Wednesday.
Yet Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, who voted against the motion yesterday, agreed with Grieve, saying he did not think Labour had just given the government a licence to do as it pleased.
But Bradshaw disagreed with the March 2017 timetable, saying he believes Article should be triggered after the German and French elections.
Discussing what the significance would be if the government loses its Supreme Court battle, Grieve said: “In order to change law in this country you need to pass new law or get rid of the old law.
“We do not govern in this country either by referendum or for that matter by parliamentary motions in the House of Commons.
“A parliamentary motion in the House of Commons is an expression of the view of members of parliament. A referendum is a political expression of the view of the public.
“If in fact the government doesn’t have the necessary lawful authority under the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 the only way they can seek it and get it is by enacting primary legislation, law through parliament.
“What we did yesterday is completely different.”
Grieve was asked whether, in effect, last night’s vote in the Commons was a grand opinion poll of MPs and the referendum was a mass opinion poll of the public.
Grieve agreed with the analogy, saying: “Both have great political force but it doesn’t change the law of the land.”