On Monday I asked an Urgent Question in the House of Commons. That means that the Speaker decided the issue I wanted to raise was important enough to summon a Minister to the House to give an explanation.
I asked whether the government will give Parliament the chance to vote on the triggering of Article 50 - the mechanism to begin Brexit.
Unfortunately, the Minister for the Cabinet Office wasn't able to give me a proper answer.
It might seem like a dry topic, but in fact, whether or not Parliament has a vote on triggering Article 50 has huge implications for the power and sovereignty Brexiters claimed leaving the EU would return to the UK, and for our future relationship with the world.
The EU Referendum resulted in a majority for leaving the EU. The process for achieving this is set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This article states that:
Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
So the question is, what are our constitutional requirement? Oliver Letwin, in charge of Whitehall's new Brexit unit, told the Foreign Affairs Committee last Tuesday that his advice was that A50 could be invoked under the Royal Prerogative without parliamentary approval and he's using taxpayers' money to defend a case in court to keep it this way! I sit on the Treasury Select Committee, and on the same day, constitutional lawyers gave evidence to us saying that legislation is required.
However, the issue is not what the government must to do, it is what the government ought to do.
The importance of parliamentary approval before A50 is triggered and negotiations begin is clear. Famously, there is no Brexit Plan. There are multiple options for our negotiating objectives, with very important and far-reaching significance. These include such issues as citizenship rights and immigration law (whether we change free movement); employment and social rights; all law relating to agriculture, consumer protection, environment and financial services; trading relations with EU countries (whether we access the single market) and third countries. All of these have important Scottish and Northern Irish implications. Without legislation to invoke A50, Parliament will not be able to influence let alone agree the negotiating approach.
The UK is a parliamentary democracy. Without a vote, we are handing over huge powers to the executive (the government) without a say on how they will be used. This isn't about blocking a Brexit vote, it's about making sure we have transparency and a democratic say over how we go forward in the best interests of the country.
The issues at stake are the culmination of 40 years of legislation and it is extraordinary to suggest they should not now come back to the House of Commons. The priorities and trade-offs are extremely important to everyone living in the UK. Too important to be decided in Whitehall behind closed doors.
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