(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to make a statement on whether the Government will seek parliamentary approval before triggering article 50.
The question of how to invoke parliamentary discussion around triggering article 50 has two distinct facets, one legal and the other democratic. Taking the legal considerations first, I am sure that everyone will be aware of the debate about whether invoking article 50 can be done through the royal prerogative, which would not legally require parliamentary approval, or would require an Act of Parliament because it leads ultimately to repeal or amendment of the European Communities Act 1972. I will leave the lawyers to their doubtless very enjoyable and highly paid disputes. Apart from observing that there are court cases already planned or under way on this issue, so the judges may reach a different view, I simply remark that Government lawyers believe that it is a royal prerogative issue.
Nevertheless, I hope that everyone here will agree that democratic principles should out rank legal formalities. The Prime Minister has already said that Parliament will have a role, and it is clearly right that a decision as momentous as this one must be fully debated and discussed in Parliament. Clearly, the precise format and timing of those debates and discussions will need to be agreed through the usual channels. As everyone will understand, I cannot offer any more details today because those discussions have not yet happened. However, I will venture this modest prediction: I strongly doubt that they will be confined to a single debate or a single occasion. There will be many important issues about the timing and the substance of different facets of the negotiations that the Government, the Opposition, the Backbench Business Committee, and I dare say, perhaps even you, Mr Speaker, will feel it is important to discuss, but on the details of which topics, on what dates, and the specific wording of the motions, we shall have to wait and see.
I thank the Minister for that reply. If the royal prerogative is used to trigger article 50, would that not be a clear breach of the promises made to the public by the Brexiters during the referendum campaign that they would “take back control” and “restore parliamentary sovereignty”? How could it be right to initiate negotiations with important and far-reaching significance for citizenship rights, immigration rules, employment and social rights, agriculture, trading relations with the EU and third countries, and Scotland and Northern Ireland, without seeking Parliament’s approval for the aims, objectives and red lines?
The issues at stake are the culmination of 40 years of legislation. Is it not extraordinary to suggest that changes to these areas should not now come back to this House? The priorities and trade-offs are extremely important to everyone living in the UK. Surely the Minister is not suggesting that they should be decided behind closed doors in Whitehall while Parliament is presented with a done deal. Is not his inability to say how Brexit will be negotiated a clear indication of the Government’s failure to do any contingency planning? Why is the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wasting taxpayers’ money fighting a court case to keep the Government’s approach to Brexit secret? We know that the Minister cannot say today what the red lines will be, but why cannot he at least be clear that Parliament’s approval will be sought before the negotiations begin? When will he be able to say what the process will be? He says that these are matters for a new Government. Has the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) been consulted, and can the Minister tell the House when we will have a new Government?
A considerable burden has been placed by the hon. Lady on Minister Penrose’s shoulders. It is a burden that he seems to bear stoically and with fortitude, but it would be good if we could actually hear his response.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall try to bear up under the pressure. First, I gently say to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) that it is difficult to argue that the Government’s approach is secret if it is in court. It is not a secret court; it will all be argued out in public. I have just said that the issues will be revealed as we go forward with the new Prime Minister. The point on which I hope I can reassure the hon. Lady is very straightforward: my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May)—it looks like she is going to be the new Prime Minister—has been very clear in saying that Brexit means Brexit. What that means is that the destination to which we are travelling is not in doubt. The means used to get there will have to be explained, but I think it only fair to wait until she is Prime Minister and has a chance to lay out her programme, the process and, therefore, when Parliament will have a chance to discuss and debate the issues. At that point I am sure that all will be revealed.
Does the Minister agree that the way to take back control and seek parliamentary approval is to proceed quickly to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 while transferring all European law relevant to the single market into British law and at the same time protecting our borders and keeping our contributions? That is what we voted for. Will the new Government deliver that promptly?
As I just said, the important thing—I hope this reassures my right hon. Friend—is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead has been clear that Brexit means Brexit. That means that the destination, on which he and I both agree, is not in doubt. There are questions on how we get there, precisely how to run the negotiations and the precise timing of what gets addressed and when, and I hope that both he and I will allow our soon-to-be-installed new Prime Minister time to lay that out. I am sure that she will do so at the first opportunity.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question and my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) for asking it.
The outcome of the EU referendum represents the most momentous constitutional change that our country has faced in the post-war era. Now is the time to take a considered view on the future of the negotiations and for the new Government to lay out the timetable, including when they anticipate that article 50 will be triggered. It should not be triggered, however, until there is a clear plan in place about what the UK will be negotiating for and how it will be achieved.
The Government have already indicated that they will consult the devolved Administrations and the Mayor of London, and they must do the same with Her Majesty’s official Opposition. That is the only way we can develop a consensus about what the country’s negotiating plan should be, and that should be put to a vote in this House.
The priority must be to ensure that the Government’s negotiating team, undertaking the most substantial set of negotiations on our behalf in modern history, are fully equipped, fully resourced and fully prepared to extract the best deal possible for Britain in the Brexit negotiations. There are 170 trade agreements that now need to be renegotiated, but it is suggested that only 20 people across the whole of Whitehall have the requisite experience to negotiate.
We have deep concerns that the autumn statement, which outlined drastic cuts for Whitehall long before Brexit materialised as a realistic possibility, is no longer fit for purpose. That is why Labour is saying to the Government that, while discussions about article 50 are vital, it is clear that what comes next matters even more. It would be an abdication of responsibility if our civil service negotiating team does not have the resources it needs and is instead forced to spend vital time implementing brutal budget cuts at home when it should be batting for Britain abroad. Let us properly resource our civil service and together develop a consensus for the future of Britain.
I am pleased to hear the hon. Lady say that there is an opportunity for cross-party consensus. It will be much more powerful for this country in any negotiations that it undertakes, not only with other EU member states, but with other countries around the world, if they know that the political parties and the people of Britain are speaking with one voice and that we are anxious to be an outward-looking, international country that is aiming to establish new links around the world. I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments on that.
I also agree with the hon. Lady that it is important that we have a clear timetable as soon as our new Prime Minister is in place, if only because—she is right to point this out—the details of the timetable have to be geared to maximising our negotiating leverage. We know where we are going; the question is how we get there. Clearly, the order of play—the order in which issues are addressed—and the timing have to be planned out incredibly carefully, to make sure, as she said, that we get the best deal possible.
The final point on which I agree with the hon. Lady is that about devolved Government. She is absolutely right to say that we need to make sure that the devolved Administrations are involved as well, so that this is not merely a question of cross-party consensus in Westminster. It has to be a question of consensus, as far as it is possible to achieve it, right across the UK.
The Prime Minister originally said that he would trigger article 50 immediately, so presumably he felt that he had the full legal authority to do so. Does my hon. Friend accept that those who want to have a vote before article 50 is triggered are concerned not with parliamentary sovereignty but at making a clear attempt to thwart the democratic will of the British people? Does he agree that they must be completely resisted by any real democrat? The referendum was not a consultation with the British people; it was an instruction from the British people that we have a duty to obey.
I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour that the question here is not about the legal power, which clearly, as the Prime Minister has previously mentioned, is available. The question is: what is politically and democratically right to reflect the decision that has been made in the referendum? Therefore, although the Prime Minister is, very sensibly, saying that the timing and method of triggering article 50 needs to be a decision taken by his successor—we now know who that will be—his successor is also right to say very clearly that the British people have spoken and that Brexit means Brexit.
We are grateful to the Minister for confirming that this will be done through royal prerogative. Given the events of today, perhaps that is the way we could determine the leadership of the Conservative party. However, I remind the Minister of the soon to be departed Prime Minister’s remarks that the Scottish Government will be fully consulted on any Brexit proposals. Can the Minister therefore confirm that, before any process is started on article 50, the Scottish Government will be fully consulted and able to give their consent for any move forward? I also remind the Minister that Scotland did not vote for this Tory-inspired Brexit, and for us it is the Scottish people who are sovereign. We have yet to hear any Minister say that they respect the Scottish result and are prepared to make sure that the Scottish people also secure what they voted for. This Government might be charged with taking the UK out of the EU, but those of us on the SNP Benches are charged with ensuring that the Scottish people always get what they voted for too.
I am delighted to confirm that the Scottish Government will be involved. In fact, I believe that some early discussions are already under way. I hope and expect that those will continue, as they will with the other devolved Governments. I would, however, gently remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a commitment to consult, which is not quite the same thing as seeking an outright consent. As his own party has accepted very recently, this is not a devolved issue and is to be dealt with by this Parliament and the UK as a whole. It is a decision that we have taken as a country collectively.
I am grateful to the Minister for that last clarification. We may be seeking consensus, but it will almost certainly not be forthcoming from those on the Scottish National Benches. Will the Minister confirm that there is no escape from doing this via article 50, to which we are bound by treaty, and whatever other parliamentary processes then come behind it? We have to meet our treaty obligations through invoking article 50, which is the instruction of the British people. Will he ensure that that is put in place as soon as we have our negotiating hand in place?
I agree with my hon. Friend on both those points: consensus is always desirable and to be sought wherever possible, and article 50 is the route for achieving Brexit. He is also right to point out that it is only the tip of a much larger iceberg; there are a whole series of other things that have to wrap around it. We have heard some of those mentioned already during this urgent question, and I suspect that we will hear more of them in due course.
Is it not the case that referendums are advisory and that this Parliament is sovereign? Is it not a constitutional outrage and supreme irony that those on the Conservative Benches who based their argument for Brexit on parliamentary sovereignty now want to deny this House a vote and are suggesting that an unelected Prime Minister, with no mandate, agrees to such a fundamental decision for this country? That is a disgrace, and they must not be allowed to get away with it.
With the greatest possible respect to the right hon. Gentleman, who is extremely experienced, he may be right on strict constitutional legalities but democratically he is fundamentally wrong. We have had a referendum, the people have spoken and it would be unconscionable—it would be impossible—for us collectively to turn around and thumb our noses at the British people and ignore that democratic verdict.
May I point out that it would be extremely odd, for the first time in this Parliament’s history, to start taking instructions on how to conduct our decision making from the administrative court, as seems to be implied by the case before it? Were legislative consent actually required for the exercise of article 50, that legislative consent was effectively given when we passed the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which established the referendum and put the question before the British people.
I will endeavour to tread carefully because, as I have mentioned, there are cases either in train or planned. I think that the fundamental political and democratic point must be this: the people have spoken, and whichever side of the argument Members of this House or those out in the rest of the country were on, it is now up to all of us to come together, to unite as a country and to make sure that we respect the democratic decision and the democratic will that have been clearly expressed.
The Minister is an honest man, and therefore when he says, “Brexit means Brexit”, he knows that there are as many versions of Brexit as there are Members on the Government Benches. He needs to reaffirm parliamentary sovereignty and ensure that Parliament can vote on the Government’s negotiating stance, for instance on the vexed and dangerous question of what happens at the Irish border.
As I said in my opening response to the urgent question, I am sure that there will be many opportunities, on many different occasions, for Members in this Chamber to discuss and debate all sorts of different issues, including the one that the right hon. Gentleman has just mentioned and many others. This negotiation will be an ongoing process, not a single event, and therefore he is absolutely right that there will be many opportunities where specific issues will become salient, where people in this Chamber will have very strong views and where people in devolved Governments will have very strong views. Those views need to be heard and aired throughout the process.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is just the slightest chance that over the next few weeks we may be capable of generating more heat than light on this subject? It is not Parliament that will be negotiating with the European Union as we come out of it; it is the Government. Will he ask our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to ensure that, while Parliament must be kept informed and may express its view, it will be for Ministers and for the Prime Minister, essentially, to carry out these negotiations once article 50 has been triggered? Parliament should not hamper the negotiating stance—[Hon. Members: “Hamper?”] I think somebody wants their lunch. Parliament should not constrain the negotiating tactics of any Minister.
My right hon. and learned Friend gets the parliamentary award for optimism for saying that there is only the “slightest chance” that we might generate more heat than light on the matter over the next few weeks. He is absolutely right to say that this is something that Ministers need to take forward but, as I said earlier, I am absolutely certain that the Government, the Opposition, the Backbench Business Committee and others will take many different opportunities to make sure that Parliament’s views are forcefully expressed and the issues are debated as we go.
The Minister will know that the triggering of article 50 will have profound consequences for the 3 million EU citizens who are living in the United Kingdom. Has the Minister for Europe, who is sitting next to him on the Treasury Bench, had any representations from other EU countries about the position of their nationals here? If not, will we be able to have clarity on whether they have the right to remain? At the moment, Ministers are saying different things about these rights, and we need that certainty before any triggering of article 50.
The point, of course, is that there will be ongoing discussions about this and many other issues. The question of when those discussions might bear fruit, particularly given the fact that there have been some concerns about informal negotiations being inappropriate, is something that will have to be resolved.
At this stage, I give the right hon. Gentleman the same reply that I have given to others: we must ensure that we have a programme, which will be laid out by the new Prime Minister as soon as she is in place. I hope she will be able to give him more detail and clarity on that point as well as many others that will be involved in the negotiations.
In terms of the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament, is it not true that that sovereignty is delegated by the British people, not given to us by divine right? It is absurd to think of the sovereignty of Parliament as being by divine right as it is the divine right of kings. The British people have spoken and given us a mandate, and that mandate must be fulfilled, but the details of that mandate will no doubt be implemented by legislation.
I defer to my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour on the legality of where sovereignty begins and ends, and where it is delegated from and to. The fundamental point that is clear from his remarks—and, I hope, from my previous remarks—is that the people have spoken, we are now honour bound to deliver on that democratic decision, and we should not try to resile or step back from it in any way.
I expect that the Minister also defers to his hon. Friend on the matter of knowledge of kings.
Will the Minister consider the proposal put forward today by 1,000 lawyers of establishing of a royal commission or independent body to receive evidence from a wide range of groups, particularly about the risks and benefits of triggering article 50 at various times? Will he ensure that such a body will be able to report before Parliament votes?
I think that I am not being over-cynical if I wonder whether a proposal by 1,000 lawyers for a commission to deliberate at length might be a delaying tactic. The concern will be not to tie the hands of the incoming Prime Minister or her negotiating team in how we approach this matter. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) rightly pointed out, we must ensure that whatever we do and however we handle this, we aim to get the best deal possible for this country with not just other European member states, but other countries in the world.
Quite a bit of controversy is already breaking out and we have scarcely started this debate. The Minister has been doing a great job with his outpouring of common sense on a heap of these questions. Will he confirm that all common sense points to not triggering article 50 until it is in the UK’s national interest to do so, as the Treasury Committee has reported, and as the Governor of the Bank of England and many people who have been closely involved with these issues have concluded?
I am happy to confirm that this is not a question of “if” we leave the EU but “how”, so the calculation that we—particularly the new Prime Minister and her team—need to make is about the best way to structure and time negotiations to maximise our leverage. I am sure that the incoming Prime Minister will have read the Committee’s report with great care, as have we all, and will take those factors into consideration.
At the beginning of his first answer, the Minister said that this was not just a legal matter, but a political matter, so I cannot understand for the life of me why the Government are challenging the legal case. Surely sending in lawyers is just a complete waste of money—whether it is 10 lawyers or 1,000, it does not matter. Why are the Government wasting money on trying to assert that this is just a matter of royal prerogative, rather than accepting the political fact that while, yes, Brexit is Brexit—that may be the case—the Minister is far more likely to get a good deal from other European countries if he has managed to bind both sides of this House and both Houses of Parliament into a strong negotiating position?
I had thought, and hoped, that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley was speaking for more Labour Members and that we would be able to achieve a degree of cross-party consensus. It would be helpful to have country-wide unanimity on this issue, so I am sad that there does not seem to be such unanimity on the Opposition Benches. The Attorney General, who is sitting next to me, is convinced that the Government’s case is strongly arguable, and that is why we are taking this case to court.
We are in the strange situation that last week the result of the referendum was so catastrophic for Labour that its Members passed a motion of no confidence in their leader, but today that result is neither here nor there, as we can just proceed and keep ourselves in the EU because of parliamentary democracy. Perhaps Labour Members will make their minds up soon. Does not what we have heard today emphasise the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox)—[Interruption.]
Order. I want to hear the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]. Order. I do not care whether other people do; we are going to hear the hon. Gentleman. It is as simple as that. I do not care how long it takes.
Does not what we have heard today show that what my right hon. Friend said was true and that the purpose of these devices is not to help the Government to implement the will of the public, but to ask for the right to try to prevent it from being implemented? If the Government do not implement it because Labour frustrates the process, Labour will be wiped out in the north of England in a future general election. Labour Members might be hellbent on self-destruction, but may I ask the Minister to save the Labour party and implement Brexit in full?
There are many reasons to implement Brexit in full, but that is the first time anyone has urged me to do it to save the Labour party. I am particularly delighted to hear that coming from my hon. Friend. I agree that there will be a nagging concern in some people’s minds—unworthy though it might be—that some of these proposals to delay the decision or subject it to intricate parliamentary procedures might be aimed at frustrating the democratically expressed will of the people, which of course would be democratically entirely wrong.
I supported remain—I have no regrets and make no apology—but is it not absolutely essential that the majority decision, taken rightly or wrongly, is respected, because otherwise it makes a complete mockery of democracy?
That was beautifully and eloquently expressed. We are all, I hope, democrats first and foremost, and whichever side of the referendum debate we were on, we in this House and those more broadly across the country have to respect the democratically expressed will of the British people.
I am glad to see the Attorney General in his place on the Treasury Bench. Does the Minister agree with these propositions put forward by Sir Paul Jenkins, QC, the former head of the Government Legal Service, and many others: first, that article 50 is the only lawful route for exiting the EU; secondly, that that is a matter for the royal prerogative; and, thirdly, that the European Union Referendum Act 2015 is not, of itself, adequate in law to constitute notice under article 50? Finally, does he agree that to repeal unilaterally the European Communities Act 1972 other than through the article 50 process would be a breach of a treaty obligation, which is something that no Government have committed in 300 years and would be wholly unconscionable?
My hon. Friend asks four questions, and the answer to the first three is a straightforward yes. The only gloss I would add to his fourth question about how we might either amend or repeal not just the European Communities Act, but any other measures that need to be amended as a result of Brexit, is that that will inevitably require primary legislation, which of course will be brought forward when the time is right.
The Minister referred to discussions with the devolved regions. Will he outline what discussions have taken place with the Northern Ireland Executive, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Irish Government, given issues around the need there for free movement of goods, services and people, the loss of which would be detrimental to the whole economy of the island of Ireland?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. These are extremely ticklish and difficult discussions. I can confirm that discussions have begun, but I cannot, I am afraid, go into huge detail about how far they have got or what the future plans are. If she has any concerns or doubts about how those discussions might be progressing, I would encourage her to talk to me or the Northern Ireland Office because I am sure that we could set her mind at rest.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be positively contemptuous of the clearly expressed will of the British people were the Government to refuse to trigger article 50? What does he feel would be the response of the British people at the next general election to anyone who encouraged showing such contempt for their views?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point: it is essential for the health of democracy, as much as for the future direction of this country, that voters understand and believe that we here hold their opinions in high regard and feel morally bound to deliver on them. If we ignore their democratically expressed consent, we will face a much bigger problem than at present, because that would undermine the very foundations of the democratic consent that underpins this place. I cannot think of a more dangerous route for us to go down.
Is not the situation a bit more than ticklish? This is the biggest constitutional change for our country for half a century. Last week, Chilcot criticised the legal processes that led to the Iraq war, criticised the way in which prerogative power worked in the run-up to that war and, most importantly, criticised the fact that there was not a sufficient plan for after the invasion had been completed. On that basis, is the Minister really saying that we should not come back to Parliament so that individual Members can reach a view on whether we should trigger article 50?
I would draw a distinction in my reply between “whether” and “how”. We have been very clear, as has my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, that the destination is not in doubt: Brexit means Brexit, as I have said several times already. How we get there, however, is a matter for discussion. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend to lay out and I am sure that, once she is behind the door of No. 10, she will do so. At that stage, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have more detail about how those discussions and announcements might be made.
Switzerland had a referendum that showed it was determined to cap immigration, but because of protracted negotiations with the EU, the EU decided to start retaliatory measures, including the country’s removal from the Erasmus scheme. How long, therefore, does the Minister think we have after activating article 50 before the EU starts retaliatory measures on us?
My hon. Friend asks an extremely pertinent question. That will be one of the matters that the incoming Prime Minister and her negotiating team will factor into their decisions about the timing and order of play of the negotiations. I am afraid that I cannot offer my hon. Friend much more than that now, but the point he raises must be an important case study that will be front and centre of people’s consideration as the decisions are made.
The majority of my constituents still feel very angry. They feel that they were misinformed—that is putting it mildly—and therefore think that they need to know the facts. One of the facts pointed out to the Foreign Affairs Committee was that the Foreign Office will need to be doubled in size. Given that the autumn statement said that there would be drastic cuts in Whitehall, should we not have a new autumn statement to spell out the implications of Brexit to the British people?
It is clear that many things will change in the new world that we now face. The country’s trade orientation, foreign policy and so forth will all have to be readdressed and amended, just as many of our businesses will have to reassess how they do business. The right hon. Lady is absolutely right that some consequential changes might be needed, but I say again that I cannot prefigure anything that the incoming Prime Minister may be considering. Like me, the right hon. Lady will have to wait until announcements are made. I will take what she said as a potential submission to the new prime ministerial team, and perhaps it will consider her remarks in that light.
The Opposition spokesman talked about 170 free trade agreements that will need to be renegotiated, but my understanding is that there are about 167 independently recognised countries outside the EU. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) suggested that the Government might be something other than inclusive when discussing Brexit, yet about 34 million participants to date have given us a clear message. Does my hon. Friend agree that rather than spending our time on whether we invoke article 50 and whether we adhere to the mandate of the people, we should focus our efforts on securing a looser, collaborative relationship with our European neighbours and grabbing the opportunities from the rest of the world?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—the focus now must be on how we get this done in the best and most constructive way possible for our nation. There will be opportunities and great new horizons as a result of the decision. We need to make sure we are clear about them and that we are set up in the right way to grab those opportunities as they present themselves.
As things stand, Britain will have two years to withdraw from the European Union once it invokes article 50, but most analysts say that it will take much longer than two years for Britain successfully to extricate itself and have a new relationship. Have the Government therefore considered approaching member states about a possible extension to that period?
As I understand it, I think that any alteration to the article 50 process requires unanimity from other EU member states, which represents a pretty high bar for any Government. I am sure that that factor will be considered by the incoming Prime Minister and her negotiating team. I am also sure that they will want to consider many other options to maximise our negotiating leverage. As I have said, the hon. Gentleman and I will have to wait until the new Prime Minister is ready to announce precisely how she and her team wish to approach these issues.
The referendum has been a deeply divisive process that has divided city against town, community against community and nation against nation. Does the Minister agree that we now need a cross-party approach to deal with when to invoke article 50 and the basic negotiating position around that, and how we hold the negotiating team to account? Will he consider setting up a special parliamentary Committee to do both those jobs?
The current Prime Minister has said that he believes it is very important not just for the UK Government to contribute, but for the devolved Governments—and, wherever possible, other parties on a cross-party basis—to contribute so that we can, whenever possible, speak as a nation with one voice. The hon. Gentleman is right to say the referendum was a pretty divisive affair. It is not just political parties that need to knit together again; society needs to knit together again. I am not sure that I would necessarily share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for a parliamentary Committee as the solution to achieve that, but I share his conviction that a degree of healing is required, and that all of us on both sides of the House have a duty to ensure that our respective parties and the communities that we represent are able to come together for the good of the country.
More than 60% of my electorate voted to leave the European Union and I very much honour and respect their views. It is clear that the triggering of article 50 is unchartered waters for both this Government and the EU, so would it not make sense for the Government to be in open negotiation with their European counterparts to set out the parameters, process and areas of commonality, and then to come back to the House to announce the likely procedure so that we ensure that we have the very best deal for the people of Denton and Reddish and of the United Kingdom as we take forward the referendum result into reality?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that article 50 is uncharted waters. No one has done this before and we are, of necessity, having to address brand-new problems. I will take the rest of his remarks as a submission to the incoming Prime Minister and her negotiating team. He is absolutely right that whatever decisions they make, and whatever process and timetable they lay out, those will have to be founded on one central principle that I hope we can all sign up to: we need to maximise the negotiating position and negotiating strength of this country as a whole to get the best deal possible.
The Minister cannot say what “Brexit means Brexit” really means, so is it not vital that, given we have no idea what the terms of exit will be, this is properly scrutinised and voted on by democratically elected Members of this House?
I think I addressed that in my initial remarks, but I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunities over a long period for Parliament to discuss many facets of the negotiations, and that the hon. Lady and many others will have a chance to make their views known. As for any decisions that might be made, I, like everyone else, will have to wait for the new Prime Minister to lay out her programme and timetable. I am sure that all will be clear at that point, and that we shall be able to address any decision points that may be offered.
Most of my constituents in both Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan voted to remain. Although they are concerned about the result, they would be even more concerned to think that Parliament would have anything less than a full say in this process, not least because many Executive and legislative competences are also devolved to the National Assembly. Will the Minister explain what specific role he expects Welsh Government Ministers and the Assembly itself to have in deciding the final proposal that is put before us?
As I said earlier to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and, I think, to the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), discussions are already under way. We are endeavouring to involve everyone and to seek consensus whenever possible but, ultimately, foreign policy is reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament. While we want to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute, and that, as far as possible, there is a collective view so that we understand what are the best opportunities for the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, at the end of the day the matter must come back to the United Kingdom Government and Parliament.
Brexit means Brexit, but there is no agreed definition of what “Brexit” means, apart from the fact that it involves parliamentary sovereignty. Is the Minister seriously proposing that we should undergo such a momentous seismic change as Brexit without its having been defined to the British people before the referendum, or decided on by Parliament after it?
The hon. Lady is right: the details will become a great deal clearer as the negotiation goes through. We will all discover more about the various facets of how Brexit will affect different parts of our lives as the negotiations near completion. However, I must repeat what I have said several times already: we shall not be able to say how Parliament will engage with that until the new Prime Minister has had a chance to lay out her timetable for the negotiations, whereupon it will be possible to assess when opportunities for debate and discussion will occur.
This was not the question that I was going to ask, but given the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), I want to press him on the extent to which devolved institutions will be consulted. Much of the work of some Departments is devolved—food and farming, for example—yet in terms of the European Union, this will be a UK Government negotiating position, and that really does need to be resolved.
The hon. Lady gives a good illustration of instances in which it will be important to ensure that the constituent parts of the United Kingdom are closely involved so that their views can be factored in, whether the issue in question is devolved or non-devolved. There will be plenty of occasions when views will need to be fed back very carefully to inform the discussions and the negotiating team that is undertaking them.