With permission, Mr Speaker, I will now make a statement on the Government’s response to today’s judgment by the Supreme Court.
This Government are determined to deliver on the decision taken by the people of the UK in the referendum granted to them by this House to leave the EU, so we will move swiftly to do just that. I can announce today that we will shortly introduce legislation allowing the Government to move ahead with invoking article 50, which starts the formal process of withdrawing from the EU.
We received the lengthy 96-page judgment just a few hours ago, and Government lawyers are assessing it carefully, but this will be a straightforward Bill. It is not about whether or not the UK should leave the EU. That decision has already been made by the people of the UK. We will work with colleagues in both Houses to ensure that this Bill is passed in good time for us to invoke article 50 by the end of March this year, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out. That timetable has already been supported by this House.
Let me go through the issues step by step. The Government’s priority following the European Union referendum has been to respect the outcome and to ensure it is delivered in the interests of the whole country. This House voted by six to one to put the decision in the hands of voters, and that Bill passed in the other place unopposed. So there can be no going back: the point of no return was passed on 23 June last year. The Government have always been clear that we must leave by following the process set out in article 50 of the treaty on European Union. People want and expect us to get on with implementing the decision that was made.
Let me now turn specifically to the process for invoking article 50 and the issues that arise from today’s Supreme Court judgment. The Government’s view, which we argued in both the High Court and subsequently the Supreme Court, was that it was constitutionally proper and lawful for the Government to begin to give effect to the decision of the people by the use of prerogative powers to invoke article 50. Today, the Supreme Court has agreed with the High Court’s judgment that the prerogative power alone is insufficient to give notice under article 50, and that legislation is required to provide the necessary authorisation for this step.
In addition, the Supreme Court considered the roles of the devolved legislatures in the process of triggering article 50. On this, the Supreme Court ruled—and I quote from the summary:
“Relations with the EU and other foreign affairs matters are reserved to UK Government and parliament, not to the devolved institutions.”
The summary goes on to say:
“The devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU.”
I will come back to our collaboration with the devolved Administrations later in this statement.
The Government have been giving careful thought to the steps that we would need to take in the event of the Supreme Court upholding the High Court’s view. First, let me be clear that we believe in and value the independence of our judiciary, the foundation on which the rule of law is built. So, of course, it goes without saying that we will respect the judgment. Secondly, as I have already made clear, the judgment does not change the fact that the UK will be leaving the European Union, and it is our job to deliver on the instruction that the people of the UK have given us.
Thirdly, we will within days introduce legislation to give the Government the legal power to trigger article 50 and begin the formal process of withdrawal. It will be separate from the great repeal Bill that will be introduced later this year to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. It will be the most straightforward Bill possible to give effect to the decision of the people and respect the Supreme Court’s judgment. The purpose of the Bill is simply to give the Government the power to invoke article 50 and begin the process of leaving the European Union. That is what the British people voted for, and it is what they would expect. Parliament will rightly scrutinise and debate this Bill, but I trust that no one will seek to make it a vehicle for attempts to thwart the will of the people or to frustrate or delay the process of our exit from the European Union.
Fourthly, our timetable for invoking article 50 by the end of March still stands. That timetable has given valuable certainty to citizens and businesses in the UK and across Europe. It is understood by our European partners, and provides a framework for planning the negotiation ahead. This House itself backed the timetable by a majority of 373 in December, so we look forward to working closely with colleagues in Parliament to ensure that the legislation on article 50 is passed in good time to allow us to invoke it by the end of March, as planned.
The Government’s fifth and final principle for responding to this judgment is to continue to ensure that we deliver an exit that is in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court has ruled clearly in the Government’s favour on the roles of the devolved legislatures in invoking article 50. But while that provides welcome clarity, it in no way diminishes our commitment to work closely with the people and Administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as we move forward with our withdrawal from the European Union.
Let me conclude with a word on what today’s judgment means for the UK and the nature of our democracy. I know that this case, on an issue of such importance that arouses strong views on all sides, has not been without controversy, but the Court was asked a question, a proper, thorough and independent process was gone through, and it has given its answer in law. We are a law-abiding nation; indeed, the UK is known the world over for the strength and independence of its judicial system. We will build on this and our many other strengths as we leave the European Union. We will once again be a fully independent, sovereign country, free to make our own decisions.
The Prime Minister has already set out a comprehensive plan, including our core negotiating objectives. She has been clear that we want a new, positive and constructive partnership for the UK and the EU—a partnership that will be good for the UK and for the rest of Europe.
Today, we are taking the necessary step to respect the Supreme Court’s decision by announcing a Bill. It will be up to this Parliament to respect the decision that it entrusted to the people of the United Kingdom—a decision that the people took on 23 June. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. This is a good day for parliamentary sovereignty, as the Supreme Court has ruled that we shall have a say in this House on article 50. Given the issues that are involved, that is quite right and the Prime Minister was wrong to have attempted to sideline Parliament in this process. This Bill is to be introduced only because the Prime Minister has been ordered to do so. I hope that, in the aftermath, there will not be the attacks on our judges that there were when the High Court gave its ruling. It is the duty of all of us to defend them if there are such attacks, and to do so quickly. I hope that the Secretary of State will join me in that endeavour.
The question now moves on to the proper role of Parliament. The Supreme Court said nothing about the particular form of legislation. On issues as important as this, it would be wrong for the Government to try to minimise the role of Parliament, or to seek to avoid amendments. I ask the Secretary of State to confirm that he will not take that approach.
This is a question of substance, not of process. Last week, the Prime Minister committed herself to swapping the known benefits of single market membership and the customs union for the hoped-for benefits of a free trade agreement, with a fall-back position of breaking our economic model. That is high risk, and there are big gaps, inconsistencies and unanswered questions in her approach.
If the Prime Minister fails in her endeavour, the cost will be borne by families and working people and communities throughout the UK. The stakes are high, and the role of this House in holding the Prime Minister and the Government to account throughout the process is crucial.
Labour accepts and respects the referendum result, and will not frustrate the process, but we will be seeking to lay amendments to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability throughout the process. That starts with a White Paper or plan—a speech is not a White Paper or plan. We need something on which to hold the Government to account throughout the process. We cannot have a speech as the only basis for accountability for two years or more. That is the first step. There needs to be a reporting-back procedure and a meaningful vote at the end of the exercise. The Government should welcome such scrutiny, and not try to resist it, because the end result will be better if scrutinised than it would otherwise be. I hope that the Secretary of State will confirm that he will not seek to minimise scrutiny and accountability.
I will leave it to others to talk about the devolved Administrations, but whatever the Court ruled it is important that those interests are taken properly into account.
I end with this: what a waste of time and money. The High Court decision was 82 days ago. The Prime Minister could have accepted then the need to introduce a Bill, and we could have debated the issues. I would like the Secretary of State to lay out what the cost to the taxpayer has been of this appeal.
Let me say this to the hon. and learned Gentleman: the Prime Minister was not aiming to sideline democracy—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. The House is in an understandably excited and excitable state. What I want to say to colleagues is that they do not need to look into the crystal ball when they can read the book. Members should know by now that I always want to facilitate the fullest possible questioning and scrutiny, and it is right that that should happen, but it is also right that, when the Secretary of State is responding to questions, he is given a fair and courteous hearing.
The Prime Minister was aiming to carry out the will of the people—all 17.4 million of them—in the national interest. That was what she was doing. Let me pick up on the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman quite properly raised: the issue of our judges. I think that I mentioned at length three times in my statement that this is a nation of the rule of law, a nation to which the independence of the judiciary is important, and a nation that is watched by other countries as an example for themselves. Of all the people he could criticise, I do not think that I am at the front on this issue.
Similarly, on the parliamentary process, there has been an interesting litany through this whole process over the past six or seven months. Every time I get up, I say that I will give the House as much information as possible subject to not undermining the national interest or our negotiating position. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do—not just through this Bill, but through the great repeal Bill, subsequent primary and secondary legislation, and the final vote at the end, which we have promised.
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned membership of the single market, putting to one side of course that that membership means giving up control of borders, laws and rules, on all of which the Labour party is singularly incapable of even making a decision let alone coming up with a policy. He also talked about a plan. Last week, the Prime Minister gave a 6,500-word, closely argued speech that has been recognised across the country and around Europe as the epitome of clarity with clear objectives, aims and ambitions for this country, so I do not take that point at all.
On scrutiny more generally, we have now had, I think, five statements, 10 debates, and some 30 different Select Committee inquiries. I hardly think that all that in six months represents an absence of scrutiny of a central Government policy. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not often surprise me, but for the ex-Director of Public Prosecutions to say that taking a matter to the Supreme Court is a waste of time strikes me as quite extraordinary. I have made this point several times over the past few months: once the process has started, a reason for taking it the full distance is to get the most authoritative and clearest possible guidance on a major part of our constitution. Yet again, the hon. and learned Gentleman has not advanced the knowledge of the House very much, but I look forward to the contributions of other Members.
Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to note that my recently published memoirs are cited with approval in paragraph 195 of the judgment? Does he share my surprise that that is a minority dissenting judgment?
More seriously, does my right hon. Friend accept that parliamentary sovereignty has always meant that Governments of the day pursue broad policy objectives in the national interest and quite willingly submit them to the judgment of the House, through both debates and votes, and that they proceed with broad policy objectives only when they have the support of a majority in the House of Commons? Will he give me the Government’s assurance that the Bill will be drafted on the basis that it improves opportunities for Parliament to give or withhold its consent to major policy objectives and that the Government will pursue that approach in future years? Having one vote right at the end of the process, when the House will be told that it either takes the deal that the Government have or goes into the alternative chaos of having no agreements with the EU or anybody else, is not a good substitute for the normal tradition of Parliament consenting to the policy aims of the Government of the day.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I have been skirmishing over this issue for, I think, some 30 years, always with good humour, and I hope to respond to him in the same vein today. He repeated on television earlier today that characterisation of what the Government are proposing, so let us look at it. As I said, we have already had 10 debates and vast numbers of other arguments, but this is what is going to happen: first, we will have a Bill to authorise the triggering of article 50; then we will have a great repeal Bill whereby we go through the entire corpus of European law as it applies to the United Kingdom, which I should think will go on for a considerable amount of time; and then we will have primary legislation on major policy changes and secondary legislation, all put before both Houses. There will not be just one vote. At the end of the process, we will have the vote that eventually decides whether or not the House supports the policy we propose. Let me make it plain: that policy will be aimed solely at advancing the interest of the United Kingdom—getting the best possible negotiated outcome that we can achieve, having taken on board the informing debate of this House of Commons throughout the entire two years running up to it.
First, I welcome the judgment and anything that strengthens parliamentary scrutiny of this process. There was a time, back in the dim and distant past, when the Secretary of State was a great champion of parliamentary scrutiny, so I am sure that, deep down inside, he welcomes the judgment as well.
I wonder why the Government fear parliamentary scrutiny. Is it because they might be found out? Is it because we will find out that the emperor in these circumstances has no clothes? They talk of democracy, but I gently remind the Secretary of State that in Scotland at the general election, the Conservatives got their worst result since 1865. They have one MP.
We are told today that this is a political decision, and as a political decision on the role of the devolved Administrations I hope that this Parliament and this Government will continue not to legislate on areas that are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament without its consent. Today’s judgment said that this process should enhance devolution. If that is the case, will the Secretary of State tell us today that no powers will be returned from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster during the course of this process, and will he seek consent from the Scottish Parliament before legislating in areas over which it has responsibility?
Again, I am surprised. I would have thought that, of all people, the Scottish National party attached great importance to the results of elections to the Scottish Parliament, in which last time the Scottish Conservative party came second under the estimable Ruth Davidson.
To the main point of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I want to make two responses. First, the process we have gone through with all the devolved Administrations—the joint ministerial process—has been going on for some months now, and at the very last monthly meeting we had a presentation from Mike Russell, the Scottish Government Minister, on the Scottish Government’s proposals. We disagreed with some and agreed with some absolutely—for example on the protection of employment law—and some we will debate in the coming weeks and months, most particularly on the point the hon. Gentleman raised: the question of devolution and devolved powers.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I am a devolutionist. I can say to him firmly that no powers existing in the devolved Administrations will come back, but there will be powers coming from the European Union and we will have to decide where they most properly land, whether that is Westminster, Holyrood or wherever. The real issue there is the practical interests of all the nations of the United Kingdom—for example, preserving the single market of the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom’s ability to do international deals. There is a series of matters that are just as important to the ordinary Scot as they are to the ordinary English, Welsh or Northern Irish citizen, and that is what we will protect.
The very fact that this was a split judgment shows that our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was absolutely right to take the case all the way to get a full decision. I ask the Secretary of State to resist our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and not to overcomplicate this matter. After all, the question is: should the Government trigger article 50? I urge the Secretary of State, when he brings the Bill to Parliament, to keep it short, to keep it simple and, most of all, to keep it swift?
Well, we will certainly keep it straightforward. My right hon. Friend is right: this was—is—a unique circumstance in many ways. It is unique in terms of the importance to the United Kingdom, but also unique in the fact that it is carrying out the will of 17.5 million people who voted directly—something that has never happened before in our history—so it was important to take the matter to the Supreme Court to get the full judgment. I give him this undertaking: I will do everything in my power to make sure that the measure goes through swiftly, and that while it is properly scrutinised, it is a simple and straightforward Bill that delivers the triggering of article 50 by 31 March.
Having argued in court that Parliament should not decide on the triggering of article 50 and lost, will the Secretary of State accept the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union—and in the process agree with himself before he got his present job—and now publish a White Paper on the Government’s objectives so that they can be considered alongside the legislation that he has just announced? If the Government do not do so, they will be showing a lack of respect for this House of Commons.
I do not often disagree with myself, but let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman: the speech given last week by the Prime Minister was the clearest exposition of a negotiating strategy that I have heard in modern times. It laid out clearly what we judge the national interest to be and how we intend to protect it, what we want to do, and what we hope does not happen and how we will avoid that. I do not see that this Government have avoided answering any question, whether from his Committee or from Opposition Front Benchers. The only questions that we have been unable to answer are those that it would be to the disadvantage of the country to answer, because that would undermine our negotiating strategy.
Let me give the right hon. Gentleman one example. A couple of weeks ago, my opponent, as it were, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), said on Channel 4, “What we want to know is whether the Government will pay for access to the single market and how much they’ll pay.” If anything would undermine the negotiating position, that would. It is precisely that sort of thing that we are going to avoid. We will continue to give information to the House. I gave the Brexit Committee an undertaking that we will give at least as much information as will go to the European Parliament—indeed more, I think. We will continue to keep the House informed throughout the entire process, which is not going to be over in a few weeks—it will last two years—and the House will be as well informed as it has been on any matter of such importance.
The Supreme Court this morning ruled that the form of the Bill is
“entirely a matter for Parliament.”
The judgment also indicated that the issues before the Supreme Court have nothing to do with the
“political…merits of the decision to withdraw, the timetable and terms of so doing, or…any future relationship between the UK and the EU.”
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in relation to any potential amendments, the Bill itself will be short and tightly drawn to give effect exclusively to the Supreme Court decision?
The short answer is yes. My hon. Friend cites paragraph 122 of the decision and the Court’s commentary. The purpose of the Bill is to meet the requirements of the Supreme Court to deliver the instruction from the nation at large and to do so in the national interest. That entails a straightforward, easily comprehensible Bill so that the country at large can see what Parliament is doing and what decision it is visiting on the Government.
I agree with the Secretary of State that Parliament must respect the result of the referendum, but I hope that he agrees that the Government do not have a blank cheque from either Parliament or the public on what kind of Brexit they now pursue. He says that there will be votes in the process. Given that the Government have said they are ruling out being in the customs union, the common external tariff and the common commercial policy, and that, as he knows, there are strongly held views on different sides about the impact that that will have on our manufacturing industry, which will be crucial to our future, can the right hon. Gentleman say when he will give Parliament a vote on that decision?
I would say a couple of things to the right hon. Lady. First, we are asked on the one hand to tell the House what our plan is, and then we are told, “Oh, but we don’t like that, so we want a debate or a White Paper”—[Interruption.] No, it is fine; I perfectly understand the argument. The simple truth is that there will be any number of votes—too many to count—in the next two years across a whole range of issues. For example, I can see the sort of issue she is raising coming up in the great repeal Bill, in subsequent primary legislation, and perhaps even in subsequent major secondary legislation as well. I am quite sure there will be a number of votes on that subject in the next two years.
If someone votes against sending the article 50 letter, are they not voting against restoring the very parliamentary sovereignty that they call in aid? Do not the British people want a proper Parliament, rather than a puppet Parliament answering to Brussels, and does that not require sending the letter soon?
What it requires is leaving the European Union, and that is what we are going to do.
Does the Secretary of State accept my view that the public want us to get on with this and actually carry out what they voted for? Does he also accept that while they will not look lightly on amendments that are tabled, particularly by parties that actually want another referendum, to delay things unnecessarily, they do perhaps want amendments that clarify the situation and make us all more aware of the Government’s intentions?
The hon. Lady, as ever, goes right to the heart of the matter. The public will not view well attempts to thwart, delay or confuse this process. They will view well attempts to elucidate what is going on, to promote the national interest, to help the negotiating position and so on, and that is entirely what the Government are going to do.
There is a genuine desire, I believe, for people to come together, to support the Government, to build a consensus and to get the best deal possible. The reality is that we have abandoned the single market and the free movement of people without any debate in this place, never mind a vote.
We had a referendum.
Well, there was one question on the paper: leave or remain. We are leaving the European Union—that is accepted.
I take my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as a man of his word. When I voted for the two-part motion in December, I did not agree with triggering article 50 at the end of March, but I voted for the motion in the spirit that we would have a plan—I would like a White Paper—that we could debate. That would bring us together. What does my right hon. Friend have to lose by having a debate on a White Paper?
Let me say this to my right hon. Friend, who passionately holds a well-formed view on these matters. First, in terms of bringing people together, a large part of the Prime Minister’s speech was aimed at creating a sense of this country that everybody can get behind, ranging from the protection of employment rights through to our role in the world, all of which is very important. Secondly, the Prime Minister laid out an incredibly clear future and a future approach for us, so I think that she did everything one could ask of a Prime Minister to deliver on our undertakings.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) talks about things that were not on the ballot paper. What was on the ballot paper was leaving the European Union. I am afraid that it is very difficult to see how we can leave the European Union and still stay inside the single market, with all the commitments that go with that. What we have come up with—I hope to persuade her that this is a very worthwhile aim—is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have, but also enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade to go and form trade deals with the rest of the world, which is the real upside of leaving the European Union.
Last week in her speech, the Prime Minister said:
“the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force.”
The article 50 negotiation is not the final deal—the final deal is the future trading agreement between the UK and the EU—so can the Secretary of State confirm that Parliament will get a vote on both the article 50 agreement and, as the Prime Minister said, the final deal? What will happen if Parliament says no to the terms of either of those agreements?
The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s overall question is yes—we are standing by both those votes and we will continue to do so. But I reiterate again that the point is that they will not be the only votes; there will be a large number of other votes in between. Labour Members can ignore it till the cows come home, but the simple truth is that they are going to have many, many, many votes on many different policy areas after extensive debate on primary legislation. So the answer is that Parliament will have a great influence on this process, and it will have the final say. That is democracy in action.
Further to that last reply, my right hon. Friend has given us admirable clarity on article 50 and the timetable. Could he give us a little more information on his current thoughts about the timetable for the great repeal Bill?
That Bill will be in the Queen’s Speech, it will be presented to the House very soon thereafter and I expect it to be debated extensively. I think that it will be the centrepiece and the start of a major debate about the nature of this country and the future, so it is important to get it in front of the House very early.
The final vote offered by the Government on the negotiated package will not be meaningful unless they also guarantee that, if there is a vote against the withdrawal treaty, we will have an option to continue talks with the EU for a better deal, rather than simply falling out with no deal at all. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that we will have that vote in time for such further discussion to happen?
That is of a piece with those arguments that say that we want to have a second referendum so that we can revisit this. What it does is to give a prize to somebody who is trying to put up the worst possible negotiation for us. There are plenty of members of the European Union that want to force us into changing our mind and going back inside, and we do not want to do anything that allows or encourages that to happen. The hon. Lady is not right to say that the vote is meaningless; for a start, the Select Committee and the Opposition both asked for it. In addition, it will be—I repeat this again—the last of many, many, many votes and debates on major legislation.
Hard Brexit means saying that one is going to leave the European Union and actually doing it. Soft Brexit means saying that one is going to leave the European Union and remaining in all but name. Which course do the Government intend to follow?
In his younger days, my right hon. Friend was an expert in Soviet propaganda. I am afraid that I view “hard Brexit” and “soft Brexit” as terms of propaganda.
Can the Secretary of State guarantee that this House will have the ability to scrutinise and vote on the agreement between the UK and the EU27 at the same time as that agreement is put before the European Parliament?
I repeat again that the House will have that opportunity over and over and over again, on a whole series of primary legislation and secondary legislation and, finally, with the vote itself. I have not given a great deal of thought to how the timing of that will coincide with the European Parliament, but I will do so and write to the hon. Lady.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that in the course of the court case the Government laid great stress on the irrevocability, in their opinion, of article 50. In those circumstances, I am sure he can understand that the problem facing the House is that in triggering article 50, that irrevocability has to be matched against the excellent words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in setting out a plan that envisages a future relationship with the European Union from outside of it. Will he therefore keep in mind that the debate on article 50 is likely to be greatly facilitated if the ideas expressed by the Prime Minister are put into a White Paper, or similar document, to which reference can be made in the triggering of article 50, without fettering the Government’s discretion in their negotiations thereafter, because ultimately, as he may agree, this comes down to an issue of trust? If the Government can build that trust, they will greatly facilitate their task, and, if I may say so, those such as myself who wish to help them in what they are trying to achieve.
My right hon. and learned Friend—my old friend—tempts me down a certain route, but I will answer him in these terms. In the case, the argument put by the Government did not depend on the irrevocability or otherwise of the legal issue in front of us; it depended on the fact that we view the irrevocable moment as being 23 June last year, and that it is not in the gift of the Government to change their mind, so we have already passed the point of no return. In terms of information, I have said over and over again that I will provide what information I can, and as much information as I can, without undermining our negotiating position, and I will continue to do so throughout the article 50 process and beyond.
We all know that negotiations are two-way processes, and we accept that our European partners may not be able to agree on anything until the German and French elections are out of the way. In the meantime, however, there is a logic to why article 50 should be triggered by the end of March. It has to do with a two-year process, so that by the time of the next European elections we will have completed the process. It is important to remind not just colleagues in this House but probably colleagues in the other House that there is a logic to an end of March date.
The right hon. Lady, as ever, gets to the point of the matter. There are many reasons for triggering by the end of March. There are the rather obvious ones: the public want us to get on with it, and that includes remainers as well as leavers in terms of the original vote. There are practical reasons of business uncertainty: the longer we spin this out, the more difficult it is for businesses and workers in terms of their own futures. She is also right that it fits very neatly, as a sort of sweet spot, into delivering an outcome that is in our interests within the European timetable. The House should understand that there are roughly 15 elections between now and the end of the process, and then there is the European parliamentary election, which, if we get too close to it, could compromise the vote at the end. There is a whole series of reasons why the end of March is incredibly important. It is not an arbitrary date—it is designed to uphold the strength of the negotiations, so she is right on the nail.
As one who campaigned to remain in the European Union, I welcome the decision of the Court today, which gives me the opportunity to say that I accept the result of the referendum and I will vote for the Bill triggering article 50. Let me also say, at the risk of repetition, that it would help still further the authority of the House, and the authority with which the Prime Minister goes into the negotiations, if the Secretary of State took on board the unanimous view of the Select Committee, and the view expressed by its Chairman and others, that the way in which the Prime Minister set out the plan, with her clarity of expression, is only enhanced, and that the work of the House, which is endorsed by the Supreme Court judgment, is equally enhanced by the publication of a White Paper, with the opportunity to debate and cover a number of things that the Bill cannot itself cover.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the tone of his very good question. The issue here is not information. I have said over and over again that I will provide as much information as is consistent with the House’s previous motions on this, while not undermining our negotiating position, and that is what we will do. We will provide as much information as possible, but people should bear in mind that the article 50 Bill is going to be presented quite quickly to the House, so we do not have a great deal of time either.
Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for transparency and openness, but a half-hour speech by the Prime Minister outside this House, with a couple of questions for the media, is no substitute for parliamentary scrutiny. Will the Secretary of State please take on board the views of Members in all parts of this House and bring forward a White Paper, which will unite this House in order to forge a way forward?
I have been at this Dispatch Box, on statements alone, five times in the past five months, and I am at great risk of boring the House. I will just repeat to the hon. Lady what I have said already: we will deliver the maximum possible information and the maximum possible debate.
This House should be grateful to both the Supreme Court and the High Court for asserting parliamentary sovereignty and allowing us to have a say on the article 50 process. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who has said that he will vote in favour of article 50—I will too. In the spirit of the question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who called for a swift passage of the Bill—I agree with him—does the Secretary of State agree that when the House voted for the motion in December, it was not just in relation to the 31 March deadline but in relation to the publication of a plan? I suggest to him that the passage of the Bill will be swifter if a White Paper is published and debates happen on that, too, and the article 50 process is separate.
I hear what my right hon. Friend says. I am becoming very boring in reiterating the same point—that we will provide as much information as we possibly can, subject to not undermining our position.
In 2014 in Scotland, we were told we were a powerhouse Parliament and an equal Parliament in the UK. We know from this morning that we are not the equal of Wallonia and Belgium, and we will not be consulted on Brexit. With the turbo-charged cowardice of the leader of the Labour party, it is clear that Scotland will now be taken out against our will. As the UK Government pursue Brexit, Scotland must take the opportunity of an independence referendum. Meantime, as the Scottish Parliament is not being consulted, will at least the views of Scottish Members of Parliament in this House be taken into account and respected?
My answer to the hon. Gentleman—another old friend—is, “Of course.” I have spent a very great deal of time speaking directly to the Scottish Government, and the Welsh Government and the Northern Irish Executive too. I consider it incredibly important that in this process we protect the interests of the people he represents—the people of Scotland—in this negotiation.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to giving as much information as he can to the House and its Committees. Given that, could he explain why the Government are not providing any evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the practical consequences of leaving the European Union after two years with no agreement in place—an outcome that is a distinct possibility, and one over which the Government cannot command the outcome? Surely it would be best for the country and for every single company in the land that will be affected by this to understand the consequences as clearly as possible, so that they can plan for it.
As I said, we will provide as much information as we can. However, this is a question of a negotiation, and we do not know where the end game will be. Even the rather stark example that my hon. Friend cites might have different aspects. He is presumably talking about the trade aspect, but there is also, for example, justice and home affairs. There are so many different things to assess that it would be, frankly, nothing more than an exercise in guesswork at this stage.
Today the Government have been humiliated in the Supreme Court. They have been taught a lesson about the real meaning of parliamentary sovereignty and taking back control. Will the Secretary of State now accept this verdict in the spirit, as well as the letter, of the ruling and finally concede that this House needs votes along the way, not simply debates without votes, and proper parliamentary scrutiny so that together, working across this House, we can bring the country to the best possible deal in the interests of all our areas up and down this country?
I will say two things. First, I really recommend that the hon. Lady reads the judgment, rather than trying to interpret it or put her own blush on it: read the detail of it. It is a very good judgment and a very sound judgment, as I said in my opening statement. As for giving continual votes and continuous information, I have been saying that all day today.
The Bill should be brief and the outcome simple; that is a point of principle. Is the Secretary of State aware that if the Opposition parties combine to constrain the Government’s negotiating hand—for instance by insisting on staying in the single market, which would mean effectively remaining in the EU—many of us believe that we should have an immediate general election and put the matter to the people? That might concentrate the minds of those in the Labour party.
My hon. Friend is asking me a question that is way above my pay grade, to say the least, and the person whose pay grade it is has left. The point I would make to my hon. Friend is this. I would hope that every Member of this House saw it as their duty to their constituents to deliver the best outcome. That is precisely what the Government’s strategy is—to deliver the best outcome for Britain in this negotiation.
I am pleased that the case that was presented to hand a veto to the Northern Ireland Assembly—a blatant attempt to overturn the result of the referendum—has failed. Could the Secretary of State tell us, now that the Northern Ireland Assembly has been collapsed by Sinn Féin, what arrangements there will be to have the issues that concern Northern Ireland raised prior to negotiations and during negotiations?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman’s first point, it is notable that while there was an 8:3 judgment on the rest of the issue, the Court was unanimous on not allowing the Northern Ireland Executive a veto. In terms of maintaining, not so much a relationship but an understanding of the issues that relate to Northern Ireland, last week when we had a Joint Ministerial Committee I wrote to the Northern Ireland Executive to ask them to continue to send Ministers to represent the interests of Northern Ireland. Although the First Minister and Deputy First Minister disappear, as it were, in the interim, Ministers stay in post, just as in any other Administration. Last week, they did turn up, and I will continue to extend an invitation to that end. If that does not work, we will find some other bilateral way to proceed. The hon. Gentleman must take it as read: I view it as near the top of my priorities, if not actually my top priority, to preserve the situation in Northern Ireland, to preserve the border in its current state without hardening it, and to preserve the interests of the Northern Irish people.
No Bill that goes through parliamentary scrutiny does not become, as a result, a better Act of Parliament. Could the Secretary of State announce when we will get a business statement, so that we know the timetable for the proposed Bill? I hope that we will have a day for Second Reading. I urge him to say that ample time will be given to the Committee stage, so that the House can properly scrutinise the Bill before it goes to the Lords.
On my hon. Friend’s last point, that would certainly be my intention. On the first point, there will be a business statement on Thursday anyway. Bear in mind that we are talking about a 96-page judgment. The point, as I have said before, of going right to the Supreme Court was to ensure that we got an authoritative, detailed final judgment on what we need to do and how we need to do it, and we need to study it carefully. That will take a little bit of time, but not very much, and we will come back to the House as soon as possible thereafter. It is entirely possible that Thursday’s business statement may cover that.
The Secretary of State keeps talking about certainty, but given the Prime Minister’s statement specifically on the customs union, my constituents working in the manufacturing supply chain have nothing but uncertainty about their jobs. So what exactly is wrong with the suggestion made by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) that the Government bring forward their policy on Brexit for a vote in this House?
The hon. Lady talks about certainty. A two-year negotiation is going to take place, and there is nothing we can or should do to collapse that. That means that there is a limit to the extent to which we can introduce certainty. By the way, I had not mentioned it until then in this discussion. There will be debate after debate. On article 50, there will be debate on the policy. On the great repeal Bill, there will be debate on the policy. In several subsequent pieces of primary legislation, there will be debate on the policy. There will be no shortage of debate or votes.
Any obligation placed on the Government’s negotiating position during the passage of the Bill may subsequently be subject to judicial review, with consequent delay. I hope that my right hon. Friend will judge the intentions that have been announced to amend the Bill in that light.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I view everybody with great charity and generosity, and I will continue to do so.
Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), when the Labour Government legislated for the Lisbon treaty, Parliament had 25 days, including 11 days in Committee of the whole House, to debate it. There are 66 days before 31 March. How many days is the Secretary of State planning to give us?
I will say two things. First, was it not the Lisbon treaty on which Labour promised a referendum, which we never got? Selling a false bill of goods is not a very good example to Parliaments around the world. This is article 50. This is the triggering process only —nothing more than the triggering process. There will be vast quantities of legislation—much more than on the Lisbon treaty—between now and the conclusion.
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that those who now wail parliamentary sovereignty mean the yoke of Brussels; when they say scrutiny, they mean delay; and when they say respect, they mean condescension? Does he agree with me that the British people have voted and we must legislate?
As ever, my hon. Friend speaks for England.
We are all trying to get the best deal for our constituents. That is why the Liberal Democrats will seek to amend the article 50 Bill to give people their first say on the terms of the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, and on Government plans to crash out of the single market and the customs union, inflicting huge damage on families and businesses up and down the country. Why do the Government not take this opportunity to boost their democratic credentials and simply agree to such a popular vote?
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to exercise his brain on this matter. The consequence of putting a second referendum at the end of the negotiation is to invite every single member of the European Union who does not want us to leave to propose the worst possible deal, in the hope that we will change our mind. We are not going to do that.
Today we uphold the rule of law by respecting the Supreme Court judgment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that both Houses of Parliament must now respect the result of the referendum by swiftly passing into law this necessary Act?
My hon. Friend is as right as ever.
The Secretary of State can see the phenomenal interest in the House in this issue, and he should not be afraid of scrutiny. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) asked how many days he would commit to proper scrutiny on the Floor of the House of all the issues surrounding article 50. Can he accept that this Bill is more important than the Bills on the Lisbon treaty and the Maastricht treaty, and that any attempt to curtail the opportunities for this House to scrutinise the issues would betray the Government’s fear of proper debate?
Let me say two things to the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that I have ever run away from scrutiny. I have spent more time at the Dispatch Box than any other Secretary of State in the last five months. In terms of what he says about the importance of the Bill, of course it is important, and indeed I want as much time as we can possibly get for it to be discussed; but that is a matter, as I said, for the usual channels to discuss.
Many people who see the Bill as incredibly important—perhaps more than it really is—are seeing it as some sort of point of no return. The point of no return was passed on 23 June last year. This is simply carrying out the instructions of the British people. We will do so under the full scrutiny of Parliament and under the authorisation of Parliament, and we will give time for that; but do not conflate that with the whole process of the negotiation. It will take much, much more time than was given to Lisbon, because that number of pieces of primary legislation will take more time.
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) talked about our democracy—in fact, he is the only representative of his political party in the Chamber—but would it be very undemocratic, in my right hon. Friend’s opinion, for him to go down to the House of Lords and encourage 120 unelected Members of the House of Lords to play ping-pong and mess about with the Bill? We must deliver what the British people have asked for.
I think the British public will be looking at both Houses and expecting them to do their democratic duty properly, which means not to thwart the Bill or delay it unnecessarily, but to undertake a proper process of scrutiny and then to deliver on the will of the people.
The Supreme Court has ruled very clearly today that the devolved legislatures do not have legislative competence and capacity in relation to the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. Therefore, it must follow logically that the procedure called EVEL, but known by its long title as English votes for English laws, should not be applicable when we come to the great repeal Bill. EVEL as a procedure is deeply divisive in this House, and it is demeaning to Members who represent Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Given that the Secretary of State has said—and I believe him—that every effort will be made by this Government to hold together the United Kingdom, it would be helpful if the Brexit Secretary clearly ruled out the use of EVEL on the great repeal Bill?
I cannot off the top of my head think of a circumstance in which EVEL would apply, but it might do so. The point I would make to the hon. Lady is that that rests on a ruling by the Speaker, not by a Secretary of State.
Will triggering article 50 be adequate to release us from other related treaty obligations under the 1972 Act, such as our membership of the European economic area?
That is a debatable matter of law. I think that that is the accurate answer. Subsequent matters may arise after the triggering of article 50, but if so we will come back to the House.
There is no reason why the Government should not get their Bill through all the proper stages in this House and in the other House by the end of March. When the business managers come knocking and say, “We should condense the processes and have several different stages on the same day”, may I urge the “old” Member who flourished for 20 years on the Back Benches to return and fight hard for this House, saying, “We will do the process properly”?
I will thank the hon. Gentleman not to refer to me as the “old Member”. I will of course ensure that there is proper scrutiny.
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has another birthday until December—I think his birthday is 23 December—so he has a long time to wait: nothing to worry about.
Today, British judges in the highest court in the land decided a point of historic constitutional importance that is unprecedented in law. It was right to seek the judgment of the Supreme Court to enable it to “discover” the law, as we lawyers euphemistically call it. Crucially, the Supreme Court recognised the limits of its constitutional powers when it left the form of that legislation to this Parliament. Is this not our constitution thriving in action, and does it not bode well for the future?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Her question goes to the point that I have made previously at the Dispatch Box which is that that is why we took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. By the way, it was not just about the role of the House of Commons on article 50; it was also, of course, about the role of the devolved Administrations, which had in any event to go to the Supreme Court.
Is the Secretary of State aware that many of us warmly congratulate the judges in the Supreme Court and the High Court on upholding parliamentary sovereignty, which the Government to a large extent tried to bypass in triggering article 50? The judges are not the enemies of the people but the defenders of parliamentary democracy.
If the hon. Gentleman goes back through this old Member’s extensive experience, I do not think he will find that I have ever referred to the judges as the enemies of the people—just the converse. It is occasionally embarrassing to me that I sometimes use them.
I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State. I also welcome paragraph 122 of the Supreme Court ruling, which narrows the scope of the rather opaque High Court ruling and allows us to pass a short, sharp Bill to trigger article 50. Does he agree that it is the responsibility of every democrat in both Houses to give effect to the will of the British people by passing the Bill without delay?
I agree with my hon. Friend. For my part, I will endeavour to make the Bill as straightforward and as comprehensible as possible. I say that not just for speed, but because the public will be watching us. The public will want to know what we are voting on and to be able to understand it, so nothing will be opaque. We will aim to present a straightforward, simple Bill that we will take through as fast as is consistent with proper scrutiny.
Paragraph 151 of the Supreme Court ruling says:
“The Sewel Convention has an important role in facilitating harmonious relationships between the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures.”
What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that there is a harmonious relationship? Does he agree with the ruling, and will he produce a White Paper, as the SNP has proposed, and actually write something down, which he did not do ahead of the EU referendum?
If I remember correctly, that section ends with the phrase, “nobody has a veto”—no devolved Administration has a veto. In terms of involving and looking after or trying to help assist the interests of the devolved Administrations and the people they represent, we have a whole process in place with the Joint Ministerial Committee, which does nothing but consider these matters. It considers the interests of the nations of the United Kingdom to ensure that none of their special interests, none of their special political situations and none of their special economic situations is harmed in any way.
There have been a couple of references to paragraph 122 of the Supreme Court judgment. It says:
“There is no equivalence between the constitutional importance of a statute…and its length or complexity.”
“A notice under article 50…could…be very short”.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a very important message for Opposition Members?
I take my hon. Friend’s point, and I will seek incisive brevity.
The Prime Minister said that
“no deal…is better than a bad deal”,
but ending up on World Trade Organisation rules could be the worst possible deal, hitting businesses and families hard. May I press the Secretary of State: will there be a vote in this House at the end of the trade negotiations—not just the article 50 process, but the trade negotiations—so that Parliament can decide what is in Britain’s national economic interest?
I will correct the hon. Lady slightly: there will not be a simple trade negotiation. The European Union pretty much always insists that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, so justice and home affairs, security matters and a whole series of other issues will be tied into it. But, yes, there will be a vote at the end of it. We have already agreed to that.
There has been a lot of talk by some Opposition Members of second referendums on article 50. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents, the majority of whom voted to leave, that he will categorically rule out any second referendum?
Yes is the answer. I am afraid I take the view that to suggest that somehow the British people did not know what they were doing the first time so must have a chance to get the answer right is, bluntly, patronising, undemocratic and improper. Rightly, that view is held by one of the smallest parties in this House. The answer is that I will not under any circumstances support a second referendum.
The Welsh Labour Government and Plaid Cymru, as the official Opposition, have come together in good faith to establish our Brexit aims, which were published yesterday as a White Paper. Why will the Secretary of State not do likewise?
I spoke to Carwyn Jones about that yesterday. I have not had a chance to read it in detail, but I know the headlines. He took me through them, and it struck me as a very constructive submission to the process. We will debate it at the next Joint Ministerial Committee.
“joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth”.
Does my right hon. Friend share my delight that those who were previously happy for sovereignty to be dispatched to Brussels now believe in the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament?
I warn my hon. Friend to be wary of biblical quotations. The last one I used was,
“Get thee behind me, Satan”,
and it rode with me for several weeks thereafter. However, he is right that this is a massive exercise in democracy, and we will make it so.
The Supreme Court’s judgment is welcome in that it establishes that the will of this House is sovereign and superior to the royal prerogative, but it is unwelcome in that it seeks to take back from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland powers that had been devolved to them. Will the Secretary of State promise that the special needs of Wales, which will be hit more severely by withdrawal from the single market than England, will be considered and that we will have not just a red, white and blue Brexit, but a red, white and green Brexit that meets the will and the needs of Wales?
I will say two things. First, I think that the hon. Gentleman misreads the judgment. It does not talk about taking back powers back from the devolved Administrations at all, as far as I can see. As I said to the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams), the interests of the people of Wales, as far as the Welsh Government view them, have been put into a paper that has been submitted to the Joint Ministerial Committee and will be debated at the next meeting of its European negotiating arm.
The Supreme Court judgment was decisive in its position on the devolved Assemblies. Given that, does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time for the stateswomen and statesmen of the devolved Assemblies to respect the decision of the Supreme Court and work constructively with the Government for the greater good of the United Kingdom, of which they are very much a part?
I could not have put it better myself.
I will vote to trigger article 50, but I also have a duty to scrutinise the Government’s deal to ensure that it does not make my constituents poorer. As taxpayers, my constituents have a right to know how much the appeal to the Supreme Court cost them. Will the Secretary of State tell us?
On the latter point, I do not have that number in my mind, but I can—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Well, I don’t. I have been studying the judgment today. I will provide the hon. Lady with that number as soon as I can. That will happen quickly. I am quite sure that the Supreme Court judgment will have been expensive on one level, because lawyers are expensive, as the Labour spokesman would tell us. I am sure that he is a much more expensive lawyer—that is the greatest compliment I can pay him.
To make a more fundamental point, when we are dealing with something as important as this—I do not think anybody in the House questions the importance of the constitutional decision that has been made today—it is incredibly important that it is done on solid ground, with proper authority and in a way that the Government can interpret properly to deliver the right outcome. I have made that point across this Dispatch Box more than once. Frankly, it will therefore be worth whatever we have paid for it.
I commend my right hon. Friend for being the right man in the right place at the right time. Sixty-one per cent of the people of Kettering voted to leave the European Union. They will take comfort that there is nothing in today’s judgment that will delay the process, and they will like the fact that their Member of Parliament will obey their instructions and vote to trigger article 50. I commend it to all other Members to do the same.
I thank my hon. Friend for that. All I can say is that I am surprised it was only 61% in his constituency.
The judgment’s terms tell us that we should not rely on mere political convention for legal adherence or political confirmation on key matters. That being so, Sewel will be meaningless in the context of the great repeal Bill. Does the Secretary of State recognise that the key constitutional precept of the Good Friday agreement—the principle of consent and the democratic potential for a united Ireland—will have to be explicitly included in any new UK-EU treaty in order to fully reflect the principle that those issues are a matter for the people of Ireland, without external impediment, and to properly reflect the terms of today’s Supreme Court judgment?
I will not reiterate the facts of the Supreme Court judgment on the Northern Irish aspect. The hon. Gentleman can read those much more authoritatively in the judgment. I have said to him before in this House and reiterate to him again that there is more than one guarantee in this matter. The British Government are determined to preserve the peace settlement and all that underpins it; the Irish Government are determined to underpin it; and so is the Commission. I will say something nice about the Commission in this regard. When I spoke to Michel Barnier, my opposite number, he reminded me that he was involved in the original peace process. All the parties to this matter therefore have a vested interest in delivering what the hon. Gentleman wants.
You will recall last week, Mr Speaker, my right hon. Friend extolling the fact that he liked to please his boss. He also said earlier what a wonderful speech she made last week. I say to him that he could unify the whole of this side of the House by publishing a White Paper based on that excellent speech. I am sure that that would make him even more popular with our boss.
I thought I was really rather restrained, given that the Prime Minister was sitting here today. I could have been thoroughly oleaginous, but I was not prompted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) this time, who gave me the line about Her Majesty.
I nearly said that.
Yes, absolutely. I will not rehearse all the arguments again, but I will provide whatever information I can and as much information as I can, as promptly as I can, bearing in mind that the process is likely to start next week.
I agree with the Secretary of State that the Prime Minister was very clear in her speech last week that we are leaving the single market and likely the customs union. Before the referendum, his Government said that that would cost the British people £66 billion or roughly half the cost of the NHS per year. Do the Government stand by that estimate or is there a different estimate today? If so, will he tell us what it is?
I will say two things. First, Andy Haldane, the deputy governor of the Bank of England, has talked about a Michael Fish moment for economic forecasters. The hon. Gentleman might deliberate on that the next time he wants to ask a question like this. Secondly, economic models and forecasts are only as good as the assumptions that go into them. The point that the Prime Minister made last week was not just that we would not be a member of the single market, but that we would seek the freest and most barrier-free access in the interests of the people of Wales and others. That is what we will seek, but the negotiation is not complete yet. That is our aim and if we succeed, it will be hugely valuable for the people of Wales.
The EU referendum saw a 72% turnout and a clear vote to leave the European Union, showing the strongly held will of the British people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Liberal Democrats’ call for a second referendum—one Liberal Democrat Member was here today, but he is not here now—shows that they do not care about the public’s view unless they get their way?
Looking across the Chamber, I am tempted to ask, “What Liberal Democrats?”. As my hon. Friend said, there was only one of them here, which shows just how seriously they take this incredibly important issue. I think the public at large will take the view that the Liberal Democrats are trying to use this matter for their own political purposes, not for the national interest.
There have understandably been a lot of questions today about process, but there is an emerging Brexit reality in the country for which this Government are responsible. A thousand jobs are going from London to Paris with HSBC, and Toyota, Lloyd’s of London, UBS and Nissan are all reviewing their operations. Exactly how many jobs are the Government prepared to lose to other European countries while we negotiate our exit from the EU?
I could stand here for 10 minutes naming companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and McDonald’s, that have decided to be here. We have pretty much the highest employment and lowest unemployment rates for some considerable time, completely contrary to the pessimistic predictions of many people after the Brexit result. If we want a demonstration of how wrong the establishment of Britain got this, we need only look at those numbers.
Exiting the EU is unchartered territory, and there will naturally be uncertainties and challenges along the way, so what steps are the Government taking to communicate with British businesses in order to build confidence and foster economic growth in the months ahead?
I can send my hon. Friend the details, but the number of meetings is beyond counting; we have had meetings with manufacturing, aviation, tourism, finance and banking, insurance and so on. Not just my Ministers but Ministers across Government are talking to their own client industries, as it were, to ensure they know what their concerns are, what the opportunities are and what policy measures we have to take to maximise the opportunities and mitigate any concerns. It took a few months, but people are beginning to see the opportunities, rather than the concerns, which represents an incredibly important change in mood in our country.
The Secretary of State has twice said that the point of no return was on 23 June, and he has ruled out a White Paper and a vote on the plan. Does he agree that neither the words “customs union” nor “single market” were on the ballot paper? If the House decides, at some point after article 50 has been triggered, that it does not wish to proceed with the process, would we leave automatically or is it reversible?
First, I have listened to people talking about what was not on the ballot paper. It is rather like saying, “You said you were going to sell the car, but you didn’t say you were going to sell me the engine and tyres as well.” These elements—the common external tariff barrier, the common commercial policy, the role of the European Court of Justice, and so on—are components of the EU, which the public voted to leave. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman misquotes me. I have said that there will be any number of votes and debates in the coming two years, many of them about the issues he talks about.
I fully support the words from all quarters in support of our judges, who are the best, most inscrutable and highest-quality I have seen anywhere in the world, but does my right hon. Friend agree that those warm words need to be matched by action from all Members? In particular, just as the Government accept the verdict, should not Members accept the words of the Supreme Court that a small Bill can have the same power as a larger one, and should not those from some of the devolved parts of the UK accept the verdict, too? On the cost, does he agree that, if he is publishing the cost of the Government’s action, we should ask the devolved Assemblies, particularly that in Scotland, to publish how much taxpayers’ money they spent joining the action?
As I said on the costs, I will provide the numbers; there is no problem with doing that. I would make the point, however, that we did not bring the case, of which the cost is a direct outcome. I am not one of those—[Interruption.] Animal noises from the Opposition notwithstanding, I am not one of those who criticise the people who brought the case; I think they brought a very important constitutional case, which is why I said, whatever it cost, it was worth doing. Let no one say to the Government, however, “Why did you appeal the case?”. We did so because a massively important constitutional issue was at stake, and my hon. Friend is right that we should all take it very seriously, take it as the status of our law today and obey it accordingly.
Scotland is supposed to have the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world, and the Scotland Acts tell us now that it is permanent and that the Sewel convention is embedded in law, but we now know, of course, that the Scotland Acts are barely worth the vellum they are written on. The Secretary of State says he is listening to Scotland—that is great, he has said it several times today—but when will he act? If he does not accept the very reasonable proposals we put to him, the Scottish people will quickly ask what the point is of our being here at all.
If I remember correctly, the Supreme Court said of the Sewel convention that it was not for the judges to decide. I listened last week as the Scottish Government Minister presented at great length the arguments in their paper. As I said earlier to one of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, there are bits we disagree with and bits we absolutely agree with—for me, the most obvious one is the protection of employment law, which I take very seriously and on which we are absolutely in the same place. I and others on the Joint Ministerial Committee discussed with the Minister the issue of devolution, and the clear point was that no existing devolved powers were to be retracted. Of course, that is not going to happen, but we also have to think, in rational terms and in the interests of the Scottish people and citizens of the UK more widely, about where the best place is to make decisions. In most cases, I would prefer to devolve powers, but in some circumstances that is not practical. We have to do what is right for the people, not what suits our political interest.
I am confident that every Member will vote to trigger article 50—for which of us would dare thwart the will of the people? Does my right hon. Friend share my concern, though, about the implications of the case for a Government’s decision to go to war, for example? Could that now be challenged by a member of the public?
No, I do not think my hon. Friend is right. It is a 96-page judgment, so we have to go through the detail, but the major part of the case was confined to two aspects—the implications specifically for the European Communities Act and for those treaties that have an effect on the domestic legal rights of citizens—and I do not think that the decision to go to war falls within either. He raises more broadly, however, an important point. We are in an era when the exact reach of the royal prerogative has to be established and understood. Once we are in complete command of our own future, we will have to know what the Government can and cannot do, what we have to do in conjunction with Parliament and where we have to go back for authorisation. That is one reason we are taking our time to read the judgment.
The Secretary of State has mentioned a few times that this is a massive exercise in democracy. I put it to him that a useful tool in a participatory democracy is issuing White Papers. I do not understand why he has set his face against doing that, given that we are about to make the most important decision for many generations and trigger article 50.
The Chairman of the Select Committee, who is not here, said his Committee wanted a plan as quickly as possible—before the middle of February; I said it would be difficult to turn out a full White Paper before then. One of the virtues of delivering the plan via a prime ministerial speech of some length was that we could do it quickly, we could make it very clear and everybody could understand it. It also got coverage around the world in a way that no other medium could have. People remind me—and sometimes tease me, of course—of my history as an activist for parliamentary rights. The important point is that we are here only because we represent our constituents’ interests.
I have tried—I keep reiterating this phrase—to provide as much information as possible. Let us take the plan with respect to what was asked for by Labour Front-Bench Members and the Select Committee. They asked, “What are we going to do about the single market?” and hopefully that is now plain. They asked, “What are we going to do about the customs union?”, and hopefully that is now plain. They asked, “What are we going to do about justice and home affairs?”, and hopefully that is now plain. They asked, “What role is seen for Britain in the world?”, and hopefully that is now plain, too. Of course, what we cannot do is say what the outcome of the negotiation will be. We cannot give that level of certainty, but we can certainly give a level of certainty, as we have and as we will, as to what the aims and strategic objectives are. We have done that.
I, too, welcome today’s judgment by the Supreme Court, and I would like to lend my support to the Supreme Court judges. I hope that we do not see any repeat in tomorrow’s newspapers of the bile that was directed towards the High Court judges last year. Although I welcome the Prime Minister’s speech last week, which focused on a comprehensive free trade agreement, I have received thousands of emails and correspondence from my constituents all wanting to have their say on this issue. After all, 70% of them voted to remain inside the European Union. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree—as other colleagues have said, and without wishing to make him repeat himself—that the best way to do this and to ensure that my constituents’ views are heard is via the use of a White Paper?
I am afraid that my hon. Friend has failed in not making me repeat myself. Plainly, the House has determined that I would fail miserably in “Just a Minute”, or whatever the quiz is called where people are not allowed to repeat themselves. I reiterate that it is the facts that matter and the plan that matters and answering Parliament’s questions that matters. We have done all those things. We will continue. I will continue to provide whatever information I can without compromising our negotiating position—I will do that.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer to the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), when he said that he had written to the Northern Ireland Executive. Does he recognise that the Northern Ireland Executive have collapsed after just eight months and may not have the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland? They had no joint plan. Will the Secretary of State ensure that he writes to all parties and includes everyone, so that we get something that will tell all of us where we are going? We accept the result. We need a quick resolution, but we must all be included. Will he do that?
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. Before I answer directly, let me say that I have, of course, sought to get the parties in the Executive to continue to send a Minister to the Joint Ministerial Committee, but that is only one mechanism; there are others. I think that the Prime Minister will be speaking to the Taoiseach next week, so the Irish Government interest will be represented. I will, of course, talk to others more directly. I went to Northern Ireland early on in my time in this job. I am inclined to say yes to the hon. Gentleman—I will write to him—but let me consider the issue carefully, so that I do not land myself in some problem. The reason I say that and the reason I am being cautious is that an election is now under way, and I have to be wary of the British Government appearing to meddle in any aspect of the election. Let me, therefore, pause and think about that. I will do what I judge to be in the best interests of Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman must take that as my promise.
Order. After faster progress for a while, the pace has slowed terribly in the last few minutes. What is required is a pithy question of the kind in which a Queen’s Counsel should specialise. Let us hear about the contents of the textbook pithily. I call Lucy Frazer.
The Supreme Court, at the beginning of its judgment, on its very first page, said in terms that it wanted to emphasise that the case had absolutely nothing to do with the terms of withdrawal, the arrangements for withdrawal or the details as to any future relationship with Europe. In those circumstances, does the Secretary of State agree that all that the Supreme Court decided was that, before pulling the trigger, there needs to be authorisation by Act of Parliament? Under the terms of the judgment at least, there is no obligation to set out the details of any deal.
Today’s judgment states that, notwithstanding new legislative constraints,
“withdrawal from the EU will enhance the devolved competence”.
I asked the Secretary of State this same question just last week and was dismayed to find that he was able to provide only his presumptions. Can he now provide concrete examples of which types of powers will be devolved to the devolved Administrations, following our exit from the European Union?
I rather suspect that the hon. Lady misquotes me from last week. What I said, or what I should have said, was that some elements of the powers coming back from the European Union will go to the devolved Administrations, that some will stay in the centre, but for a number we are going to have to debate the matter and decide. That will happen in the first instance in the Joint Ministerial Committee and then at Cabinet.
Single sentence questions, please, with the abandonment of any preamble that colleagues might have in mind.
Although the Secretary of State should take seriously amendments proposed to the forthcoming Bill in good faith, I invite him to give short shrift to those who seek to use amendments to derail or delay a vital process.
The Secretary of State has already attempted to sideline Parliament by appealing this case and by refusing to publish a White Paper, so can he be very clear: will the Bill be drafted in such terms as to allow not just amendments, but substantive amendments? Yes or no?
I have been here for 30 years. If the hon. Gentleman knows how to draft a Bill that withstands any amendments, I would like to hear about it.
In any negotiation, it is worth thinking about the other side. Lord Hill, who knows a thing or two about Europe, came to give evidence to our Select Committee on the best strategy for negotiation. He said that it is now to come together because the decision has been made; otherwise, we would be sending mixed messages to our interlocutors. Does the Secretary of State agree?
Yes, and I would hope that, once we get through the article 50 process, we will see a rather more collegiate attitude from all parts of the political spectrum. It is, after all, our national interest that is engaged.
A moment ago, the Secretary of State reminded us that our job is to do what is in the best interest of our constituents. The city I represent has 8.5 million visitors each year, has two universities and has an economy that includes the head offices of EDF and Amex. If I do not believe that, between now and March, the guarantees offered by this Government will protect everything that is great about my city, surely the right hon. Gentleman would agree with me that I cannot support this timescale.
I am not about to protect the hon. Gentleman from his constituents, I am afraid. My comment to him is this: we are in a negotiation. If he can point out to me a negotiation that had guarantees before it started, I would be interested to hear about it.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that it is strange that many seem to be unaware that legislative changes will be needed on a range of issues as we leave and not just on the point about article 50. Does he agree distinctly that, if people try to use tricks of procedure in this House or anywhere else to try to frustrate article 50, they will fuel the scepticism that pushed people to vote leave?
That is true, and I think Members’ constituents would notice, too.
Somebody who has been waiting a long time must have been able to work out how to put the question in a short sentence. I call Neil Gray. Let us hear it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Given that a legislative consent motion is now apparently a political decision and there is no impediment to the Government bringing one forward, will the Secretary of State advise us whether the Government had a legislative consent contingency in place before the Supreme Court ruling and why on earth he would rule out bringing one forward now?
Because I have said that no component part of the United Kingdom has a veto. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would know that I have said that dozens of times in this House.
Can my right hon. Friend reassure my Bury North constituents, a majority of whom voted to leave, that he will allow nothing to get in the way of ensuring that the Bill that he has announced will be passed as quickly as possible?
The Secretary of State said in his statement that the Government are determined to deliver on a decision taken by the people of the United Kingdom but Scotland, of course, the country that we on the SNP Benches represent, voted to remain within the United Kingdom and the Scottish Government have been empowered by the Parliament to make sure that we remain within the single market. Why is the Secretary of State acting against the best interests of the Scottish people? Will he not understand that, if he refuses to accept our will, our only option—
Order. Too long. Too loud. We do not want to hear it. Enough.
First, I do not necessarily think that the interests of the Scottish National party are the same as those of the Scottish people. Secondly, as I remember, the Scottish nation voted to stay inside the United Kingdom—the United Kingdom that voted to leave the European Union.
The World Trade Organisation has done a fantastic amount of work to reduce trade barriers around the world, and it is the basis of our trading relationship with the United States of America, where we have a trade surplus. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that this provides a great foundation for a trade deal with the EU, and that it is now for the EU to do something better than that?
The Secretary of State has spoken a great deal about listening to the devolved nations, but will he listen to what they have to say about the importance of unfettered access to the single market?
We already have. That was the point that the Prime Minister was making when she said that we wanted barrier-free, most facilitated trade with the EU.
Can my right hon. Friend assure the 70% of my constituents who voted for Brexit that he has a contingency plan to ensure that, if the upper House were to attempt to thwart or delay the Bill, we would meet the March deadline?
From what I remember of my hon. Friend’s constituency, there are enough Members of the upper House in it for him to be able to tell them himself.
The Secretary of State talks about not thwarting the will of the people. Will he finally recognise that 62% of people in Scotland voted to stay? The Scottish Government are not asking for a veto; they are asking for a compromise that would allow Scotland to maintain membership of the single market. When will the Secretary of State work with them to achieve that?
As I have said to several of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, we work in the Joint Ministerial Committee, we work bilaterally, and we seek to protect the interests of the whole United Kingdom, not least Scotland.
I do not want to frustrate the process, but is the Secretary of State saying that the referendum result is the only factor that should govern the article 50 vote? Is that not tantamount to signing a blank cheque and setting aside the views of our constituents?
When a question begins “I do not want to frustrate the process, but”, it tells us something in its own right.
The Government are seeking authorisation to trigger the start of the negotiation, which is what the British people voted for last year. End of story. That is not the only issue, but it is the most important issue.
This judgment rode roughshod through the Sewel convention. Can the Secretary of State assure me that he will seek meaningful discussions with the Scottish Government which will respect and reflect the desire of the Scottish electorate to remain in the EU?
I think that the Scottish Government’s case was represented in the Supreme Court. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not pick and choose which bits I like or do not like; I go along with the Supreme Court, because it is the highest court in our land and we have to obey it.
The country voted to leave the EU, but my constituents did not vote for a cut in their living standards. There are genuine and serious concerns about the impact on our economy, manufacturing, higher education and research if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and falls back under World Trade Organisation rules. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the risks of leaving with no deal in place, and will he publish that assessment so that it can be subjected to proper scrutiny?
There were a great many forecasts of how terrible things would be if the people voted for Brexit. They were all undilutedly wrong: every single one was wrong. Our strategic aim is to secure a comprehensive free trade agreement, not to fail to do so, and that is what will protect the hon. Lady’s constituents if she is willing to pay attention to it.
The Secretary of State has said that he wants to preserve the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, and that he understands the peace settlement. We are currently engaged in an election process, which will be quickly followed by negotiations of which Brexit will form an important part. In discussions with the Taoiseach and with the Irish Government, will the Secretary of State ensure that special status for Northern Ireland is considered thoroughly in those negotiations?
A whole series of special circumstances apply. When I first visited Northern Ireland after taking up my present post, what came up were matters such as the importance of the border and the single energy market, and we will continue to pay attention to those matters. If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I am going to be very careful about answering questions because of the ongoing election process, but I think she should take it as read that we take this issue very seriously indeed.
The Secretary of State for Scotland, who is no longer in the Chamber, told the House on at least five occasions that the Sewel convention had been placed on a statutory footing by the Scotland Act. Today the Supreme Court said that that was not the case. Which of those contradictory judgments currently holds the confidence of Her Majesty’s Government?
It was not a contradictory judgment. This is a reserved matter.
Surely the ruling confirms that “Brexit means Brexit” has been totally inadequate as any sort of explanation to Parliament or its people. The devil is often in the detail, particularly the Tory detail, and surely that detail ought to be provided in the form of a White Paper.
Obviously the hon. Lady is not the first person to ask for a White Paper, but hers was perhaps one of the more partisan requests. The strategic aims are very clear: they are designed to protect the interests of the people whom she represents.
I noted that the judgment was issued during the Court’s Hilary term. I hope that someone will explain to the Trump Administration exactly what that means.
Can the Secretary of State tell us why it is right for unelected peers to have a greater say in the article 50 process than elected Members of the devolved institutions?
I am trying to think what the significance of Hilary term is, except in the context of the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee. I am afraid that I did not hear half the hon. Gentleman’s question, so I shall have to write to him. [Hon. Members: “It was about the Lords.”] I could not hear that either. I will answer later.
There are rules in place which ensure that Parliament can scrutinise legislation as it passes through the House. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to ensuring that those rules remain in place, and that there will be two clear weekends between the Bill’s First and Second Readings?
That is a matter for the usual channels, not for me.
The Scottish Government have published the details of their proposals for maximising an ongoing relationship with the European Union. Does the Secretary of State recognise that refusing to publish a White Paper is tantamount to political cowardice?
I really do not think so. I have never been accused of cowardice before, so I am not quite sure how to respond to the question, but the answer is no.
I am becoming increasingly concerned about the way in which supporters of the Government’s view are trying to delegitimise the opinions of others by suggesting that their intention is to thwart the decision to leave the European Union. May I ask the Secretary of State to confirm, having read the statement of the Scottish Government’s position, that no part of that document suggests that Scotland, or indeed any other part of the United Kingdom, should do anything other than leave the European Union?
After receiving that document I was very careful not to criticise it publicly, because I wanted to have that debate. I was chairing the Joint Ministerial Committee, so I did not want to, as it were, colour my chairing of it.
As I have said before, the document falls into three categories. There are bits which I did not think would work, there are bits that are subject to debate—especially those relating to devolution issues—and there are bits where we are absolutely on the same page, on matters such as employment law. However, elements of this paper will run into problems not just with the United Kingdom Government, but with other members of the European Union. It was criticised by the Spanish Europe Minister, and it was criticised implicitly by senior Norwegians on the European Free Trade Association front. I do not think that it can be held up as the ideal model for a perfect outcome.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State, to the Opposition spokespersons, and to all 84 Back Benchers who took part in this important series of exchanges.