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Brexit: Supreme Court Appeal Cost

Volume 778: debated on Thursday 26 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the total cost to the Government of appealing to the Supreme Court in the case of R (on the application of Miller and another) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

I live in hope. I had hoped that the welcome announcement yesterday of a White Paper might have tempted the Minister into answering my Question with another welcome U-turn today.

I want to put a serious issue to him. The Prime Minister has been clear that she will invoke Article 50 by the end of March. Given that that is a deadline of her choosing, does he accept that it would have been more open and democratic if the past two months had been used for parliamentary debate, during the delay while this has been considered by judges in the courts, rather than having the rushed process we have now?

I am sorry to say that I dispute the premise upon which that question is founded. The Government believed, as did a number of others—including the Leader of the Opposition straight after the referendum—that the triggering of Article 50 was a matter for the royal prerogative. That was disputed. As I said yesterday, people have a right to dispute these matters in court. The matter was taken to court and the judgment has been passed. I also dispute that the last few months have not seen parliamentary scrutiny. I have very much enjoyed coming to this House to answer Questions, give Statements and so on, and I am sure we will continue to do so.

Does my noble friend not think it extraordinary to have been asked that question, given that the Leader of the Opposition wanted to trigger Article 50 the week after the referendum result?

My Lords, it was the day after the referendum result that he said that. That is absolutely the case, so we were not alone in assuming that we would be able to use the royal prerogative on the triggering of Article 50.

My Lords, the courts have required the Government to come to Parliament to trigger the negotiating process, and the Government have said that Parliament will have a vote at the end of it. What plans do they have to involve and consult Parliament during the negotiations, or will Parliament have no significant role in influencing the negotiations for the entire process?

I am sorry—I do not know whether I have been somewhere else or the noble Lord has, but I have been answering Questions, making Statements and responding to debates here, and that will continue. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that this House and the other place have ample opportunity to scrutinise the negotiations as they proceed. Furthermore, as I have set out on a number of occasions, there will also be the great repeal Bill and the legislation that will flow from it, which I assure the House will give your Lordships a great amount of legislative fodder upon which we can all deliberate.

My Lords, in the circumstances, would it not have been a folly not to have exhausted all legal channels, so as to avoid any complication down the road?

I have a lot of sympathy with the noble Lord on that point. The process also clarified the exact extent of the royal prerogative. We now have that clarity and I am thankful for it, although I am obviously disappointed with the outcome and the ruling, and we shall now proceed.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that on pages 2 and 3 of the judgment there is a list of some 80 names of people who were at the Supreme Court, as are required to be listed? I have two questions about when we find out the cost of this affair at the Supreme Court. First, will we know which of these people are paid for out of public funds? Secondly, does the whole exercise cost more than when the House of Lords Appellate Committee worked out of two rooms on the third floor here and huddled around this part of the Chamber at nine in the morning?

My Lords, when we publish the costs we will make them as transparent as possible. On the question of previous processes, I gently remind the House who changed those processes to the situation we have now.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister, because he does indeed answer the questions very well, and the whole House is grateful for that. Does he agree that it is not just a matter of the enormous cost of leaving the European Union? In an 8 January article by the Prime Minister in the Sunday Telegraph, she said in her first paragraph:

“When the British people voted in the referendum … they did not simply vote to withdraw from the European Union; they voted to change the way our country works … forever. It was a quiet revolution by those who feel the system has been stacked against them for too long”.

Therefore, there were many factors in that decision overall, and the Government must exercise care, not least over the fear of immigrants. Because of that mixture of feelings, the Government must exercise wisdom and restraint on these matters in the negotiations, because the Prime Minister is not elected directly and the Government’s majority rests on a voting population of 24%. The Government must proceed with care.

I hear what the noble Lord says, and I repeat: we wish to build a national consensus around our approach.

The Minister stated clearly that he has come to this House and answered a number of questions. I remind him of the question that he failed to answer. I asked on Tuesday of this week whether he would tell us exactly what the Conservative manifesto said about membership of the European single market. He prefaced his reply by saying, “Of course I will”—and proceeded to do everything but.

I am sorry, but I dispute that. I made very clear what the Conservative Party manifesto said and, given the result of the referendum, we are honouring our commitment, as set out in the manifesto, to respect the outcome.