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Brexit Transition: European Parliament Membership

Volume 791: debated on Thursday 7 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have made in the event of a transition period or extension of time in the European Union withdrawal process to extend the terms of the present United Kingdom members of the European Parliament to ensure ongoing democratic accountability and to protect United Kingdom interests in the negotiations.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my interests as a former Member of the European Parliament and a person in receipt of a European Parliament pension.

As the Prime Minister set out in her Florence speech, from 30 March 2019 the UK will no longer be a member state of the European Union. The United Kingdom will no longer sit at the European Council table or in the Council of Ministers, and we will no longer have Members of the European Parliament.

Is my noble friend aware of the decision taken and published on 7 February, which was a proposal to the European Council—currently going through the consent procedure between the European Council and the European Parliament—not to reallocate the number of Members of the European Parliament from the United Kingdom until and unless the United Kingdom is no longer either part of the EU or involved in any of its processes?

As the noble Lord is well aware, Article 50 states:

“The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question … two years after the notification”,

of Article 50. The UK notified its intention to leave the European Union on 29 March 2017 and will therefore leave on 29 March 2019. After that date, we will no longer have MEPs.

My Lords, the Government have heard a lot from the European Research Group about how appalling it would be for Britain to become a rule-taker rather than a rule-maker. As we are heading towards a rather extended implementation or transition period of at least two years, does it not sound sensible to make sure that Britain continues to have some influence over decisions taken in that period, rather than cutting ourselves off but then continuing to follow all the rules, including those that continue to be negotiated, for that implementation or transition period?

During the implementation period, we have agreed to establish a joint committee of representatives from both sides, which will be able to resolve concerns if and when they arise. Of course, we have also agreed a duty of good faith on both sides.

Might I ask the Minister to quote Article 50 accurately in future? It does not say that we will leave two years afterwards, it says two years afterwards or such date as is agreed in the withdrawal agreement. Given that the Government seem to be quite unable to get that withdrawal agreement anywhere near ready, can the Minister also say—in agreeing to the wording I have just given—whether they have discussed perhaps reverting to appointing Members of the European Parliament, as we used to do, should that be necessary?

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the UK has been outvoted on all 77 laws that we have opposed in the Council in the last 20 years? We have been outvoted more than any other country in the so-called Parliament. Does this Question not make the fundamental mistake of suggesting that there is any democratic accountability in the EU, which it is designed to expunge?

My Lords, what arrangements have been made for representation on the committee to which my noble friend referred and which will operate during the transition period? Are there going to be Members of both Houses or of one House on that group? What parliamentary input will there be?

My Lords, will the Minister perhaps go a little beyond his very selective quotation from Article 50, because he invariably takes out the reference in it to the possibility of prolonging the period of two years? I know that is not government policy, but the Government appear to be doing contingency planning on a lot of eventualities. What contingency planning are they doing about the membership of the European Parliament, if a decision were taken by unanimity to extend the period of two years?

We are not doing any contingency planning on it because we are not going to apply for an extension. An extension is not going to be granted because, as I have said on at least three different occasions today, we are leaving on 30 March 2019.

Does my noble friend agree, pursuant to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that there would be some merit in allocating observer status to existing Members of the European Parliament, or a number of them, for the very good reasons that my noble friend gave in his question? We should have some democratic representation in the European Parliament at that stage.

Whether that would be a good idea or not, it would have to be agreed with the European Parliament and as we will no longer be a member state, I cannot see that Parliament being happy about the prospect of a non-member state sending representatives to it.

Will the Minister join me in commending the Electoral Commission for making provision for elections to the European Parliament, should we still remain as members?

We will not be remaining as members. The Government think it is a waste to spend money on an election that would be pointless because we will not have Members of the European Parliament. We also think it is pointless for the Electoral Commission to spend money preparing for an election that will not happen, and we have made that very clear to it.

My Lords, the Minister says he is not going to make any preparations in case we do not leave in two years because we are going to leave in two years. Is it not the case that that would require the consent of the House of Commons? If it does not happen, he will not have a plan B.

We are leaving on 30 March 2019 because the House of Commons and this House agreed to the European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Act under which Article 50 was notified, so the House of Commons has already agreed to it, as has this House.

My Lords, is it not the case that the Supreme Court has ruled that while Parliament did indeed authorise the referendum, it has yet to authorise the outcome of these discussions?

Well, Parliament will get the opportunity to do so when we have negotiated the withdrawal. We have said that we will put it to a meaningful vote in both Houses.

My Lords, in answering me yesterday the Minister said the Government felt it was important that they planned for all eventualities. Why is he not planning for this one?