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Brexit: Parliamentary Processes

Volume 792: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2018

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they made of the precedents for Parliament providing them with a mandate for international negotiations, including the effect of section 7 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 on the Maastricht Treaty negotiations, when deciding to oppose Lords Amendment 20 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill; and whether they consider any such precedents conclusive in supporting the view that Parliament mandating them in negotiations is not consistent with the constitutional role of Parliament in relation to the conduct of international relations.

My Lords, we are not aware of any precedent for Parliament mandating the Government in international negotiations conducted under the royal prerogative. The Government were not prepared to accept such a significant constitutional shift in the amendment the noble Lord referenced.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but on what basis do the Government claim the prerogative to decide unilaterally what the constitutional position on this is, as if they were the Vatican producing some doctrine covered by infallibility? Secondly, why are we able to pass amendments on the customs Bill, on the single market or, hypothetically, the European Economic Area, but not able to consider the trade-offs, the framework or the mandate? Albeit that we vote against, there could be a parliamentary position with the result that Parliament would be responsible for something. At the moment, Parliament is not responsible for anything coherent. It is irresponsible. Is that wise?

I have never been compared to the Vatican before. Is Parliament responsible and wise? Parliament is always responsible and is extremely wise in whatever it says and does.

My Lords, it is apparent to all that the mantra of taking back control and parliamentary sovereignty has been a fig leaf for an executive power grab, as exemplified by the disrespectful publication, on the last day of Parliament, of the White Paper on implementation. I guess that, like last time, we will be lucky to see it before the Statement. Will the Government, even at this late stage, change the habits of a lifetime and emulate the arrangements in the European Parliament, which has full involvement and information on the Brexit negotiations?

We will discuss the White Paper later, and the noble Baroness will have a chance to ask further questions on it then. The Executive are accountable to Parliament. DExEU Ministers have given evidence to a broad range of committees on a total of 37 occasions, we have made 108 Written Statements in both Houses, and I think we spent about eight hours last night discussing the very issues that the noble Baroness refers to.

My Lords, it is perhaps fitting that John Major’s papers are released today. They show how he had to take on, and indeed vanquish, the Eurosceptic Rees-Mogg—that is, Rees-Mogg the elder. Can we hope that today’s Prime Minister will show the same courage with Rees-Mogg the younger, and can the Minister take seriously the need for the Government to find a negotiating mandate as to how we exit that would find favour not just within the governing party but within Parliament?

As we have said, Parliament will get a vote on the deal. We will discuss the legislation to implement that deal later, and there will be a parliamentary vote on the issue. We hope that it will find favour with Parliament, and no doubt we will extensively debate the legislation to implement it.

Will the Minister clarify the position regarding the vote on the deal? Does he envisage that one of the options that Parliament might consider is that we remain in the European Union?

It is bizarre in this day and age that we hide behind the medieval doctrine of Crown prerogative in relation to treaties. In relation to future trade treaties in particular, does the Minister not accept that for the past 40 years we have had effective scrutiny by a Parliament, the European Parliament, in mandates, negotiation and outcome? We are therefore going backwards in parliamentary scrutiny terms if free trade agreements with the EU or anything else do not follow the same pattern. Of course, free trade agreements have the same pattern in the United States Congress. Will the Minister at least concede that we need a proper trade treaty scrutiny committee post Brexit?

Scrutiny committees are not a matter for the Government; they are a matter for Parliament. I think the noble Lord will find that the European Parliament gets similar arrangements. The Commission negotiates trade deals that the European Parliament votes to accept or reject, and the position will be the same for this Parliament.

My Lords, it was quite clear from the Minister’s wind-up remarks last night that the Government are still at a very early stage in negotiating the future relationship. How will it be possible to have a meaningful vote before March 2019 if all that we have is an agreement about the principles of withdrawal and the sketchiest of ideas about the nature of the future relationship in the many different and complex areas discussed in the debate yesterday?

We are hoping that the framework that we agree will be a detailed exposition, and the noble Lord will be able to scrutinise it alongside the withdrawal agreement.

My Lords, following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, does the Minister not realise that, if there is no option in a parliamentary vote and a vote of the people to remain in the European Union after all that has happened and all the Government’s mistakes, there will be total uproar in this country?

I think there would be total uproar in this country if we did not implement the referendum vote. I am slightly confused about why this call for a second referendum is now being labelled a people’s vote, as if somehow the people did not get to vote in the first referendum.

We hope that Parliament will not reject the deal, but if it does, clearly the Government will have to contemplate that and come back to Parliament with a statement on how we proceed.

My Lords, has the Minister had any advice from any of the remainers on the difference between a people’s vote and a referendum?

No, I have not had any advice on that, as the noble Lord will probably suspect. This seems to be some sort of spin put on to try to convince the public that there would be another vote, as opposed to a second vote on the same subject.