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Brexit: Petition to Revoke Article 50 Notification

Volume 796: debated on Tuesday 26 March 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will respond to the petition created by Margaret Anne Georgiadou to revoke their notification of 29 March 2017 in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and to remain in the European Union.

My Lords, the Government will respond to the e-petition on revoking Article 50 in due course and within the required 21 days for a government response. It remains government policy that we will not revoke our Article 50 notice.

My Lords, I have seen the response that the Government have already posted on the website. It is rather dismissive, simply repeats earlier responses and keeps the date of 29 March as a possibility for leaving. May I suggest an amended response to the Minister? It is: “Recognising that a petition which now has the support of pushing towards 6 million signatures cannot simply be dismissed as coming from an out-of-touch elite but represents an impressive swathe of opinion from right across the country, the Government from now on will ensure that the UK does not leave the EU without a deal and that any deal agreed by the Government and Parliament, however long that takes, will be put to the public in a public vote so that they can judge it alongside the option of staying a full member of the European Union”.

Of course we respect everybody who signed the petition. It is indeed an impressive number of people, but the noble Baroness was a member of the Blair Government when 750,000 people marched against the Iraq war. We know the result of that. In this country, we have government by the ballot box and by Act of Parliament.

My Lords, how can the Government keep parroting that the will of the people is the same as it was three years ago when the electorate has changed, nearly 7 million people expressed themselves on the march, the petition wants to stop Brexit and polls consistently show a remain majority? If the Government really respected the people, would they not ask them for an update on their views?

We have explored this issue many times in response to the noble Baroness. We respect the result of the referendum, which was the largest participatory democratic exercise ever carried out in this country, and we are committed to implementing that result.

My Lords, does my noble friend have any idea of how many of the signatories are British subjects and how many are foreigners?

No doubt my noble friend is an avid follower of social media and will therefore have seen some doubt being cast on some of the signatories, but I do not doubt that the vast majority were indeed British citizens.

Does the Minister realise that there is more than one online petition? The one to revoke has brought in nearly 6 million signatures, but the one to leave has brought in 570,000 signatures. Should we not now respond to the recent will of the people?

As I said earlier in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, in this country we do not have government by online poll; we have government by the ballot box and by this Parliament, and that is what we will be following.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in seeking to make a party-political point earlier he rather undermined the force of his argument? It might be thought by a number of people in this House and elsewhere that had the Labour Government at the time taken more notice of what was brought to their attention by that march, very bad consequences might have been avoided, and that might be true in this case as well, might it not?

I was merely making the point that there have been large expressions of public opinion—demonstrations, internet polls and so on—during previous Governments. At the end of the day, we do not have government by internet opinion poll; we have government by participatory democracy, by the ballot box and by this Parliament.

My Lords, does my noble friend recall the Prime Minister saying at the opening of the referendum campaign,

“It will be your decision whether to remain in the EU on the basis of the reforms we secure or whether we leave. Your decision. Nobody else’s. Not politicians’, not Parliament’s. Not lobby groups’ … Just you”?

Does he recall any of the leaders of the remain campaign dissociating themselves from those remarks?

I recall them being endorsed by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and others. Would it not be an enormous betrayal of trust and undermine confidence in our Parliament and our system if we were to ignore the result and simply revoke Article 50?

As usual, my noble friend makes a powerful point. We need to respect the votes of 17.4 million people, which is a bigger number than the 5 million who signed the online petition.

My Lords, is there not a contradiction between the Government’s expressed intention to put the deal before the House of Commons again and again but not to give the British people a chance to have second thoughts?

We remain committed to trying to convince the House of Commons that it is a good deal. It is of course a compromise—nobody gets exactly what they want—but we think that it is the best deal on the table. In fact, it is the only deal on the table, and it will deliver a smooth and orderly departure.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the Leader of the House of Commons who introduced the parliamentary e-petition system. It is of course a petition to Parliament, not to the Government. In that respect, does my noble friend agree that the necessary response is that, as the House of Commons is taking some control of this process, it should incorporate a debate on the merits or otherwise of revoking Article 50 as part of its discussions in the coming days?

My noble friend makes a good point, and that is exactly what will happen. There will be a debate in Westminster Hall and the Government will respond appropriately.