Skip to main content

Brexit: Role of Parliament

Volume 774: debated on Monday 18 July 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the stage, or stages, at which Parliament’s authority should be sought as part of the negotiation for leaving the European Union.

My Lords, Parliament will have a role in making sure that we find the best way forward. The Department for Exiting the European Union will consider the detailed arrangements to provide for that.

My Lords, this is not just a matter of the triggering of Article 50; the whole process ahead of us is a matter of concern to both Houses of Parliament. Does the Minister recall that throughout the referendum campaign there were constant calls to restore the sovereignty of the British Parliament, not least from Messrs Davis, Fox and Johnson? We also were told regularly that we should “take back control”. Who is in control? Is it the British Parliament? Who is answerable to the British Parliament? Is it one of those three? Can the Minister explain precisely which provisions of Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 will be applied to this process?

My Lords, Parliament is sovereign. But the Executive has certain prerogative powers that it exercises in international legal matters, including the making and unmaking of treaties. That remains the position.

My Lords, can my noble friend remind me: was it not a decision of Parliament, by an overwhelming majority, that this important issue should be decided by a referendum of the British people?

My Lords, the Prime Minister, in her wisdom, has appointed three Brexiteers to take us out of the European Union. Their motto must be, “All for one and none for all”. One of the main roles of this House is as a check and balance on the other place. Surely it is imperative that both Houses must have a say at every stage, whether it is Article 50 or beyond.

With respect, the Government’s position is that there is no legal obligation to consult Parliament on the triggering of Article 50. That is, of course, the subject of challenge in the courts. Indeed, there will be a directions hearing in the Administrative Court tomorrow in respect of one of those claims.

My Lords, the referendum campaigns were both all-party. The challenge now falls to all of us to implement the result of that referendum. Will the Minister outline the Government’s plans to engage all parties, and indeed the Cross Benches, in the discussions that now need to take place?

The Prime Minister has been very clear that it will take time for the UK Government to agree their position for negotiations in respect of the exit from Europe. They will consult widely, not only with all Westminster governmental institutions but also with the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Parliament.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has apparently promised a partnership involvement for the Scottish Government in Brexit negotiations. Why will the Government not show the same degree of respect to this Westminster Parliament, instead of offering the mere debate and discussions—crumbs off the table—that were envisaged in the response to the Urgent Question last week and, indeed, just now by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, who said that there was no legal obligation to consult Parliament, as if that was the end of the story? Why can we not get the same respect as the Scottish Government?

The Prime Minister has clearly extended the same respect to this Parliament as she has to the Scottish Parliament. The Prime Minister has also said that we will not trigger Article 50 until we have a UK approach and objectives. That will be the product of consultation with all these parties.

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend Lord Lawson, the Minister confirmed that parliamentary authority was at the root of the referendum itself. Therefore, surely, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, he has to accept that it is the essence of the entire process.

The referendum was an exercise in democracy, in which 17.5 million people cast their vote to exit the European Union.

My Lords, while it is perfectly clear that the vote in the referendum was to change our relationship with Europe, what was not clear were the alternatives that were being discussed. Is there not a duty on the Government to bring before Parliament a Green Paper or White Paper outlining the alternatives, with the pros and cons, so that there can be a proper debate before decisions are taken?

The Government have established the Department for Exiting the European Union to form a view as to the basis on which we do exit the European Union.

Like many others in this House, I had the pleasure of sitting through the whole Committee stage of the European Union Referendum Bill. As far as I can discover from Hansard, at no stage was it suggested that it was just an advisory referendum that was being established, much less that Governments subsequently would not need to take account of the decision made by the British people. Does the Minister agree with me that, with such authority having been given by Parliament to the British people and the British people having declared clearly their view on the specific question being asked, for either House, but, I must say, more specifically this House, of which I am very fond, to decide that it would in any substantial way—of course, one can look at the detail—thwart the decision of the British people would be a very unsatisfactory road down which to travel?

My Lords, abrogating parliamentary responsibility is not thwarting the British people. I put it to my noble and learned friend that Parliament decided that there should be an advisory referendum. It is Parliament’s duty to listen carefully to the advice but not to remove itself from the decision-making process.

My Lords, would the Minister care to be more specific on the issue of reaching the conclusion on what should happen with Brexit—what the terms will be et cetera? He referred to consultation. Did he mean consultation after the Government have decided what the terms are, or will Members of the Commons, the Lords and the Assemblies be consulted before consultation is taken more generally? Is it just a government decision as to how it happens?

There will be an ongoing process of consultation with all interested parties, including the devolved Administrations, so that we can arrive at a suitable conclusion as to how we proceed with Article 50 and our departure from the European Union.