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Brexit: Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010

Volume 774: debated on Thursday 8 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government at what stage or stages of the European Union exit negotiations the requirements of Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 will be fulfilled.

My Lords, the precise timing, terms and means by which we leave the European Union will be determined by the negotiations that follow the triggering of Article 50. We will observe in full all relevant legal and constitutional obligations that apply.

My Lords, as the Minister recognised, we are now in some confusion over sovereignty—Bernard Jenkin and others suggest that we can abrogate the limits on external sovereignty and ignore international law. The Minister is too young to remember Margaret Thatcher’s remarks against moving from parliamentary to popular sovereignty, but we are clearly moving away a little. The Government have suggested that we can move towards exerting Article 50 by prerogative sovereignty. Executive sovereignty and popular sovereignty take us a long way away from parliamentary sovereignty, which the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act was intended to strengthen. Can we have a reassurance from the Government that the rules of that Act will be followed very closely as the Government move towards treaty renegotiation?

I think I got that question, and I thank the noble Lord for it. The Government are very clear about the obligations of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which states clearly that both Houses of Parliament have a role in approving treaties as set out in the Act. As I said in my first statement, we will observe in full all relevant legal and constitutional obligations that apply.

My Lords, leaving the EU is not a simple step outside but a journey. The Government need to set objectives for their negotiations to get the best deal for what comes after we leave. They need a clear map of the hurdles, the challenges and indeed the opportunities, as well as the ways of handling emerging issues. It is vital that Parliament and, through us, the public are engaged with this every step of the way as to how we leave the EU and our relationships afterwards. Will the Government commit to ensuring that level of engagement throughout the process, so that any final vote that may happen would be on the basis of a developing consensus?

I welcome the noble Baroness to her position. I look forward very much to the conversations that we are bound to have over the weeks and months ahead. I repeat what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said and I repeated in this House on Monday, that,

“we are determined to build a national consensus”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/9/16; cols. 879.]

In doing that, we need to involve this House and the other place and to have as much scrutiny and consultation as possible. I also thank the European Union Committee for its excellent report Scrutinising Brexit: The Role of Parliament, which came out in July. In paragraph 21, it said:

“It is clear, therefore, that parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations will have to strike a balance between, on the one hand, the desire for transparency, and on the other, the need to avoid undermining the UK’s negotiating position. We note that parliamentary scrutiny has shown itself, in practice, to be highly flexible”.

I am sure that noble Lords may have mechanisms for how we might achieve that in such a way as to address the points that the noble Baroness made.

My Lords, there is nothing more irritating on a journey than having people in the back seat saying, “Are we nearly there yet?”. I welcome the positive statement by the noble Baroness, but if we are to embark on a journey, would it also be helpful to not have people constantly trying to make us do a U-turn?

The noble Lord is right. I am reminded about this tendency by my seven year-old twins every time we get in the car. I repeat that I totally understand and sympathise with what the noble Baroness is saying about the need to provide the appropriate level of scrutiny. However, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in the other place yesterday, we cannot provide a running commentary. It is very important that we strike a balance between informing, engaging and consulting while also protecting the national interest.

The noble Lord is renowned for his courtesy and therefore I could anticipate his response.

Does the Minister believe that it is possible for us to leave the European Union without a parliamentary vote?

My Lords, as I said, we are determined to follow the constitutional obligations that apply. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said on Monday, the aspects of the European Communities Act 1972 that are required to be repealed and the aspects of the acquis communautaire that need to be carried into British law are important joint issues that have to be decided. Once we have got to the point of deciding what we need to do in that regard, we will come back to the House at the first possible opportunity.

My Lords, further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, does the Minister agree that if one is going on a journey it is important to know the destination? Will he pluck up his courage and say to the Prime Minister that her accountability to Parliament should not be described as a running commentary?

That is not how my right honourable friend’s comment should be perceived. Brexit means leaving the European Union, as we said on Monday.