Wednesday 7 December 2016

Opposition Day debate on Brexit

As the Supreme Court hears the government's appeal in the Brexit case, it is worth noting this Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons today (7th December).  Here is the motion as passed by the House:

Resolved, That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; notes the resolution on parliamentary scrutiny of the UK leaving the EU agreed by the House on 12 October 2016; recognises that it is Parliament’s responsibility to properly scrutinise the Government while respecting the decision of the British people to leave the European Union; confirms that there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any negotiations to depart from the European Union after Article 50 has been triggered; and calls on the Prime Minister to commit to publishing the Government’s plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked, consistently with the principles agreed without division by this House on 12 October; recognises that this House should respect the wishes of the United Kingdom as expressed in the referendum on 23 June; and further calls on the Government to invoke Article 50 by 31 March 2017.

The Votes and Proceedings page indicates that this resolution is the result of a motion by Keir Starmer MP and an amendment to the motion put forward by David Davis MP (Secretary of State for Exiting the EU).  The amendment is shown in Blue above.  The motion carried by 461 to 89 and the amendment carried by 448 to 75.

At the start of the debate, Caroline Lucas MP (Brighton, Pavilion) asked: Does the hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that, by accepting the Government’s amendment to his otherwise very good motion, he is falling into a Tory trap of binding his party to supporting the invoking of article 50 by March, which is an unrealistic and increasingly arbitrary date?

The amendment is the first time that the House of Commons has voted to accept the overall outcome of the referendum.

Keir Starmer said that the government should provide enough detail to:

1.  end the circus of uncertainty that has been going on in recent weeks on issues such as the single market, paying for access to the single market, the customs union and transitional arrangements.

2.  allow the relevant parliamentary bodies and Committees, including the Exiting the European Union Committee, ....., to scrutinise the plan effectively. The Committee’s terms of reference include examining the Government’s objectives, so the plan must have sufficient detail to allow parliamentary bodies to conduct scrutiny effectively.

3.  enable the Office for Budget Responsibility to do its job properly. 

4.  enable the relevant authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be assured that their particular and specific concerns are addressed.  

5.  build genuine consensus. That is an important point, because the future of this country is bound up with the negotiations, and it is wrong in principle for the Government to act solely for the 52%—to base its approach on the 52% or a group within the 52%. The vote on 23 June was not a vote to write those that voted to remain out of their own history. They have a right and an interest in these negotiations and they have a right to have a Government who give weight to their interests as well as the interests of the 52%. I have said this before and I will say it again: the Government must act not for the 52% or the 48% but for the 100%, acting in the national interest. That can be achieved only if we have a national consensus.

The resolution is not formally binding on the government and will not affect the deliberations of the Supreme Court.  Nevertheless, the government is under political pressure to reveal more about its thinking and to do so in good time and, as Caroline Lucase MP said, time is short if the end of March is to be the date for Article 50 notice.

The Supreme Court is almost certain to announce its decision when it has reached one but there won't be any announcement until January and the court does not sit until 11th January. 

Addendum 8th December:

The motion discussed in this post was mentioned in the Supreme Court on 8th December.  See the transcript of Day 4 from page 199.

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