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Analysis

Can we change our mind? Minister sorry for incorrect remark

by Hugo Dixon | 20.11.2017

The House of Lords’ new Brexit minister is losing credibility fast. Last Thursday Martin Callanan half retracted a misleading statement he had made three days earlier – to the effect that the Supreme Court had ruled we couldn’t change our minds now we had triggered Article 50. Now he has been forced to make a full apology.

Callanan’s original error was to agree when Matt Ridley, another Tory peer, asked him if the judgment in Gina Miller’s Supreme Court case “confirms in precise terms that Article 50 is irreversible”. It did not.

The Brexit minister was forced to make a grudging retraction in the House of Lords on Thursday, saying the Supreme Court had “decided that it was not necessary for it to consider the legal position on this specific point any further.”

But this somewhat ambiguous statement didn’t quite do the trick, so Callanan was today forced to eat a full helping of humble pie. He told peers: “The Supreme Court proceeded on the Miller case on the basis that Article 50 would not be revoked but did not rule on the legal position regarding its revocability.” He added: “I recognise that my comments have caused confusion and I apologise to the House.”

Callanan, a pro-Brexit minister who took up his position less than a month ago, had a tough job even before his incorrect remark. Next year he has to try to persuade peers to approve the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill, which is already struggling in the House of Commons. Unless he restores his credibility fast, his personal troubles could become the government’s.

Meanwhile, Callanan’s apology, the government’s refusal to release legal advice on whether Article 50 can be revoked and its failure to rebut the opinion of John Kerr, who helped write Article 50, that it can indeed be revoked points to the conclusion that it is not too late to change our minds.

Research by Luke Lythgoe

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The last paragraph was added shortly after publication

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Can we change our mind? Minister sorry for incorrect remark”

  • Whatever the legal position may be, in practice the question whether the UK can change its mind about leaving will surely be decided on political grounds. With the UK losing the trust of other members, its departure is seen as the removal of an incubus. So Article 50 seems to be irreversible in practice. Indeed, it seems vanishingly unlikely that the 27 will even agree to a transitional period – except perhaps for a short extension granted on compassionate grounds.

  • What has become of the release of the ‘secret’ studies. I thought that the Tories were instructed to release these papers almost immediately. Then it became Tuesday (today, the 21st?) but in the meantime different Tories have stated that it will take weeks to prepare and release the documents.

    So, where are they and why has this issue dropped below the horizon?

  • Could it somehow be that the Brexit Impact studies will not have been completed and ready for debate, until the Brexit Bill has passed through the Commons? Would of course, just be a coincidence.