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Analysis

Emergency law shows MPs not PM are sovereign

by Hugo Dixon | 09.04.2019

MPs have shown they can force through a law against the government’s wishes. They may need to do so again before Brexit is done and dusted.

This is something many pundits said a few months, even a few weeks ago, was impossible. How could MPs force the prime minister to do something against her will? After all, the government controls the flow of parliamentary business.

And yet last night, Yvette Cooper’s legislation requiring Theresa May to ask the EU to delay Brexit got royal assent. The content of the Act is less important now that the prime minister herself has asked for an extension to the Article 50 negotiating process – although it is possible that the threat of this legislation last week help prod May into writing her letter to Donald Tusk, the European Council president.

What is important is that MPs have proved the concept that they have the whip hand. First, they took control of the order paper for a day by making an exception to the House of Commons standing orders which normally let the government determine what MPs discuss. Then they used the time to push through the necessary legislation – which the House of Lords then amended and approved, also in near record time.

This is not a tool to be used lightly. It is much better if the government follows the wishes of Parliament without being forced to. It is also only a tool that can be used when a majority of MPs have a common purpose.
That said, these are exceptional times. As the Brexit saga continues, it is quite possible that this prime minister will need to be reminded that she is Parliament’s servant, not its master. And hopefully, if that happens, she will realise that it is better to do things the easy way rather than, to use the Biblical expression, to kick against the pricks.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “Emergency law shows MPs not PM are sovereign”

  • Correct, the prime minister is parliaments servant but parliamentarians are supposed to be the servants of the people!

    They voted unanimously for article 50 where the backstop was no deal – they are the ones NOT representing the nation.

  • Parliament did not vote unanimously for Article 50. It’s all part of the misinformation spread by Brexiters. MPs are expected to vote in the national interest and that of their constituents, who did not vote to become poorer. MPs are representatives not delegates, and should apply their judgment based on the actual evidence, not on the fanciful opinions of those who know less about the issue, and couldn’t care less!

  • At long last Parliament starting to assert itself instead of just voting on party lines.

    Biggest hypocrites were those MPs complaining that the Bill was being rushed through both Houses without time for scrutiny. Weren’t these the same MPs that were all in favour of Parliament being by-passed altogether, were it not for Gina Miller and the High Court?