MPs must fight for parliamentary sovereignty

by Hugo Dixon | 11.10.2016

Theresa May wants to neuter parliament, saying it’s her right alone to interpret the people’s will. Democrats throughout the ages have fought against the executive trying to turn parliament into a rubber stamp. Today’s freedom lovers – however they voted in the referendum – must stop this latest attempt to curb parliament.

A cross party group of MPs has called for a parliamentary vote before the government triggers Article 50, launching the Brexit talks. But the prime minister is having nothing of it. Her spokesperson said yesterday: “Having a second vote, or a vote to second-guess the will of the British people, is not an acceptable way forward.”

But what was the people’s will? Quite apart from the fact that the referendum vote was only advisory, it merely gave voters two options “Remain” or “Leave”. It, therefore, did not authorise any specific form of Brexit – let alone the hard, xenophobic Brexit that May seems to be embarking upon.

She says it is her prerogative – exercising the so-called crown’s prerogative – to decide when and how to trigger Article 50. This is being tested in a court case that starts on Thursday.

Clearly, if the government loses, May will need to ask MPs for authorisation. But even if it wins, MPs can and should demand that they are fully involved in the Brexit process. They need to approve not just the triggering of Article 50; but they should also debate the key choices that will be made along the way. That means the government must commission and publish evidence supporting what it plans to do.

David Davis once called for the government to publish a White Paper, which would have set out its Brexit policy and the rationale behind it. Now he’s Brexit secretary, he has abandoned the idea. The government has also nixed an idea to publish a Green Paper – which would have set out policy options – according to the BBC.

MPs must fight this attempt by May to sideline them and conduct talks behind closed doors. This goes beyond the Brexit issue. It is a high constitutional principle.

As Steven Phillips, a pro-Brexit Tory MP, said yesterday: “I and many others did not exercise our vote in the referendum so as to restore the sovereignty of this parliament only to see what we regarded as the tyranny of the European Union replaced by that of a government that apparently wishes to ignore the views of the house on the most important issue facing the nation.”

Hugo Dixon is co-founder of CommonGround as well as editor-in-chief of InFacts. You can sign up as a supporter here.

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    4 Responses to “MPs must fight for parliamentary sovereignty”

    • Funny to find that, so many people voting to leave the EU because of the lack of democracy they perceived in its machinations, ultimately got a national political club in place that is anything but democratic. The whole process toward Brexit so far is curiously reminiscent of how the Nazi’s got themselves voted in: based on similar persistent lies to create a national enemy (the Jewish population then, perceived hordes of foreigners threatening the British shores now) and eventually were able to toss the (much more fragile) democracy in Germany aside. Now look at what history tells us; they wrecked Germany and unfortunately the rest of Europe and much of the rest of the world with it. I marvel that any reasonably intelligent person could be happy with what is happening to the UK, its economy and its standing in education.

    • It is also very curious that it is now politically incorrect to challenge the result of the Referendum; no one dares to do this at the moment even the most convinced Europhiles. On the other hand, the natural ebbs and flows of parliamentary democracy result in majorities of one party being overturned from one day to the next at successive general elections without a thought as to what is or was the ” will of the people ” . The later is accepted as short lived in the framework of a general election but for a referendum the consequences can last a life time.

    • Hugo – I detect that your InFacts editorials are getting quite properly muscular!

      Keep it up.

      The government’s proposed approach to Brexit is a disgrace – and has no logical or democratic basis – as you clearly set out.

      And have you seen the latest academic research proving that immigration does not deprive British workers of jobs or lower their wages? (Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE – found via FT’s superb Free Lunch blog.)

    • What nonsense, this is a straight forward case of an abuse of the legal process. Parliament has already had its say, they then took the decision to consult the electorate on the way forward, the British people instructed them and now we most get on with the job.
      Also, the UK adopted 50,000 EU laws using exactly which legislation? The Royal Perogative that’s what, at no time did parliament demand a vote on any of those laws, not one, so now to suggest they suddenly need to interfere and challenge the democratic mandate after they’ve already had their say is nothing more than an anti-democratic, attempt to get their way which shows exactly the SAME dictatorial arrogance the British people have voted to do away with.
      So, in closing, our forefathers who created our system would be appalled at this outrageous attempt to thwart democracy, so please stop hand wringing and finally get with the program.