Justice minister Phillip Lee resigns over government handling of Brexit

Justice Minister, Dr Phillip Lee resigned this morning over the manner in which the government is pursuing Brexit.

In a statement on his website he says

The main reason for my taking this decision now is the Brexit process and the Government’s wish to limit Parliament’s role in contributing to the final outcome in a vote that takes place today.

Lee rejects the idea of referendum on the final deal, but does suggest another way forward

If Brexit is worth doing, then it is certainly worth doing well; regardless of how long that takes. It is, however, irresponsible to proceed as we are, so we should:

• recognise that the UK and EU are not ready for Brexit and pause, extend or revoke Article 50 so that we do not leave before we are ready.

• re-engage with our European and international friends to talk about how to achieve the aims that we share for the future in ways that respect individual countries’ interests and sovereignty. Since 2016, electorates in many countries across Europe have expressed similar concerns to those that we expressed in the referendum and so much is changing, and will continue to change, across the whole of our continent.

• empower our Parliament so that its role is not limited to making fake choices – such as between a ‘bad deal’ and a cliff-edge ‘no deal’. Our Parliament should be able to direct our Government to change course in our interests. In all conscience, I cannot support the Government’s decision to oppose this amendment because doing so breaches such fundamental principles of human rights and Parliamentary sovereignty. A vote between bad and worse is not a meaningful vote. And I cannot bring myself to vote for it in the bastion of liberty, freedom and human rights that is our Parliament.

This is more constructive than any of the leavers deserve, but it is a sign how much the goalposts have shifted that leavers are now whining about the possibility of outcomes worse than staying in the EU …

…such as any outcome other than staying in the EU. What happened to having our cake and eating it? I guess we turned out not to have the upper hand in negotiations after all – that was so much bluster – and we weakened ourselves even further by invoking Article 50 a) at all, and b) without a plan.

How was it left to people who voted remain, to remind the leavers, drunk on their own vandalism, what Eurosceptics were actually demanding for decades up until June 2016: a free trade area without political union?

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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  • @Joe Otten
    ‘Lee rejects the idea of referendum on the final deal, but does suggest another way forward’

    From Phillip Lee’s website

    ‘When the Government is able to set out an achievable, clearly defined path – one that has been properly considered, whose implications have been foreseen, and that is rooted in reality and evidence, not dreams and dogma – it should go to the people, once again, to seek their confirmation.’

  • What he means is that we revoke 50, get back into the EU with higher payments and then allow the other 27 to vote so that no one will be allowed to leave. That should get rid of Brexit nicely!

  • Mick Taylor 12th Jun '18 - 2:32pm

    Jason. We haven’t left yet, so were we to decide to revoke article 50 before it runs out then we’d be in on current terms, with no increase in costs. (But incidentally a huge saving in not paying the costs of Brexit) To does you suggest the other 27 might do would require a new treaty and since the last one introduced a mechanism to allow people to leave, namely article 50, it seems unlikely that a new treaty -which would require unanimity – would agree on preventing states leaving, quite apart from the fact that the states in the EU remain sovereign states and can’t be bound in this way.

  • Matt (Bristol) 12th Jun '18 - 2:51pm

    Don’t have the most respect for Lee, but given his constituency largely voted leave, he clearly feels he has local support for resigning in this way. Like Wollaston, he is one of the handful of ‘open primary’ MPs elected during the aftermath of the expenses scandal. Some people may remember his predecessor, the permanently tanned Andrew Mackay:

  • How was it left to people who voted remain, to remind the leavers, drunk on their own vandalism, what Eurosceptics were actually demanding for decades up until June 2016: a free trade area without political union?

    Is that on offer? I thought that’s what the EU had ruled out on the grounds it was ‘cherry-picking’.

    If that is actually on offer then I don’t think any Leaver would not jump at it.

    (Note, of course, that a ‘free trade area’ is something quite different from a customs union; you can be in a free trade area and also able to freely negotiate your own trade deals with third parties, such as Canada which is in NAFTA and is currently negotiating such a deal with the EU; that would not be possible in a customs union).

  • HoWe haven’t left yet, so were we to decide to revoke article 50 before it runs out then we’d be in on current terms, with no increase in costs.

    Even if that were true (and I current opinion is that it is possible but would require all the EU countries to agree to the revocation, or Article 50 would take effect, so it would become a political problem of getting them to agree)…

    What do you think the chances are, in that case, of Britain being able to keep its rebate? Ending that wouldn’t take a new treaty, just a line in the next budget agreement; and with Britain having backed down and shown it wasn’t serious about leaving, what’s to stop them taking all the advantage of us they can?

    So that right there would be a massive increase in costs.

  • Leavers aren’t jumping at it, they are positively ruling it out

    Do you have an example of a Leaver ruling it out? At least some Leavers have explicitly supported it, but I’m not aware of any explicitly ruling it out.

  • If anyone is looking for a succinct run-down of specific reasons why hard Brexit is utter insanity, Polly Toynbee has done a good job listing them in the Guardian. (She’s not exactly my favourite columnist but credit where it’s due). https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/12/boris-johnson-brexit-warnings-mumbo-jumbo

  • Richard Underhill 12th Jun '18 - 4:45pm

    He spoke In the referendum debate in the Commons today, 12/6/2018 and was congratulated by two Tory MPs who admired his courage and integrity. There appears to be a conflict between collective responsibility and freedom of speech for MPs. If we were in government would we change that? bearing in mind our experience/s in coalition with the Tories.

  • Little Jackie Paper 12th Jun '18 - 6:43pm

    ‘How was it left to people who voted remain, to remind the leavers, drunk on their own vandalism, what Eurosceptics were actually demanding for decades up until June 2016: a free trade area without political union?’

    Have REMAINers been doing that? As far as I can see for some reason there has been a marked reluctance on the part of REMAINers to talk about the EEA option. Apparently many seem to think that 48% of the country all just loves the EU and all its works and has zero reservation about the EU. Similarly there seems to be this idea doing the rounds that the EEA is some sort of a ‘fudge.’ It most certainly is not – it is a very well-established way of operating that appears to have public support in, for example, Norway.

    Indeed, had REMAIN got its act together and got behind the EEA we could have had it locked down and sorted now. REMAIN seems to want a neverendum rather than the EEA.

    ‘Yes we would be rule takers in practise, though not in principle.’ That’s a red-herring. We have been potential rule-takers to some extent since QMV came along. Equally much of what the EU does stems from international bodies. Norway, for example has independent representation on some such bodies. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/9813101/Norways-fax-democracy-is-nothing-for-Britain-to-fear.html.

    No one would say that the EEA is perfect or that there are no problems in this picture, but then anyone seeking a perfect outcome is asking to be deceived.

    Look – I don’t know what to say. To my mind we probably should not have gone down the EU IN/EZ OUT route. That did always look like asking for trouble, with hindsight it was a bad decision. Indeed Macron’s thinking to me seems to suggest he has in mind some sort of EZ ‘Core’ with an outer, looser EEA-type ‘near abroad.’ 30 years ago we should have gone down the EEA route – we should do so now.

    And it is not just hard LEAVErs that need to dwell on that. What are you frightened of Joe – that people might actually be persuaded by the EEA route if you talk about it?

  • Bless Jackie still peddling your own personal Brexit and blaming the Remainers for not getting behind it. You voted for Brexit but after that like the rest of us the form of Brexit we would be given became that which the Tory party could negotiate with the EU. i repeat, you don’t get to choose what form you want, you will get the Brexit you are given (as will the rest of us). Peddling your own Brexit fantasy “O wouldn’t it be fine if we got my own personal version” is a denial of reality, you don’t have the power to choose that course (and neither do I). In conclusion you (along with a lot of your fellow Brexiteers) need to forsake a fantasy Brexit (that exists only in your mind) and take responsibilities for your actions.

  • Any Conservative with real interest in the EU should have quit at the point where they created a referendum without giving thought to what Brexit could look like. All well and good Cameron trying to save his legacy by going straight after the result but it was his cock-up that created (or didn’t create, certainly didn’t define) an outcome that any EU-phobe could put produce noise to fill empty space and thus drag debate and referendum into the gutter; it was his lack of foresight that has meant the negotiation of what the UK wants Brexit to look like if the referendum swayed that way only started after May got promoted and thus even creating the “enemies of the state” like front pages in the right-wing press. Cameron has to go down as the worst PM in the last 50 years if not more. Lee might have resigned now but had allowed for cock-up and division to go on for several years before doing so so hardly done all he can for his children.

  • Little Jackie Paper 13th Jun '18 - 12:07am

    Mark Valladares – I’ve only been to Norway a few times, and spoken to a small number of Norwegians (not politicians) and I’m wary of generalising. The impression I get is that by and large Norwegian elites in business, politics etc are rather keen on the EU, the rest of the public rather less so. Wiki (make of that what you will) has polling on the subject – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norway%E2%80%93European_Union_relations#Opinion_polling. That suggests far less polarisation than we see in the UK – no bad thing. As far as I am aware there is no push to reopen the EU question in Norway.

    On the rest of your post, it strikes me as ground well-trodden on many an internet page. I believe that the EEA represents a good arrangement that reflects the lack of will for a higher level of political union. I believe that we need a core EZ and an outer tier, at least for now. You take the view that the EU, warts and all, is the better deal. Fair enough. It’s all been done before to a tiresome extent by many others and I suspect neither of us has any great new insight.

    I will simply make the observation that instead of lamenting, you and your Norwegian politician friends would, to my mind, be better-advised to think about WHY the EU has the problems it has and what to do about them. At the moment REMAIN appears unable to move on from the Cameron arguments that failed, and rightly so.

    Regardless, I will leave the last word to you should you want it. Good luck to you.

  • What I think this reflects is the extreme disquiet amongst the political class, especially those who care about this country as opposed to their Party, of the Brexit process being led by people out of contact with voters and pursuing an ideological dream.

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