Parliament needs to stand up to the Government on Article 50

Are there any Parliamentarians left in Parliament?  That was the question that kept occurring to me as I watched the submissions to the Supreme Court in the Article 50 case this week.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy an interesting court case as much as the next person. The Supreme Court will do an excellent job determining the law, and it has every right to do so. The problem is that it should not have been necessary for the court to consider the matter in the first place.

Parliament alone has the right to determine what the division of power between itself and the executive should be. As it has not acted to overrule the government’s claim that triggering Article 50 is an executive power, Parliament has implicitly accepted that the power is a prerogative. 

The only reason the court case is necessary is that Parliament has, so far, declined to express its preferred division of power explicitly. This unusual silence stems from the fact that the Labour front bench would rather hide behind the judiciary than let the public know they want to give the decision to the government instead of bearing the responsibility themselves.

Today’s opposition motion serves to emphasise how trapped Labour is by this. Instead of standing up to the government as they should be doing, their motion is desperately trying to divert attention away from the Article 50 question.

Whether Labour members like it or not, it will ultimately be for Parliament to decide when and how we leave the EU. Either it will decide this directly, by vote, or it will choose indirectly; by leaving the power with, or granting it to, the government. Neither the Supreme Court case or Labour’s  motion make any difference to this. They only delay the inevitable and serve to illustrate that the Labour party isn’t fit to govern.

* Scott Craig is a member of the Liberal Democrats, currently living in Edinburgh

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10 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Dec '16 - 3:28pm

    In liberalism parliament shouldn’t have absolute power. If we voted in and a leave parliament wanted to take us out there would be uproar. Arguments about parliamentary soveignty would reduce in frequency from liberals, just like liberals are now quieter about the supremacy of the Commons now the left controls the Lords.

  • Richard Underhill 7th Dec '16 - 7:27pm

    The Labour MP for Tottenham said that his constituency would bear the brunt of Brexit, a constituency which has 35% unemployment and which has had two riots.

  • Eddie Sammon

    “parliament shouldn’t have absolute power”

    I agree, we should have a codified liberal constitution that sets out a distribution of power, But we don’t have my preferred system, we have our current system. In this case we should work to the current system. Where a bill was passed by parliament to hold an advisory referendum (it could have been passed to take effect on the result being declared but wasn’t) which it now comes back for parliament to interpret and act upon.

    If we voted in a leave government and they wanted to make laws by prerogative not legislating I would complain, if we voted in a remain parliament and they wanted to make law by prerogative not legislation I would complain.

    I still object to the lords existing in its current form, that doesn’t mean I am ok with the government believing it can bypass the lords. By all means change the system I can think of many ways but not by ignoring the system and handing the PM the right to repeal legislation.

  • William Ross 8th Dec '16 - 5:27pm

    So Psi what would happen if the same referendum had occurred on 23 June but with a 52% majority for Remain. However, a heavily Leave Parliament just decides to trigger Article 50 anyway because it knows better than the simple guys who voted Remain? To me that is utterly unconceivable and I would be furious. How is it OK in reverse? And how can you be a “Democrat”?

  • William Ross

    Calm down.

    What you describe is a worse situation as a leave parliament would have set in train an unalterable situation and the public booting out the government would not be able to undo.

    However that is our system and it is what would happen. Like I said I don’t like our system and would prefer it changed but we start to work with what we have.

    It is odd the government didn’t simply start the legislative process as soon as May took over, but that shows the combined competence of the three Secretaries of State and one Prime Minister (with countless junior ministers) the Tories have working on this.

  • William Ross 8th Dec '16 - 6:03pm

    PSI

    I am quite calm. I just raised a very realistic hypothetical. You are arguing that Parliament can override the will of the people expressed in a referendum. Whatever the legalities are, I don`t think it can and I asking you how you like the principle reversed? I think it is appalling and reckless. I would take the same view if Westminster had expelled us after the referendum vote in 2014 even though I was a Yes voter. I respect the choice of the people.

  • John Peters 8th Dec '16 - 6:24pm

    @William Ross

    Nothing has changed re the powers of Parliament.

    Can they override the Referendum: Yes.

    Should they override the Referendum: No.

    Will they override the Referendum: No.

  • William Ross

    Well you appeared to have an impediment to your reasoning I thought that as you mentioned being “furious” that would be it. Perhaps it is something else.

    The fact is Parliament has to implement legislative change to make the referendum take effect. For example the leave campaign spent the referendum claiming we would have an arrangement like Norway (or Switzerland) but now some of them are ministers they want the power to repeal legislation and move the goalposts, they have abandoned earlier claims and appear happy with the Albania arrangement.

    It is entirely appropriate that Parliament doesn’t allow the executive free reign to do whatever they want, ministers have to turn up with a plan (which they have somehow failed to produce so far).

    If Parliament fails to do what the public expect or the ministers still fail to produce a plan in a reasonable time frame the public can vote them out and put someone else in to do a better job.

    Leavers like to present the situation as simple as In/Out but it is actually In/Out1/Out2/Out3/Out4/etc. It is entirely appropriate that parliament holds ministers feet to the fire and makes them come up with logical end goals and a credible plan to get there.

  • William Ross 9th Dec '16 - 2:37pm

    Psi

    I would have been “furious” if a Leave Parliament had triggered Article 50 against a Remain referendum win. I am a democrat after all.

    I am not presently furious but rather enjoying last night’s by-election which is bad news for you. Any Remainer worth their salt should have voted Lib Dem there but you got 11% Also, I note that a third of your Parliamentary group voted to abstain on the Brexit motion yesterday. You don`t have a clear Brexit line either it seems.

  • William

    Pleased to see you appearvto have recognised that I am right on the original point.

    You may now want to peruse the LDV comments to see if your impression about LibDem MPs position, shouldn’t take long.

    I’m not going to try and read any national picture in to Thursday’s vote as I also didn’t into the Richmond result. I was happy with Richmond and satisfied with S&H.

    The things that the LibDems should be worried about don’t show up in by elections.

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