13 March - Brexit article by Alistair and Jeremy Lefroy MP Mail on Sunday 12 March
The following article about the Lord's Amendments being discussed in the House of Commons today appeared in shortened form in the Mail on Sunday on 12 March. It was written by Jeremy Lefroy MP and myself:
Let’s not dance on the head of a pin….just sort out what Parliament does if there is no deal.
Let us reassure any Brexiteer reading this. There is no covert plot by Tory MPs to keep us in the EU. There is no ruthless operation, Maastricht in reverse, to hi-jack the Commons timetable and use the Article 50 Bill to reverse the will of the Referendum. There is only a determination, reflecting the ‘taking back control’ argument which was such a feature of the Brexit campaign, of a number of Conservative colleagues of ours to ensure the role of Parliament at the conclusion of our negotiations on leaving the EU. After all, Parliament began it with the Bill to allow the Referendum; we ought to be there at the end.
This is the background to the Commons debates this week following the House of Lords insertion of two amendments to the Article 50 Bill. Let us leave to one side the important issue of EU nationals, on which we agree with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister that their rights are secure, and that the issue will be at the top of the agenda for discussions once Article 50 is triggered. The other amendment which has caused so much heat is the context of the ‘meaningful vote’ that Parliament will get at the conclusion of the negotiations with the EU.
This vote stems from an important assurance, not an amendment on the face of the Bill, given by the Prime Minister following representations, that Parliament would be given the chance to vote on the terms of a deal thrashed out over the next two years, before it was finalised with the other parties.
But it has not yet been fully resolved as to whether or not this also means that Parliament would have an equal role should there be no agreement with the EU, a circumstance with significant and deeply worrying consequences in terms of the UK defaulting to WTO trade principles. There is an absolute logic that Parliament should be given a say in both circumstances but the Government has been reluctant to agree to this. It argued in the House of Lords that such a commitment would make negotiations more difficult, and that as the consequences of such a vote were at present unclear, Parliament should not have a vote at all. In addition, as one or two Brexiteer Lords suggested, it was moreover some form of ruse to enable the UK to remain in the EU.
We want to use Monday’s debate to scotch some such beliefs, and reassure on others. Firstly there is no plot to stay in the EU. All Conservative MPs, except for Ken Clarke, who can surely be allowed, voted for Article 50. We accept the result of the referendum; some acknowledgement of this by Brexiteers would be welcome, and both of us have been abroad recently banging the drum for trade deals for Britain. Secondly if the Government is not suggesting that its negotiating stance is weakened by having to seek a vote on a final deal, with its risk of rejection, why should it claim to be fearful of the vote on no deal? And just because the consequences of a vote at the end of the process are immense, there is no reason to deny Parliament a vote. It is the need for a vote that reassures the public that a Government is living up to its commitments. The negotiations are unlikely to be secret. We will know what’s on offer. We owe it to the British people to be involved on their behalf, whatever the outcome. And if, after all the efforts, the Government genuinely believes that a ‘no deal’ outcome is in the UK’s interests, an endorsement of this would surely be needed if a united nation is to move on.
The nub of the issue is this. What precisely does the Government intend to do with Parliament if the negotiations cannot be concluded with a deal? It seems unlikely that a simple statement would satisfy the Commons, and a vote could be arranged by an Opposition party without much difficulty. So let’s stop dancing around. There is going to be a vote on ‘no deal’ one way or another. The assurance of this by Government, without an amendment to the Bill, would be an acceptance of the obvious and then we can move on.
We trust absolutely that the Government wants, and is seeking, the best negotiated deal on behalf of the UK. It must trust a Parliament that has accepted Brexit to play its part in securing that.