Claims that Parliament needs to vote to approve an Article 50 letter or not is based on foolish misunderstandings, says John Redwood.
I believe in the sovereignty of the UK people. As a democrat I believe that the people exercise their rights and freedoms by choosing representatives for their Parliament, and dismissing them at general elections if they cease to please. Between elections the sovereign people can either let their Parliament get on with the job they were elected to do, or the people can argue, lobby, press, campaign for their Parliament to vary its plans. The people accept that they, like their elected representatives, must obey all the laws and commands Parliament makes until such time as they are repealed or amended. Parliament has authority and exercises the people’s sovereignty subject to the popular will.
The present clever lawyer arguments over whether Parliament needs to vote to approve an Article 50 letter or not is based on a number of foolish misunderstandings. Parliament did have its very decisive say over whether we remained in the EU or left the EU. After an election and extensive debate and votes, Parliament by an overwhelming majority approved the Referendum Act. When most of us voted for it, the government made clear we were voting to hand the decision over whether to remain in or leave the EU back to the sovereign people. There was no doubt about that. Labour did not object to that from the Opposition benches.
This was reinforced in the Referendum campaign. The government sent a leaflet to all households stating that the people would decide, and then government and Parliament would implement the people’s decision. Both official campaigns were asked if the result was binding, and both confirmed the result would be implement by Parliament. Both campaigns ruled out any need for a subsequent referendum. Parliament made no provision for a second referendum, though we could have done so easily in the Referendum Act if that had been the plan.
There is therefore no obvious need for Parliament to vote to approve an Article 50 letter, as it simply reflects the will of the people. If a sufficient number of MPs wanted a vote on one, there could be a vote. I doubt the official opposition will want to press for one, as it would reveal big disagreements within the Labour party, with many of their MPs accepting they now have to vote for UK exit as that was the national result in a national referendum. Practically all Conservative MPs would respond positively to a three line whip to approve an Article 50 letter.
I see no need for the law courts to get involved with what Parliament debates and votes on. That is no part of our constitution. Law courts are there to enforce the laws Parliament enacts. Sometimes they help make law by handing down judgements that force Parliament into amending or rethinking what it has written in Statute. The courts are not there to thwart a referendum result or to dictate the Parliamentary timetable. Once the powers of the ECJ have been removed Parliament resumes its role as the UK’s highest court, the court that reshape and instruct the others.
Parliament will be fully engaged in the detail of our exit arrangements. Parliament will have to approve legislation to remove the EU powers in the 1972 European Communities Act. Parliament will doubtless question and debate many facets of our new grade based relationship with the EU, and make the case for various new and continuing arrangements for anything from research collaboration to security exchanges.