The people may have spoken, but Westminster will decideby Patience Wheatcroft / April 15, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
The United Kingdom does not have to leave the European Union on 29th March 2019. It is not a done deal.
This is the truth that few in parliament currently dare to utter. As the EU (Withdrawal) Bill has been wending its way towards the Statute Book, ministers have stood at the Despatch Box and repeatedly uttered, with varying degrees of conviction, that “We are leaving the European Union.”
Martin Callanan, the minister of state at the Department for Exiting the EU, must have the words imprinted on his brain. By 15th March this year, even he was tiring of repeating them, as was clear when he told the Lords “We are leaving the European Union on 29th March next year in accordance with the Article 50 notification and we have made it very clear countless times.”
But what the minister could not tell his inquisitors on that occasion, and no minister has so far been in a position to explain, is the terms on which that departure would be made. In parliament there is a variety of views on what deal might be acceptable and a majority of politicians is determined to have its voice heeded on deciding this crucial issue.
“Parliamentary sovereignty” is the cry that unites them and that cornerstone of our democracy threatens to make life rather difficult for the government.
The path to Brexit was never going to be smooth. When a government tries to railroad parliament into doing something that most politicians believe would damage the country, it would be surprising if parliament did not put up a fight. Initially, neither the Lords nor the Commons seemed to have much of a stomach for the battle. The cudgel of the referendum result, irrespective of the narrow majority, was used repeatedly to bludgeon parliament into submission.
“The people have spoken,” declared the government and the Bill to formally notify the EU of the UK’s intention to leave was allowed to sail into law.