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Dianne Hayter on a cross-party attempt in the Lords to ensure Theresa May honours a promise to give Parliament a proper say on the UK/EU Brexit agreement

A rather straightforward, cross-party amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill – in my name, as well as Conservative Peer Lord Patten, LibDem Lord Wallace and Crossbencher Lord Hannay – seeks to be useful to the Prime Minister. In short, we want to help her honour a promise to put into statute that our withdrawal agreement from the EU would be voted on in the UK Parliament, before a similar – albeit more serious – vote in the European Parliament.

I refer to the latter as ‘more serious’, as the European Parliament must agree the deal if it is to go any further – giving MEPs a veto. Whereas this side of the English Channel, a mere motion in either the Commons or Lords (or indeed both) would have no statutory force. Either or both Houses could say “nay” and the Prime Minister would still say “yea” – then sign up. Or the PM could, in fact, fail to table a motion.

That is why Mrs May’s promise should at the very least be written into legislation. First, to ensure approval by Parliament of the draft agreement prior to the vote in Europe. Second, to ensure approval by Parliament of the final agreement, including the framework for our future relationship with the EU. Third, to introduce a mechanism to prevent the government walking away from the talks without the consent of Parliament. And in all three scenarios, the Commons must be allowed to decide what to do should it disagree with the government’s approach.

While many believe that the third ‘no deal’ scenario is no longer an option, bear in mind that only last week the Foreign Secretary said this would hold no “terrors” for the UK and that we would do “very well” on World Trade Organisation terms. Despite manufacturers’ and exporters’ worries about duties and red tape, the possibility of border posts in Ireland, and Calais facing 30 mile tailbacks – with potential food shortages here as a result of mandatory customs and sanitary checks at the ferry terminal. So, Parliament must be able to hold Ministers feet to the fire, and ensure more sensible judgements than those of Mr Johnson.

It is not just Peers who want to see parliamentary endorsement – or not – of the outcome. Ex-PM John Major, who knows a thing or two about negotiating treaties, has said there “must be a decisive vote, in which parliament can accept or reject the final outcome; or send the negotiators back to seek improvements; or order a referendum … That is what parliamentary sovereignty means … No one can truly know what ‘the will of the people’ may then be. So, let parliament decide.”

While I don’t share Mr Major’s views on a further referendum, I do agree that it’s for Parliament not the government to make the final call. Such sovereignty is vital – and not just because of the long term implications of this decision. We must ensure the Prime Minister is at all times aware that it’s not just divided views in her Cabinet that need satisfying but Parliament on behalf of the people.

Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town is Shadow Brexit Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @HayteratLords

This article first appeared at PoliticsHome's 'Central Lobby' blog

Help at hand

Dianne Hayter on a cross-party attempt in the Lords to ensure Theresa May honours a promise to give Parliament a proper say on the UK/EU Brexit agreement


John Monks on why it's time for Parliament to take back control

‘Take back control’ was a powerful slogan in the leave campaign in the 2016 referendum on EU membership. Along with concern about free movement of labour and now clearly specious claim that our EU contributions could be better spent on the NHS, the slogan about taking back control, endlessly repeated by the leave campaign, resonated widely. 

In fact, 18 months on from the referendum, it is clear that the decision to leave the EU has put the UK in the most humiliating position imaginable, short of a major military defeat.

To leave without disastrous economic consequences (such as a collapse in inward investment), we find ourselves supplicants, begging for a good deal.  Our demands about the future relationship with the EU are being regarded in Brussels, as unrealistic, wishful thinking.  Nowhere is this more obvious than the lack of any clear idea about avoiding  a hardening of the border across Ireland.  More generally, we have rejected staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union.  Instead, the Government has been scrambling to put together a claim which would enable the UK to align with some EU arrangements and deviate from others – a highly complex  ‘pick and mix’ strategy, aiming to have our cake and eat it.  It is getting short shrift across the Channel, deservedly so.

The Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech may have united the Cabinet and the Conservative Party for the moment.  EU negotiators may be being coolly polite about it for the moment. But, to put it mildly, they are unimpressed and are steering towards using the EU-Canada free trade deal as a template for agreement with the UK, a position which could, on the Government’s own figures, cut UK GDP by 5%.

Where is Parliament in all this?  It is promised a meaningful vote when the final deal is concluded.  This is a very welcome step insisted on by the House of Commons.  However, this is not enough – and it may be too late to exert a decisive influence. 

By that stage, if indeed there is an agreement, the EU will probably be allied with the UK Government in saying ‘take it or leave it’ – and both could well be saying that the only alternative to agreeing the deal is no deal, with all the disastrous consequences that would have for our economy.

Yet there is an extra step that Parliament can take, and take as soon as possible.  Parliament voted to trigger Article 50 to leave the EU but has not expressed its view on what should replace our full membership.

It should now rectify this gap, step up, and take control.  It should demand the right to give our negotiators a mandate for the talks, force the Government to put its proposals on the future relationship to Parliament for endorsement or amendment, and exert some control of the negotiations a an early stage.  Parliament should not be mere spectators.  That is not taking back control.

So I, along with Lord (Ming) Campbell of Pittenweem, Baroness Wheatcroft, Lord Lea of Crondall and other members of the Lords, are supporting an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill (number 142) calling for Parliament, especially the House of Commons, to have a meaningful vote, not just on the final terms of a deal, but, also, a prior vote on a mandate which sets a line for our negotiators to follow in the forthcoming talks.  In such a vote, Parliament might endorse the Cabinet’s approach or it might amend it.

I hope it would not rule out retaining membership of the Customs Union and also keep open an option of staying in the European Economic Area and hence the Single Market. 

But in any event, our democracy demands that Parliament has a say and a chance to influence the direction of travel of the talks. 

So to our Parliamentary colleagues, especially in the House of Commons, we say it is time to take control.  We must not leave the most important post-war decision solely in the fumbling hands of the Cabinet and the Conservative Party.

Lord John Monks is a Labour Peer and former General Secretary of the TUC

This article first appeared at The Huffington Post politics blog



Our European future

John Monks on why it's time for Parliament to take back control


Bryan Davies on the need for fresh OBR analysis to help better inform Parliament of the likely consequences of the Brexit deal

The most significant actor in forecasting the development of the UK economy is of course, the Office for Budget Responsibility – mandated as it is to provide two forecasts each year. Yet there has been no updated forecast on the impact of Brexit since the Economic and Fiscal Outlook of November 2016.

Uncertainty of how the government will respond to the choices and trade-offs it faces during the Withdrawal negotiations renders forecasting extremely difficult. There has been no meaningful basis on which to form a judgement on the final outcomes.

The government has given the OBR short shrift, referring it to the Prime Minister’s Florence speech as definitive. In that speech, Theresa May said the UK would seek to achieve a deep and special partnership with the EU and this should span a new economic relationship. Not surprisingly, the OBR did not consider this a basis on which to update its analysis.

The OBR did however, set out to forecast the outcome for certain parameters of the negotiations. It made several key assumptions about what will happen when the UK leaves the EU next March. New trading arrangements with both the EU and leading states will slow down the pace of import and export growth over the ten years following the 2016 referendum. The UK will adopt a tougher migration regime following Brexit but not sufficiently tough to reduce inward migration to the government’s stated target of tens of thousands

The Treasury Select Committee finds this situation highly unsatisfactory, given that the OBR is required to produce regular reports analysing the risks surrounding the economic outlook for the UK.

Committee members saw no reason why the OBR should not provide an update – its rationale being that it already has information on migration flows and can assess the likely state of the public finances. Plus, the OBR has already formed the judgement that the consequence of Brexit on economic growth – positive or negative – are likely to be so substantial as to dwarf the impact of the financial settlement. A settlement that has so exercised members of the Cabinet through and since the referendum campaign.

While the Select Committee report came too late to be considered in the Commons during MPs debates on the EU Withdrawal Bill, it will be discussed in the Lords today during the latest round of debates on the legislation. An amendment in my name, with formal support from Labour colleagues Denis Tunnicliffe and Frank Judd, offers this opportunity and calls on the OBR to publish a fresh economic outlook. Something that would incorporate the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and inform Parliament`s consideration of whether or not to act on the outcome of the negotiations.

Challenging as this task might be, the flow of firm and up to date information will obviously be in demand over the course of this year. Parliamentarians have the right to ask the OBR, the best placed institution, to provide the information we so clearly require.   

Lord Bryan Davies is Shadow Treasury Minister in the House of Lords

Published 14th March 2018 

Risk and responsibility

Bryan Davies on the need for fresh OBR analysis to help better inform Parliament of the likely consequences of the Brexit deal

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