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Time to take back control

John Monks on the importance of voting through Lords amendments 49 and 51 to the EU Withdrawal Bill

The talks about the future relationship of the UK and the EU are only now getting under way, after the agreements reached on the exit terms and on a transitional period. And no one outside the inner innermost Court of the Prime Minister knows what the UK is trying to achieve.

“It is time to take back control” was a powerful slogan for the leave campaign in the 2016 referendum. It is time, almost over time, to use the same slogan now. But this time for Parliament to take a measure of control over the UK’s approach to the talks and so put an end to the unrealistic wanting “our cake and eat it” type policy. “Trust the Prime Minister” is not good enough, after all the fumbling we have seen so far.

The EU 27 have given M. Barnier a clear Mandate, since published. Contrast that with the UK government, which has given Theresa May a blank cheque to put any interpretation she desires onto the result of the referendum. So, she has chosen a fudged formula to satisfy most of her party – at least for now. It is time for Parliament to step in and call a halt.

I welcome the meaningful vote that Parliament has been promised when the final deal is concluded. By that stage, if there is such an agreement, our government will likely be saying “take it or leave it” – adding that the only alternative to agreeing is ‘no deal’, with all the disastrous consequences that would have for our economy. That is why, on Monday, it is important for Peers to support amendment 49 to permit Parliament to consider alternatives to the final deal.

But there is a further amendment being debated on Monday that I have tabled which proposes an earlier, extra step that Parliament can take. Formally backed by Liberal Democrat Lord Campbell, Conservative Baroness Wheatcroft and my Labour colleague Lord Lea of Cronall, amendment 51 provides that our negotiators would be given a Mandate, approved by Parliament, for the talks. This would force Ministers to put their proposals on our future relationship with the EU to Parliament for endorsing, refining or amending.

I personally hope any such Mandate would not only include retaining membership of a Customs Union (as already supported by the Lords), and also keep open an option of staying in the European Economic Area. In any event, our democracy demands that Parliament – especially the Commons – has a chance to influence the direction of the travel of the talks. Anything less reduces MPs to the status of spectators.

It is indeed time to take back control. We must not leave the most important post-war decision in the fumbling hands of Mrs May, her Cabinet and one section of opinion in the Conservative Party. That is why I am urging colleagues from around the House to get behind amendment 51.

Lord John Monks is a Labour Peer

Published 27th April 2018

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