Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset 5:00 pm, 13th March 2017

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but it seems to me that for this purpose we do not even need to raise that question, because there is only one other possibility in this Court action—that the Court decides that the Prime Minister has implicitly made the decision. I do not quite know how the Court would get to that answer, but we could speculate that if the Prime Minister had acted differently in the course of the negotiations, the European Council would have acted differently, so implicitly the Prime Minister has made the decision.

Under those circumstances, subsection (4) would, purportedly, come into effect. That is, I suppose, what its authors intended. However, if the European Council has not by the end of the two-year period made a unanimous decision and if the courts decided that the Prime Minister had thereby implicitly decided, the courts would be requiring Parliament to do something that it is impossible to do—namely, to get the Prime Minister to reverse a decision that, as a matter of ordinary language, the Prime Minister would not have made at a time when the Prime Minister could not undo a decision that, as a matter of ordinary language, the European Council had made.

I am perfectly aware that it is of the greatest importance for Members of this House to show due deference to the other place, and I also genuinely admire the skills of the authors of the amendment, but I put it to them that even the House of Lords in all its majesty cannot compel the Prime Minister to do something that is impossible. That is beyond the scope of any human agency.