European Union (Withdrawal)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:16 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 7:16 pm, 3rd September 2019

We must allow other Members to speak. I see that time’s wingèd  chariot is speeding away, and therefore I must get on to the separation of powers. [Interruption.] Well, if the hon. Gentleman wants me to carry on all night, I will do my best.

Today’s debate goes to the heart of our constitution and the roles of the Executive and of Parliament. These are matters of careful balance. It is for the Government, by virtue of their ability to command the confidence of this House, to exercise Executive power. That includes the order of business and the bringing forward of legislation. It is for Parliament to scrutinise, to amend, to reject or to approve. Indeed, the scrutiny of the Executive is one of the core functions of Parliament. These complementary and distinctive roles are essential to the functioning of the constitution.

Ministers are of course accountable to Parliament for their decisions and actions, and Parliament can make clear its views. It is not, however, for Parliament to undertake the role and functions of the Executive. The constitutional convention is that Executive power is exercised by Her Majesty’s Government, who have a democratic mandate to govern. That mandate is derived from the British people and represented through this House.

Mr Speaker, when we look at this constitution, we see that we are protected by our rules, our orders and our conventions. We will remember from “A Man for All Seasons” that it is those rules, laws and conventions that protect us from the winds of tyranny, and if we take away those protections, as the right hon. Member for West Dorset proposes to do, we lose our protections. It is therefore on the basis of this convention that the Government, not Parliament, are responsible for negotiations with the European Union. Parliament as a whole cannot negotiate for the UK; that is the role of the Government, in exercising Executive power to give effect to the will of the nation.

These roles are fundamental and underpin the country’s uncodified constitution. The Government draw power from Parliament, but the Government may at any time be removed by the tried and tested motion of a confidence debate. The fact is that Parliament has not been willing to go down that route, and the reason is that the Opposition are afraid of that route and run away from it, because they do not dare have the Leader of the Opposition as the Head of Government. They are frightened. [Interruption.] Dawn Butler says that there is time. Let me say, as Leader of the House, that if the Opposition want a motion of confidence, this Government will always obey the constitutional convention and make time for it. But they are afraid—they are white with fear—because they do not want the right hon. Gentleman in No. 10 Downing Street.