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Article 50 (Constitution Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:19 pm on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Liberal Democrat 6:19 pm, 22nd November 2016

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, and my chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Lang, on their excellent reports.

Western Europe has seen 70 years of peace. I fear that Britain’s exit will unravel the knitted union and that western Europe may face further disruptions and wars. The referendum was a mistake, in that it was an advisory referendum but the Conservative Party suggested that the Government would take the advice. That it was a great mistake was emphasised by the departure of David Cameron as Prime Minister. He made a commitment in his manifesto to stand by the public’s decision. That should not have happened.

Parliament is not sufficiently involved in the negotiation process. We won the High Court case on the invoking of Article 50, and the Government are appealing it. The court case will be a matter of law. It seems to me that Parliament is the representative of the public and should be aware of what the Government intend. We have no idea how the Government propose to negotiate, or of their objectives. We have no idea how they would present this negotiation to the public. We must recognise that the negotiations should be made available to Parliament and that we should have a Green Paper setting out the Government’s objectives and the alternatives. We have a representative democracy and it is worthwhile setting up both Houses of Parliament to consider what the Government’s objectives are. We should be involved in the negotiations.

The noble Lord, Lord Boswell, said that what matters is the substance of Brexit and I totally agree. We need short reports covering the issues; he mentioned 20, which may be too few, but we need to know because we have been members of this Union for a very long time. It has made our law, which we will have to unravel if we are to separate from it. We know next to nothing of the Government’s position. Both Houses of Parliament should agree to issue guidelines. Parliament must be involved in the scrutiny of the legislation that will be forthcoming. We should not wait for the conclusion but should appoint a committee to supervise the negotiations. It should of course respect the confidentiality of the negotiations but should also have knowledge of the heads of agreement and the head objectives. The role of Parliament is critical. As a number of people have said in this debate, we are not leaving Europe. However, we need to know what structure of Europe we can belong to, and we have to see what the Government think about this.

I also wish to put forward the objectives of Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have voted against Brexit. How are they to be involved in the negotiations? Will they be involved in preliminary talks? Will the devolved Governments be involved in the process? What structure do the Government have—and intend to have—for these countries, which are so keen to remain members? I wonder whether we could reopen the issue if we find that the negotiations render us into a downturn of the economy.

Donald Tusk has said that withdrawing Article 50 is perfectly possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, said. If Article 50 can be withdrawn, I wonder what the Government will say if they find that the negotiations are hopelessly unreal and hopelessly damaging to this country. Will they permit that to be made public?