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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:35 pm on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour 6:35 pm, 22nd November 2016

My Lords, I want to dwell on the distinction made in the Constitution Committee’s report between resolution and legislation. It is very important that the Government introduce a resolution confirming that they accept the result of the referendum, so that, whatever delays are involved in invoking Article 50, the people do not think that their will is being denied. Although the margin overall was 4 percentage points, the margin in England was 7 percentage points and England voted with the same difference, 2 million votes, in favour of Brexit as did the entire country—so the rest of the country cancelled out between remain and leave. England made the difference and the English public will be extremely angry if their will is going to be thwarted. So I think a short resolution confirming that Parliament accepts the referendum result would be good.

Then we may want an Act—legislation, again as recommended by the Constitution Committee—which would lay out what the Government should do before invoking Article 50. We should have a lot of parliamentary input in the process before and after, but during the divorce negotiations we should have a limited presence. I have once before advocated a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament which would have the information from the Government on Privy Council terms. We cannot really have, between this House and another place, 1,500 people trying to micromanage the Government’s negotiations. But a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament under Privy Council rules could be given all the information by the Government. It would be able to advise the Government on how to proceed and that would both give Parliament a voice in the procedure and not be too public. One difficulty in making it public is that we have a very vicious press. It will attack people for whatever reasons, as it already has done. It is very important that the Government can keep their cards close to their chest while negotiating with Europe.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—one dare not disagree with him, I would say—that we need a smart Brexit. The correction I would make is that we need a quick Brexit and a smart framework of negotiations. We want a quick Brexit because we want to get out of this mess. Let the divorce be quick and let the cohabitation negotiations be fruitful and beneficial, because once we get the Brexit thing out it is not just the 27 we have to get on with; the other n minus 27 with whom we have to negotiate trade treaties are also waiting out there, and the quicker we do Brexit the better off we will be.