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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:11 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 4:11 pm, 2nd October 2019

My Lords, since we last debated Brexit, much has changed and yet, in many ways, nothing has changed. In some respects, we have gone backwards. We are looking for a new departure arrangement having renounced Theresa May’s agreement, which many of us, however reluctantly, were finally willing to support—including the present Prime Minister. Yet in the gloom, I believe there are some hopeful signs, to which I will return.

Let me first say in parenthesis that I saw nothing surprising or constitutionally revolutionary in last week’s ruling of the Supreme Court. Since the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was sitting beside me, let me say that in view of the large television audiences for the proceedings of the court and following the ending of the televising of the Ashes contest, my noble friend has a claim to have become the Ben Stokes of the legal profession.

My career was spent in an era when judicial review became established as a means of challenging unreasonable exercises of power by the Executive. Although Prorogation took place geographically in Parliament, it was an act of the Executive: Parliament did not have a chance to vote on it. For me, the crucial sentence in the judgement was:

“It is impossible for us to conclude … that there was any reason—let alone a good reason—to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks”.

A five-week Prorogation of Parliament at a crucial time when, as we will see next week, only a few days are needed to prepare for a Queen’s Speech, was an unreasonable exercise of the prerogative by the Executive. That is what the ruling was about; it was not about Brexit.