Parliament is sovereign: Vote on article 50

Private Eye on BrexitWhy I think you should contact your MP to ask them to vote against Theresa May’s Article 50 bill – whether your MP is pro or anti Brexit.

Theresa May claimed as Crown Prerogative the right to invoke Article 50 and take the UK out of the EU without consulting Parliament.

The Supreme Court has ruled, as matter of constitutional law, that she’s wrong: Parliament is sovereign, and only Parliament can take the UK out of the EU.

So Theresa May has had written a very short bill which will by Parliamentary vote give her the right to invoke Article 50 without further consultation.

Way to miss the point, Prime Minister.

This is the full text of the bill Theresa May has published today, two days after the Supreme Court ruled she couldn’t just use her Crown prerogatives to invoke Article 50:

Confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1 Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

(1) The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.

(2) This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.

2 This Act may be cited as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017.

Theresa May has 329 Tory MPs: that is, a working majority from 650. (With 4 Sinn Fein MPs who never take their seats, and the Speaker of the House who customarily never votes, the number of MPs needed for a one-vote majority is 323 – 322 at present because two seats are vacant.)

She also has 8 Democratic Unionist MPs, who will most likely vote for Brexit, and one UKIP MP, who will certainly vote for Brexit.

Standing against her there are 54 SNP MPs, nine LibDem MPs, three Plaid Cymru MPs, and one Green MP, all of whom will vote against Brexit. That’s 67 to 338: Theresa May has a 271-vote majority.

And then there’s the 229 Labour MPs. About three-quarters of them took part in a badly-planned and ill-thought-out coup against Corbyn last year, ostensibly out of passionate opposition to Brexit: the coup failed and Corbyn won re-election as the leader of the Opposition with larger support within the Labour Party membership than ever. While – contrary to spiteful rumour created by the media – he has not said he’ll have a three-line Whip on Brexit, he has said he’ll direct Labour MPs to vote for invoking Article 50.

Even if all 229 Labour MPs voted with the SNP, with the LibDems, with Plaid Cymru, and with the Green Party, Theresa May still has a likely 42-vote majority.

Twenty-two Tory MPs out of Theresa May’s 329 would have to vote against this bill to prevent it becoming law.

The EUref results map

EU Referendum Results Map

I do not believe there are any good arguments for invoking Article 50. MPs looking at a Leave majority in their constituency may disagree. But I think there is an excellent argument for voting against this bill.

This bill doesn’t invoke Article 50. This bill gives Theresa May the right to invoke Article 50 whenever she decides to. Having been instructed by the Supreme Court that Parliament is sovereign and only Parliament can constitutionally invoke Article 50, Theresa May wants to be granted the right by Parliament to invoke Article 50, without further consultation.

I disagree with this, and I would disagree with it even if I were pro-Brexit.

Theresa May must present to the House of Commons the government’s plan for withdrawal from the European Union. She has the right as leader of the Conservative party to lay down a three-line Whip to require Tory MPs to vote for her plan whatever they think of it. But she doesn’t have the right to demand that the Commons approve her right to invoke Article 50 without further debate on the issues.

I wrote to my MP asking her to vote against this bill.

I am fairly certain, as she’s SNP, that she would have voted against the bill whether or not I wrote to her; but I wanted to let her know that I support her vote against it, as her constituent, not because I support Scottish independence and not even because I oppose Brexit, but because this bill is just Theresa May demanding that if she doesn’t have the Crown Prerogative to invoke Article 50 already, the Commons should give it to her.

I think that even a pro-Brexit MP could justly vote against that.

If you are confident your MP will vote against the Bill, use Write To Them: at least, you can give them the ammunition to say that they’ve heard from their constituents on this.

If you are not confident your MP will vote against the Bill, phone them, and ask the staffer you speak to, to give them a message. You can also use Write To Them to give them more details.

If you’re fairly sure your MP will vote for the bill – especially if you have a Tory or UKIP or DUP MP – then show up at their next surgery and tell them face-to-face that they should not. If the debate is scheduled before their next surgery, try phoning, writing, or emailing.

The key factor I think for many MPs now determined to vote for Brexit who were pro-EU before the referendum is that they looked at their constituency and – in a majority of constituencies in the UK – they saw that a majority of those who voted, voted for Brexit. Only their own constituents can convince them that voting against this bill isn’t going to hurt them electorally in 2020.

You may not succeed. But if you don’t even try, you certainly won’t.

This is the email I wrote to my own MP:

Dear Deidre Brock,

I see that Theresa May has just had published Bill 132, a very short piece of legislation which would give her the right by majority vote in the Commons to decide when to invoke Article 50.

I have every hope you’d vote against it anyway, but as your constituent, I wanted to write to you to outline why I support your voting against it and hope MPs of other parties will join the SNP, the LibDems, and the Green Party in voting it down.

The Supreme Court decision affirmed that Parliament is sovereign: that if Article 50 is to be invoked, the House of Commons is the constitutional entity to invoke it.

I am not a supporter of Brexit, and I am not an enthusiast for Scottish independence: I voted No in 2014 because I was not convinced by the SNP’s planning for independence.

If the Commons vote by majority to invoke Article 50, then I expect to end up on the side of Scottish independence for all sorts of reasons, not least that I think the Prime Minister’s and the Foreign Secretary’s statements since June, make clear that they envision a hard Brexit with no right of free movement in which the UK will have no access to the EU’s common market, except by paying WTO tariffs: and a hard Brexit will be economic disaster for the UK.

But I affirm the right of the House of Commons to invoke Article 50, if there is a full debate on a definite Government withdrawal plan.

In particular, where the UK government will stand on the right of EU citizens now in this country legally to be granted indefinite leave to remain and work and claim healthcare and other benefits: where the UK government will stand on free movement of labour, which is a known precondition for access to the open market within the EU: and not of least importance, what solution the UK government proposes to the issue of peace in Northern Ireland.

(Although I am not myself a resident of Northern Ireland, my late father worked there for many years and I am personally outraged that Brexit, which could destroy the basis of the Good Friday Agreement (open borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) may be imposed on Northern Ireland against a majority vote in that country. We had a democratic, peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland: it would be shameful if Brexit were allowed to tear it up. )

Yes, I affirm the right of Parliament to invoke Article 50, after a free debate on the issues. I note, however, that this short piece of legislation does not invoke Article 50, nor does it allow MPs to debate the UK government’s withdrawal plan. Instead, this legislation invites Parliament to hand to Theresa May the prerogrative of invoking Article 50 without further debate – which she had previously claimed for herself by Crown Prerogrative, until that claim was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court.

I believe that any MP, whether pro or against Brexit, has the right to vote against this bill.

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7 Comments

Filed under Brexit, Politics

7 responses to “Parliament is sovereign: Vote on article 50

  1. Yvonne Aburrow

    Also, as the bill is so short, and parliamentary procedure only allows for amendments which substantively relate to the content of the bill, none of the issues that you have outlined above can be resolved or even begin to be addressed by amendments to such a simplistic bill.

  2. The EU is a classic privatisation scheme, with democratic decision-making about immigration, VAT, foreign policy, environmental policy, fishing quotas etc being contracted out to an unelected service provider. To use parliamentary sovereignty to try to, er, take power away from the people seems to me to be a machination of obvious villainy.

    If the Prime Minister was unable to invoke Article 50, she would go to the country. An election might not be unwelcome, though the chief disadvantage would be that those of us who support Tony Benn’s view of the EU would not have the first clue about who to vote for. I’d have to move all the way to Vauxhall to be able to vote for Kate Hoey.

    Brexit cannot be obstructed. It is fantasy politics. The only thing on the table appears to be the ambition of taking us back to 2006, before the EU had been fatally discredited and million of lives had been ruined. If Remainers are going to win an election any time soon, they are going to need rather more than that.

    • “To use parliamentary sovereignty to try to, er, take power away from the people seems to me to be a machination of obvious villainy. ”

      Which people?

      You live in a country that voted by majority for Remain.

      Northern Ireland also voted by majority for Remain.

      Must the majority vote of the English for taking the UK out of the EU thereby lead to the breakup of the UK because we cannot allow the English *not* to have what they voted for?

      • I live in a country which voted by a majority (i.e. of the turnout) for Remain but I also live in a democracy where the majority of the electorate voted to Leave. Scotland is a seperate country; it’s not a seperate democracy. The people decided this in 2014.

        Incidentally, a minority of people in Scotland voted to Remain. If Scotland really is a pro-EU country, the EU’s wretchedly undemocratic institutions inevitably couldn’t get the vote out. Glasgow had a turnout of 56%. Not so different to what happened in London, which rather scotches the fantasy of Scottish essentialism.

        • ” Scotland is a seperate country; it’s not a seperate democracy. The people decided this in 2014.”

          If you respect democracy, you need to respect the right of the Scottish people to decide to Remain. And as the only way we can remain in the EU is independence, it follows that we need independence.

          If England and Wales decide it’s worth breaking up the UK to leave the EU, that will be their choice.

  3. I’m glad I saw this. We are in a constituency that voted to stay, and I think my MP is personally a Remainer too, so with this constitutional outrage on top I think there’s every principled argument in favour of voting against – and have told him so.

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