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House of Lords Hansard

The Process for Triggering Article 50

24 January 2017
Volume 778

    Statement

  • My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made in the other place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The Statement is as follows.

    “With permission, Mr Speaker, I will now make a Statement on the Government’s response to today’s judgment by the Supreme Court.

    This Government are determined to deliver on the decision taken by the people of the United Kingdom in the referendum granted to them by this House to leave the European Union. So we will move swiftly to do just that. I can announce today that we will shortly introduce legislation allowing the Government to move ahead with invoking Article 50, which starts the formal process of withdrawing from the EU. We received the lengthy 96-page judgment just a few hours ago. Government lawyers are assessing it carefully.

    But this will be a straightforward Bill. It is not about whether or not the UK should leave the EU. That decision has already been made by the people of the United Kingdom. We will work with colleagues in both Houses to ensure that this Bill is passed in good time for us to invoke Article 50 by the end of March this year, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has set out. This timetable has already been supported by this House.

    Let me now go through the issues step by step. The Government’s priority following the European Union referendum has been to respect the outcome, as promised by both sides in the campaign, and to ensure that it is delivered in the interest of the whole country. This House voted by six to one to put the decision in the hands of the voters, and that Bill passed the other place unopposed. So there can be no going back. The point of no return was passed on 23 June.

    The Government have also always been clear that we must leave by following the process set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. People want and expect us to get on with implementing the decision that was made.

    Let me now turn more specifically to the process for invoking Article 50 and the issues that arise from today’s Supreme Court judgment. The Government’s view, which we argued in both the High Court and subsequently in the Supreme Court, was that it was constitutionally proper and lawful for the Government to begin to give effect to the decision of the people by the use of prerogative powers to invoke Article 50. Today the Supreme Court has agreed with the High Court’s view that prerogative power alone is insufficient to give notice under Article 50, and that legislation is required in order to provide the necessary authorisation for this step.

    In addition, the Supreme Court considered the roles of the devolved legislatures in the process of triggering Article 50. On this, the Supreme Court ruled:

    ‘Relations with the EU and other foreign affairs matters are reserved to UK Government and parliament, not to the devolved institutions’.

    The Supreme Court’s summary goes on to say:

    ‘The devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU’.

    I will come back to our collaboration with the devolved Administrations later in this Statement.

    The Government have been giving careful thought to the steps that we would need to take in the event of the Supreme Court upholding the High Court’s view. First of all, let me be clear that we believe in and value the independence of our judiciary, the foundation on which our rule of law is built. So of course we will respect this judgment.

    Secondly, as I have already made clear, this judgment does not change the fact that the UK will be leaving the EU, and it is our job to deliver on the instruction that the people of the UK have given us. Thirdly, we will within days introduce legislation to give the Government the legal power to trigger Article 50 and begin the formal process of withdrawal. It will be separate from the great repeal Bill that will be introduced later this year to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. This will be the most straightforward Bill possible to give effect to the decision of the people and respect the Supreme Court’s judgment. The purpose of the Bill is simply to give the Government the power to invoke Article 50 and begin the process of leaving the EU. That is what the British people voted for, and that is what they would expect. Parliament will rightly scrutinise and debate this legislation. But I trust that no one will seek to make it a vehicle for attempts to thwart the will of the people, or to frustrate or delay the process of our exit from the EU.

    Fourthly, our timetable for invoking Article 50 by the end of March still stands. That timetable has given valuable certainty to citizens and businesses in the UK and across Europe. It is understood by our European partners and provides a framework for planning the negotiation ahead. This House itself backed this timetable by a majority of 373 in December. So we look forward to working closely with colleagues in Parliament to ensure that legislation on Article 50 is passed in good time to allow us to invoke it by the end of March, as planned.

    The Government’s fifth and final principle for responding to this judgment is to continue to ensure that we deliver an exit that is in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court has ruled clearly in the Government’s favour on the roles of the devolved legislatures in invoking Article 50. But while this provides welcome clarity, it in no way diminishes our commitment to work closely with the people and Administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as we move forward with our withdrawal from the European Union.

    Let me conclude with a word on what today’s judgment means for the United Kingdom, and the nature of our democracy. I know that this case, on an issue of such importance which arouses strong views on all sides, has not been without controversy. But the court was asked a question, a proper, thorough and independent process was gone through, and it has given its answer in law. We are a law-abiding nation: indeed, the United Kingdom is known the world over for the strength and independence of its legal system. We will build on this and our many other strengths as we leave the European Union. We will once again be a fully independent, sovereign country, free to make our own decisions.

    The Prime Minister has already set out a comprehensive plan, including our core negotiating objectives. She has been clear that we want a new, positive and constructive partnership for the United Kingdom and the European Union—a partnership that would be good for the United Kingdom and good for the rest of Europe.

    Today we are taking the necessary step to respect the Supreme Court’s decision, by announcing a Bill. It will now be up to this Parliament to respect the decision it entrusted to the people of the United Kingdom—a decision they took on 23 June. I commend this Statement to the House”.

  • I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I thank also the Supreme Court judges for doing their constitutional job: as they made clear, not commenting on the wisdom or timing of Brexit, but on how UK law—our law—requires the Government to act.

    So here we have it. The Government failed to make the referendum binding, leaving it advisory, which helped to fuel the uncertainty that has ended only today. Once we knew the outcome of the referendum, the Government failed to take the sensible route: to get Parliament, effectively, to ratify the outcome by agreeing to trigger Article 50. Then the Government failed to heed the High Court view that it was for Parliament, not Ministers, to take this step. So the Supreme Court has ruled—as we expected—that Parliament must authorise the Prime Minister to start the exit negotiations by invoking Article 50.

    So we are today where we should have been on 24 June: with Parliament to take the decision, albeit with the Government determining the timetable. The court has ended the uncertainty over the process for triggering Article 50. However, there is still one large, outstanding matter—the remaining uncertainty. What is the plan? What is the framework which the Government intend should guide their negotiations on our relationship with the EU 27 post exit? What is the plan for how we leave and for our future trading and other relationships with the EU 27?

    It is no good saying that the plan is a speech that the Prime Minister gave, not even in Parliament but to ambassadors at Lancaster House. That is not sufficient for Parliament—for this House, the Commons or indeed the Select Committee—to be able to scrutinise whether the Government’s objectives are the right ones for the UK and whether their negotiations are achieving those objectives.

    We need to know how the emerging post-Brexit relationship will promote jobs and the economy; how it will protect environmental, social and consumer rights; how it will ensure that all parts of our nation—rural areas as well as cities—will benefit; and how the Government will ensure that our trade with the EU—and beyond—can be free of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

    This House needs to examine the Government’s exit plan. Our EU Committees are doing splendid work on the detail of available options. We need to measure the Government against the evidence that they are producing on costs and benefits.

    Today simply says how the exit process should be started. Will the Minister say when the Article 50 Bill will be published and whether it will include a plan for how we exit the EU? We will be watching the Government from now on, to ensure that they negotiate in the interests of all our people, and with the consent of this House and the other place.

  • My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement.

    We should at least be grateful for the clarity of today’s ruling. This was, however, a completely unnecessary legal procedure. If the Government had brought forward shortly after the referendum the Bill which the court has now forced upon them, it would now be safely enacted and much time, effort and cost saved. It is a sign of the robustness of our constitutional arrangements that a private citizen can require the Government, against their will, to play by the rules, but it is greatly to the Government’s discredit that this was ever necessary.

    Now we have the Bill, I should make clear what the stance of these Benches will be. On 23 June, the British people did not vote for a particular version of Brexit, and the majority of people certainly did not support leaving the single market—a course on which the Government are now firmly set. We will therefore seek to amend the Bill to provide for a referendum to be held when we know the terms the Government have been able to negotiate. The Government may have a mandate to start Brexit negotiations; they certainly do not have a mandate to impose harsh Brexit terms on the country.

    Can the Minister give us any further information about the planned timetable of the Bill through your Lordships’ House? It will clearly not be possible to maintain the normal minimum intervals between stages of the Bill if we are to deal with it by the end of March. We understand that but can the Minister give an assurance that the Government will not attempt to ram the Bill through in a few days, as appears to be the case in the Commons?

    The Government say that the timetable for invoking Article 50 by 31 March,

    “has given valuable certainty to citizens and businesses in the UK and across Europe”.

    Can the Minister explain precisely what certainty has been given to the millions of EU citizens living in the UK, and those UK citizens living in the EU? The Government’s Statement says that they will,

    “work closely with the people and Administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as we move forward”.

    Can he tell the House exactly what form that commitment will take over the period between now and 31 March?

    Finally, in view of the Government’s reluctance to involve Parliament in triggering Article 50, can the Minister confirm that as the negotiations unfold the UK Parliament will, as has been promised, receive information on their content and progress to at least the same extent as the European Parliament will be informed about progress by the EU Commission?

  • I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their statements—that revealing statement, indeed, which I will come back to. Let me first pick up the noble Baroness’s point about the process the Government have followed to date. It is clear, as I have repeated at this Dispatch Box and as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has repeated at the Dispatch Box in the other place, that the Government believed in the use of the royal prerogative on this matter from 23 June. We made our case to the High Court and we believe that this is of considerable constitutional significance. It obviously has an impact on the triggering of Article 50, but goes beyond that. There was a point at which we believed that we needed to clarify this and have the certainty of the proper way forward. That is why we took the action that we did.

    As regards the plan, last week my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out our approach and answered in considerable depth and detail questions that a number of your Lordships and Members of the other place, including those on the Labour Benches, have legitimately been asking. We have set out our approach. Let me just set out what we have said because the issue here is one of outcomes, is it not? It is what we are intending to achieve in the negotiations.

    For the avoidance of doubt, let me list for your Lordships what the Prime Minister said. She said that we will leave the single market. She set out our aims as regards customs arrangements. She said that we would no longer be a part of the CET and the CCP. She set out the type of free-trade agreement that we are after, and a broader partnership on issues such as justice and home affairs. She set out our wish for closer co-operation on international issues. She said that we wished no longer to be part of a European Court of Justice but recognise that most international agreements require some form of dispute recognition. She said that we aim to negotiate such an agreement within two years but that we want a smooth transition—an implementation phase, as many treaties have. She said—the noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about this—that we wish to have a speedy resolution to the issue of EU UK nationals and that we would raise it as soon as we could. She said that we wish to take control of immigration, to protect workers’ rights and to bring EU law into UK law, which we will do under the great repeal Bill. She said that we will maintain the common travel area with Ireland and that we will continue to co-operate with EU partners on science, research and development.

    The Prime Minister set out in some depth and detail what is in our national interest; our overall approach to the key issues; what we intend to achieve, and what happens if we do not achieve it. The only answers we have not given fulfil the principle that I have set out from this Dispatch Box from day one: it must be in the Government’s interests not to give away anything that could be in the national interest when it comes to the negotiations.

    Regarding the reaction to the speech last week, let me remind your Lordships what our European partners have said. Have they said that they wish more clarity? The German Chancellor said, “The Prime Minister has given us a clear impression of how the UK wants to move forward”. The Belgian Prime Minister said, “The Prime Minister has clarified the future for her country”. The Hungarian Foreign Minister welcomed the speech as “straightforward, open and clear”. The Slovakian Prime Minister congratulated the Prime Minister for clarifying the position of the British Government: “It brings a clear signal about the direction the British Government want to take”. That is the Government’s position. That is how we set out the approach and this is the way we are going.

    On what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, I know it has been his party’s position for some time to have a second referendum. For those who wish to have certainty, there is nothing worse than having a second referendum at the end of this process. Secondly, I would gently point out to the noble Lord and to noble Lords around him that we in this House, as an unelected Chamber, need to tread with considerable care on this issue as we proceed.

    The process of the Bill will be a matter for the usual channels, and I expect there will be a Business Statement in due course. There will indeed be room for scrutiny of the Bill and, on that note, I will sit down.

  • My Lords, the time for Back-Bench questions has been extended to 40 minutes. I invite your Lordships to observe the usual rotational sequence—or Buggins’s turn, for want of a better phrase. Of course, the shorter the interventions, the more contributions there can be.

  • My Lords, your Lordships’ Constitution Committee expressed the view that it would be constitutionally appropriate that Parliament should be consulted before the triggering of Article 50. We therefore welcome the outcome of the Supreme Court judgment, even though we might not have chosen the route whereby the Government approached it. I congratulate my right honourable friend the Lord Advocate for Scotland on winning the Supreme Court’s unanimous rejection—including by two Scottish judges—of the Scottish Government’s attempt to extend their powers into reserved matters, even though the risk of that was engendered by somewhat unwise wording in the Scotland Act 2016. Are there other implications for the Sewel convention in the future handling of Brexit?

    Although I believe the Government were right and it was their duty to pursue the appeal to obtain clarity on the position of the royal prerogative overall, can my noble friend confirm that the royal prerogative is unaffected by the judgment, except in so far as it affects the triggering of Article 50?

  • I thank my noble friend for the work of his committee and take this opportunity to thank all the European Select Committees in this House and the other committees that are making such a valuable contribution in scrutinising Brexit. Long may this continue.

    It is very useful that the ruling gave such clarity on the position of the devolved Administrations. It is a 96-page ruling. Our lawyers are studying it in depth and detail. I will not go further at this juncture about the royal prerogative; nor, likewise, about the Sewel convention.

  • My Lords, would the Minister be kind enough to provide the House with the Government’s best estimate of the percentage of people in Britain who voted for the hard Brexit chosen by the Prime Minister?

  • My Lords, I dispute that the Prime Minister has chosen what others label a hard Brexit. I know noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches may disagree. The view of those on the Labour Benches in the other place and, certainly of the Government, is that we are negotiating a new partnership and a free trade agreement with our European partners. This approach is one that honours and respects the views of the British people, as set out in the referendum. They voted to leave the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is shaking his head. I am very sorry but that is what we are going to do.

    “It is our duty as those who serve the public to make sure the country does the best it can with the decision they have taken. In. Out. When the British people have spoken you do what they command”.

    I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, agrees with that because those were his own words on the night of the referendum.

  • My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. When the Prime Minister spoke at Lancaster House, in a very welcome statement right at the end of her speech she said that both Houses would have an opportunity to pronounce on the outcome. Will the legislation that the Government bring forward encapsulate that undertaking in some form? Will the time available for both Houses to comment on the outcome be sufficient?

  • I believe we will have sufficient time. On the content of the Bill, I have to say to the noble Lord that good things come to those who wait.

  • My Lords, is it not clear that one speech by the Prime Minister at Lancaster House—not even in Parliament—full of aims and intentions, does not constitute a coherent Brexit plan? It does not safeguard national well-being, nor does it begin to satisfy the requirements of parliamentary scrutiny. Will the Government now heed and implement the unanimous recommendation of the House of Commons Select Committee on Brexit in seeking a White Paper to put before both Houses of Parliament that will give proper detail to negotiating priorities and, crucially, specify how the Government’s commitment to conclude a comprehensive free trade agreement can feasibly be fulfilled by the end of the two-year negotiation triggered by Article 50—in the Minister’s own words—given that Article 218 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union will require the assent of 27 member states, 37 regional and national parliaments and the European Parliament?

  • The noble Lord speaks with considerable experience of the EU, and I absolutely heed that. I have little to add to what I said a moment ago about the plan. The noble Lord raised a number of points in his question. With regard to the timeframe, we are approaching this from a unique position. We have been a member of the EU for over 40 years and, as such, many of its laws and regulations are deeply embedded in our way of life. Therefore, unlike other member states that have negotiated agreements with the EU, we are starting from a position not just of convergence but of being completely identical to the EU. This puts us in a great position for getting to a position where we can reach such an agreement, which I believe is in the interests of our country and the EU.

    On safeguarding the prosperity of this country, the position that the Prime Minister set out in her lengthy speech last week will do just that. It will be a matter for negotiation but we are seeking to achieve the freest and most frictionless access to European markets, which I believe is something that the Labour Party also agrees with, which is extremely welcome.

  • Will my noble friend accept that I welcome this Statement and this procedure—although, frankly, it would have been rather better if it had been earlier, and indeed it would have been a lot less expensive? But that is by the way.

    I ask him to answer two questions arising. First, can he confirm that HMG can now get on with discussing free trade arrangements and similar trade-smoothing arrangements with all the large markets of the world, regardless of any rulings that may come from Brussels about limitations on doing so? Can we get on with that informally? Secondly, when it comes to objectives, is not the point that we cannot possibly set our final objectives in stone when there are so many doubts about what the rest of the EU really wants? As the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, has just reminded us, there are many voices. If we do not know what they really want from the system, how could it be right to set our own objectives firmly in stone in advance?

  • I start by thanking my noble friend for his advice and wisdom in many fora. He says lawyers are expensive. Yes, some lawyers are expensive, as a number of your Lordships will know. As regards free trade agreements, the key word he used was “informally”. We are bound by the duty of sincere co-operation, which means that at this juncture we should not be entering into formal negotiations with non-EU states. It is absolutely right that we continue to honour the spirit and the letter of that because we have said all along—and we shall continue to abide by this—that we wish to negotiate in good faith with our European partners.

    As regards the objectives, clearly we have set out our overall aims. The Prime Minister did so last week. There will be a matter of negotiation and it will be a matter of negotiation among our European partners. As with any negotiation, we shall see what emerges from that.

  • My Lords, is the Minister, in referring to the commitment of the Government to work closely with the devolved Administrations, aware of the opportunity arising from the White Paper published yesterday morning here in London by the First Minister Of Wales, Carwyn Jones, with support from Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, based on the possibility of a single market linkage scheme? This might well meet the difficulties being faced in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. Will he give a firm assurance that the details of these proposals will be considered carefully?

  • I thank the noble Lord for that. It gives me a good opportunity to say yes, absolutely. If he would like to meet me to discuss it I should be happy to do so. The proposals issued by the Scottish Government are also being given careful consideration. We shall continue to co-operate and consult with representatives of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales. As I said last week, despite events in Northern Ireland, we shall ensure that the views of the Northern Irish politicians and their representatives are properly heeded.

  • A strong theme running through the Statement is that the British people have given an instruction that must be acted on. Indeed, the Minister himself has just talked about a command that must be obeyed. How does this square with the Burkean understanding of our representative democracy whereby Members of Parliament are elected not to carry out the commands of people but to use their best judgment for the well-being of the United Kingdom as a whole?

  • I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for that contribution. I would be happy to have a long debate about the role of referenda in our constitution. We had such a debate when the referendum Bill was passing through this House and the other place. As I said in the Statement, it was a choice that the representatives of the people made to give this choice to the British people. We could start pinging quotations from Burke between us. I could quote back to him from what I seem to remember was a 1911 lecture by Dicey in which he said that the role of referenda as trumped the role of party and extolled its virtues, but maybe we could leave that for another day.

  • The leave campaign spent a lot of time emphasising the importance of parliamentary sovereignty. We fought a civil war 360 years ago about parliamentary sovereignty versus the royal prerogative and, as the Government know, the parliamentary side won. We fought two wars in the 20th century during which Parliament went on sitting and scrutinising the Government and debating government policy in the way they conducted the war. We defended parliamentary democracy. I do not see how this Government can say that they cannot fully engage Parliament and inform Parliament on something that is not as dreadful as a war but has major implications for the economy, the political system, the foreign policy and the security of this country to carry Parliament with them, because we are a parliamentary democracy.

  • I heed some of the points that the noble Lord is making, but I simply point out the process that was gone through. There was a general election in which the Conservative Party promised to hold a referendum. Then this House and the other place passed the legislation to give that choice to the British people. The British people then made the decision. Now we will have a series of votes: one on the triggering of Article 50; another on the great repeal Bill to repeal the ECA; others will follow on both secondary and primary legislation—I suspect that we will be here for a number of hours debating those, to say the least. After that, at the end of the process, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, there will be a vote on the treaty.

    That is how we will continue to engage Parliament. It is a substantial process. Let me repeat a point that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has made many times. It would be completely unacceptable for the European Parliament to get more information than this House and the other place. Therefore, we will endeavour to ensure that this House gets as much information as the European Parliament.

  • My Lords, I am sure that we are reassured by those last comments, but does my noble friend accept that those of us who were disappointed by the result of the advisory referendum nevertheless accept that the constitutional position of this House is inferior to that of the elected House, and that it is therefore important that we do not take action in this House that seeks to frustrate the will of the elected House?

  • I thank my noble friend for those very wise words. I heed them and very much welcome the statement that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, made some time ago that the Labour Benches do not seek to block the triggering of Article 50.

  • My Lords, following that question from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, my heart and emotions are with Edmund Burke, but my political head tells me that we are in 2017, with an extraordinarily delicate situation in terms of the way in which the British people regard politicians of all ilks and the establishment. Would it not be foolish in the extreme if this House, as an unelected body, placed itself in confrontation with the bulk of the British people, many of whom will have voted to stay in the European Union but would find it inexplicable if this House blocked in any way the forthcoming single clause Bill to allow the Government to implement Article 50? It would be unthinkable to do so. I appeal to your Lordships’ House not to place itself in confrontation with the British people.

  • I thank the noble Lord for those extremely wise words. I concur with him absolutely. As I said, the Government are intent on delivering the outcome of the referendum, and we will see that through.

  • My Lords, would the Minister like to hazard a guess as to whether provision for a post-negotiation referendum would be within the scope of an Article 50 Bill?

  • I think the noble Lord answers the question himself by asking whether I would like to hazard a guess. I do not like guessing at the Dispatch Box.

  • I welcome the clarity of the court’s decision, which is good and desirable, but should not have been necessary because, just as the Minister says that the rule of law is very important, so too is the supremacy of Parliament. That made the first application to court unnecessary, in my view. I go to what I think is a crucial issue. Recently, the Prime Minister and one or two other Ministers have been making the point that the end product must be a very close partnership between the UK and EU. What has troubled me throughout this process has been people talking as if that is of minor importance. We do not know how these negotiations will pan out, but I know that if the EU and the UK do not have a close partnership economically and politically, the only people who will benefit are those who do not want the European Union to succeed and are not friends of the United Kingdom.

  • The noble Lord makes a good point which I endorse and echo. Let me repeat what I said at the Dispatch Box last week and the Prime Minister said in her speech. It is absolutely in our interests, as the noble Lord has implied, that we continue to see a strong, stable and prosperous European Union, and that we continue to collaborate closely and co-operate wherever possible. The intent behind the approach the Prime Minister set out in is to form a new partnership along those lines. It is therefore not in our interests to see instability across Europe nor to see Europe, in the words of the noble Lord, falling apart in some way.

  • The answer to the Burkeian point is surely that we have not been elected to anything. On that basis, it would be unthinkable for us to frustrate the will of the people at whatever stage.

  • I am delighted that consensus is breaking out between this side of the House and the Benches opposite on this point. I do hope that other noble Lords will bear that in mind.

  • I do not want to upset anybody but the reality is that this House is nothing more than a very large sub-committee of the other place. We do not have the last word—that lies with the elected House. The only real function we have when revising legislation—and this is misunderstood outside—is to ask the other place to think again. The means we have for doing that is sending amendments. It would be very useful if, when we debate this Bill and there are opposing views and we ask the other place to think again, we do not have Ministers, or anybody else, talking about constitutional crises. This place cannot have the last word. A Government defeat in your Lordships’ House is simply a request to the Commons to look at the issue again—that is all it is.

  • I agree with the noble Lord but although I am a relative newcomer to your Lordships’ House I certainly would not call it a sub-committee. I believe that this House performs a valuable role in scrutinising legislation and, as I have said all along, in kicking the tyres of government policy to see that it is both roadworthy and does the right thing. That is something the Government wish to see right the way through the process of Brexit and I am delighted with, and thankful for, the contribution your Lordships have made so far.

  • Does my noble friend accept that if Parliament were to accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to treat the referendum as advisory and then decided that this country should not leave the EU, there would be no option for those of us who were in the majority in voting to leave other than to take to the streets and probably start breaking things?

  • My Lords, I can only say that I very much hope that that does not happen. Considering the comments that your Lordships have made and the very constructive approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, I am sure that we will avoid it.

  • I understand that all the national parliaments in the European Union will be requested to ratify this process. If any of them votes against it, will that in anyway complicate Brexit?

  • That is a very interesting point. We need to be clear about the processes for ratification. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who I do not think is here, is the author of Article 50 and is bound to correct me but as I understand it Article 50 sets out one process and there may be another process for the final treaty. That process could be mixed if it is an extensive deal, or not. So, there are a number of routes forward on this point.

  • My Lords, the refrain we have heard time after time is, “The people have decided”. Does the Minister not agree that as the weeks and months go by, simply saying, “The people decided this, the people decided that”, will hardly be satisfactory, especially when the debate comes to tariffs and specifics? Does the Minister agree that answering every question in that way over the next year will simply not wash?

  • I am sorry but I have to gently disagree with noble Lord on this point. As I said, we did not simply arrive at this situation through the people’s decision. Representatives in this place and, most notably, the other place, made decisions and voted on legislation—especially the decision to give the British people the choice in the referendum. That is how this was decided.

    As to the specifics, we are getting to the nub of the matter here. If we start having debates in this House about the process of negotiation on certain levels of tariffs, or other such things, that would be a considerable gift to those on the other side of the negotiating table. I say again: we must ensure that we do not get to that situation. We will, of course, give further information where we can, but we have to guard the national interest.

  • Does the Minister agree that the Bill which will come to this House is essentially about process, not outcomes? The way we handle our processes is different from how we may argue about outcomes at the end of this whole two-year period. The use of language which may occasionally sound threatening is very unhelpful if, at the end of the two-year period we are to end up with a country which can go forward in a reconciled, prosperous and flourishing way. I hope the Minister agrees that those who, like the judges, have quite rightly come to an unbiased and impartial opinion, should be defended against criticism, as should the person who brought the case. We need to take our processes calmly and quietly, without issuing threats and with an eye to the unity of this country.

  • I entirely endorse every word said by the most reverend Primate. I completely agree about the substance of the Bill: this is about the process. That is made quite clear in the summary of the judgment itself. Regarding language, we need to try and build a national consensus, as far as possible, around the approach we are taking and intemperate language will certainly not help that. We will disagree, in this House and in the other place, but we need to respect where others are coming from while respecting the views of the British people as expressed in the referendum. The most reverend Primate is absolutely right about the process we have just gone through. Due process was followed; individuals, completely at liberty to exercise their rights, took the decision to bring a case and it was heard. That is their right; the court has spoken and we will now respect its judgment.

  • Does my noble friend agree that the analysis made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about this House and how we relate to the other place is absolutely right? Building on the theme raised by the right reverend Primate, we need to bear it in mind over the next few months that a lot of people who voted for Brexit—and people who did not necessarily vote to leave but who are behind the change that underpins the referendum—will be looking to the motives of this House when we table amendments and debate them. Does my noble friend agree?

  • I thank my noble friend for her thoughtful contribution, with which I entirely agree and which builds on what I was saying. We need to proceed with respect for differing opinions and for the outcome of the referendum itself. We need to continue to build a national consensus around our approach in which people are not questioning the motives of those who wish to debate the issue.

  • My Lords, is it not the case that, in a democracy, there are those who agree and those who disagree with a decision. Some 48% of the population disagreed with the way the Government are now going. Is there not democratic legitimacy in standing up for those 48% who voted against?

  • My Lords, I disagree on the basic principle. The Government wish to deliver on the outcome of the referendum, pure and simple, and that is what we intend to do.

  • Will my noble friend confirm that the Conservative manifesto at the 2015 election contained a clear commitment to implement the outcome of the referendum, whatever that outcome was? Surely the conduct of negotiations on international matters is a matter for the Executive, with Parliament then to scrutinise their outcome? That is the way we have done things throughout our history.

  • My noble friend knows a lot about our nation’s history and he is absolutely right. As I said, we will furnish Parliament with the necessary information to do that. Surprisingly enough, I have the Conservative manifesto in my folder. On page 72 it says, very clearly:

    “We will hold that in-out referendum before the end of 2017 and respect the outcome”.

  • As the Minister has the manifesto with him, can he quote to us what that same manifesto said about our commitment to the European single market?

  • Yes, I am happy to do so. That was in relation to the negotiations that we wished to conduct. We have conducted them. Now that the people have said in the referendum what they wish to do, we are going to leave the EU—and in that process we will leave the single market.

  • My Lords, in the Statement the Secretary of State indicated that there would be consultation with the devolved institutions. The Minister will be aware that the Northern Ireland Executive are out of business, and while some Ministers are hanging on, they have no power to speak on behalf of the Northern Ireland Assembly. How then do Her Majesty’s Government intend during this critical period to ensure that there is proper consultation with the parties, given the fact that even on the best estimates there will be no Executive in place before Article 50 is triggered?

  • The noble Lord raises an extremely good point. As I intimated earlier, we are taking due steps to ensure that the views of the Northern Irish people are heard in this lull. I am happy to meet the noble Lord and discuss that—with my ministerial colleague, Robin Walker, who is also intimately involved—and to explain exactly what we are doing.

  • My Lords, can the Minister explain to me why his Government are so afraid to put the final deal agreed back to the British people for their vote? If the Government were confident that it would be a deal that the British people felt fulfilled the promises and commitments made, and was good for the future of the country, they would be confident of an overwhelming victory in that referendum. Is it because they believe the British people would be so disappointed and feel such a sense of betrayal that they dare not put the final deal back to them? Is that the rationale?

  • No, my Lords, I dispute that, because I do not think the British people will feel a sense of betrayal, given the approach that the Prime Minister set out in her speech last week.

  • My Lords, does my noble friend welcome the fact that the Supreme Court, while asking Parliament to take the decision to trigger Article 50, also made it very clear that it was not its own job to decide how that Bill should be phrased or how that question should be put to Parliament? Was that not a helpful constitutional clarification?

  • It was indeed. There are a number of important constitutional clarifications on that point, and on the Sewel convention. As I have said, our lawyers are studying the judgment in full, and I am sure there will be other issues that noble Lords may wish to raise in due course, once your Lordships too have had the opportunity to read all 96 pages.

  • My Lords, since the Minister has set out clearly the process—we are discussing the process and not the outcome—what will be the process after the European Parliament rejects the agreement with the United Kingdom?

  • The noble Lord is now jumping several steps ahead, and making a big assumption. I am sure that the Members of the European Parliament, too, will see sense when this is presented to them.

  • My Lords, has the Minister sought any clarity on the position of the Liberal Democrats, who have been so passionately in favour of decisions being made on a proportionate basis of votes, and who now seem to consider that 48% is a majority? Could he also clear up with them, while he is at it—as they were so strongly opposed, in the initial stages, to having one referendum, yet now seem to want two—whether two would be sufficient for them? Or maybe we would need more after that.

  • The noble Lord makes a very good point. I must say that it does not seem very liberal, or very democratic, to say that the views of the majority should be ignored—and I very much hope that the Liberal Democrats will help us ensure the speedy passage of the legislation that the Government will put forward in due course.

  • My Lords, I think fairness indicates that we expect to hear from UKIP and then from the Lib Dem Benches.

  • My Lords, can I press the noble Lord on his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney? What happens if we get to the end of this process and the European Parliament does not agree the result? At that point would the Government be prepared to consider the sanctity, or otherwise, of Article 50? In that respect, are the Government aware of the article in MoneyWeek on 21 November from Dr Ingrid de Frankopan, who advises merely following the first clause of Article 50, which says that a country can leave the European Union,

    “in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”?

    Our constitutional requirements could be an Act of Parliament and the will of the British people, so at that point will we still feel bound by Article 50? It is, after all, only a clause in an international treaty, and we are covered for our withdrawal from that treaty by the Vienna convention on treaties. Will the Government get ready to flex their muscles if the European Parliament behaves as unreasonably as it usually does?

  • I am not going to get into hypotheticals, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, a moment ago. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, threw a phrase into his question when he said that Article 50 is only a clause, as if it is something that we could ignore. That has not been the Government’s position all along. We believe that we need to abide by and observe our obligations and responsibilities as set out in the treaties that we have signed up to as a member of the EU. That is what we will continue to do. As regards the end of the process, the process has not even begun so I am not even going to start to hypothesise as to where we might be towards the end of it.

  • My Lords, as the noble Lord has rightly pointed out, we must respect the fact that the majority—52%—voted to leave the European Union. However, it is in everyone’s interest—even the 48% who voted against—to know how we are going to do that, and what that means for them. Many of the people who are speaking want to know more about the implications. People out there in the country are very concerned. They feel insecure about their future, their jobs and their children. The young people in particular to whom I have spoken express great concern about what the future holds for them. Surely we are talking about process. The implications were not on the ballot paper. No one said anything about leaving the single market and what the implications of that would be. No one ever mentioned that. In fact, when it was mentioned, it was dismissed as scaremongering by the leavers, so very many questions were never answered properly during the campaign that now need to be answered and addressed. My next point is very important. Will the noble Lord put on record that the abuse Gina Miller has had to endure—I heard her on the radio today speaking of death threats and the like—has no place in our society?

  • I completely agree with the noble Baroness that such abuse has absolutely no place in our society. As I said to the most reverend Primate, there is absolutely no reason for that. The court was simply doing what it is there to do, which is to hear a case. People are entitled to bring those kind of cases and they should continue to be entitled to do that. That is what the basis of our rule of law is all about and we must do all we can to protect it. As regards the first part of the noble Baroness’s question, I dispute what she is saying in the sense that I believe that the implications of leaving the European Union were set out pretty clearly in the referendum campaign by both sides. Indeed, I have somewhere here long lists of those on both sides of the campaign saying what a vote to leave would mean, especially that a vote to leave would mean leaving the single market. Therefore, I do not believe that that was unclear. As regards the uncertainty, I concur: obviously there will be uncertainty in a period of change such as this. The Government are doing what they can to set out wherever possible how we will bring certainty to the situation that we are in. As I said a moment or two ago, the whole thinking behind the great repeal Bill is to port EU law into UK law, so that on day one we are certain about where we stand. I think that is a good approach to follow and I hope that over the weeks and months ahead people will understand that better than they may do at the moment.

  • My Lords, I very much welcome the fact that, in the Statement, the Government have made it absolutely clear that they respect the judiciary’s independence and accept this judgment, and have done so promptly. It is, of course, a sign of a functioning democracy that the Government, however irksome that they might find it, will lose cases from time to time. Turning to the democratic legitimacy of the referendum, this was an Act of Parliament giving a vote to the people. Does the Minister agree with me that it is a somewhat imaginative interpretation of that vote that what the people of the country were really saying was that they wanted a second referendum?

  • I entirely agree with my noble friend. As I said before, a second referendum would lace a situation that the noble Baroness spoke of a moment ago—in which people feel uncertain—with even more uncertainty. This is absolutely not what we wish to have.

  • My Lords, may I return to the role of Parliament? The Government failed today in the Supreme Court in their first attempt to circumnavigate Parliament at the first stage of this lengthy process. I entirely agree that Article 50 must be triggered; I also agree that the Government must be allowed the freedom to negotiate, but does the Minister accept that that cannot mean that Parliament—as the country is faced with the most challenging set of issues since the Second World War—has no role? There must be a role for Parliament over these next two years in meaningfully discussing the many different choices that this country faces.

  • I thank the noble Lord for that question. I disagree somewhat with his characterisation of our approach. We were not trying to circumnavigate Parliament: we believed that there was a case for using the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50. At any rate, we are where we are: Parliament is now going to have a vote. In regard to the role of Parliament going forward, there will obviously be that vote; there will be the vote, as I said a moment ago, on the great repeal Bill, and there will be votes on the subsequent pieces of legislation, of which, I expect, there will be a considerable number, both primary and secondary. Then, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in her speech last week, there will be a vote in both Houses on the treaty. Meanwhile, there is nothing to stop your Lordships from having other debates. I very much look forward to being at this Dispatch Box on Thursday, to have a debate with the noble Baroness on similar subjects to those that we have been discussing this afternoon.

  • My Lords, I very much welcome the decision of the Government to import the acquis communautaire into UK law. However, in the event that we withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice and there is a dispute on the interpretation of the acquis communautaire as it will apply in English or Scottish law at that time, which body will interpret and give a ruling on that dispute?

  • My Lords, the UK Supreme Court would interpret at the end of the day if it were to come to that, but the noble Baroness makes a very good point. I can assure her and the rest of your Lordships that when it comes to the great repeal Bill, we will set out our approach, hopefully in considerable detail, in regard to all these issues.