Who has the right to decide whether to invoke Article 50 re leaving the EU?

The outcome of the EU referendum was conclusive but not exactly overwhelming.  There was a result, but what did it actually convey? Nobody seems to know exactly what type of departure from the EU we actually voted for – no immigration (and presumably no emigration), no single market, hard, soft? The question we were asked was inadequate, being based upon information provided (by both sides) that was misleading at best, and untrue at worst. Government ministers cannot even agree among themselves about what we should be seeking. In fact the Tory party is completely split. So, it is vital that our elected representatives are able to discuss this in full, to scrutinise the government’s proposals and to reach a decision about whether and how to proceed. That is what we elected them to do.  The Prime Minister should set out the terms upon which the government wish to negotiate, clarify the “red lines” marking what they will not concede, and allow Parliament to decide what to do. 

If the decision is taken to leave, the initial step would be to invoke Article 50 and then the negotiations over a deal would begin. When negotiations are completed, the proposed deal would go to Parliament for ratification or refusal. In the latter case, it is unlikely that all the remaining EU countries would agree to further negotiations or an extension of the two year negotiating period, so we would be out of the EU anyway – without a deal. There would be no turning back. Invoke Article 50 hastily and we could end up in a cul-de-sac over which we have no control. If we do not like whatever deal the EU offers, then tough; we had indicated we were leaving and leave we must. We have to think this through rationally and honestly. We need a sensible, reasonable and informed debate; something we have not yet had.

I have helped to fund a Crowdjustice campaign to take legal action to ensure that parliament makes the decision as to whether to invoke Article 50, rather than an unelected Prime Minister arrogantly using the archaic “Royal Prerogative” to invoke Article 50 herself. The government is suggesting that Parliament ‘clearly understood’ it was surrendering any role it might have in Brexit by passing the EU Referendum Act (which legislated for the referendum).  This is not true. A House of Commons Briefing Paper (07212 of 3rd June 2015) on the EU Referendum Bill says. “The Bill… does not contain any requirement for the UK government to implement the results of the referendum.” “Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the government in its policy decisions.” “The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented.” The government itself may have decided to act upon the referendum result, but government policy is not law. Parliament makes the law. Parliament makes the decisions. This is about the sovereignty of parliament; not the government and not the Prime Minister.

This is the greatest constitutional change this country has faced in 40 years and Parliament should not be side lined. To do so could set a dangerous precedent.

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About Joan Tebbutt

Joan is a Morpeth Town Councillor representing Morpeth Kirkhill, and previously represented the area on Castle Morpeth Borough Council and the County Council before it became a Unitary Authority. She has been a school governor for 14 years and is Chair of Governors at Morpeth County First School (Goosehill). A former Mayor of Morpeth (2013/14) she is Chair of Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group and Chair of the Town Council's Planning and transport Committee.
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