David Davis firmly rules out Westminster vote on Brexit negotiations
DAVID Davies has firmly ruled out demands for the UK Parliament to be given a vote on if and when to trigger the Brexit negotiations, saying the prospect of MPs opposing the will of 17.5 million people was “extraordinary”.
The Brexit secretary was responding to the House of Lords constitutional committee after it warned in a report that it would be “constitutionally inappropriate” for Theresa May to invoke Article 50 of the EU treaties without first obtaining the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
It said MPs and peers should also have a key role in scrutinising the Brexit negotiations – due to take two years – and approving the final deal reached between the UK and the remaining 27 EU states.
But appearing before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Davis said the outcome of the EU referendum had been clear and that any vote against invoking Article 50 would set Parliament against the people.
“The Government position is that it is an exercise of Crown Prerogative. The theory of it is the Crown represents the nation,” declared the secretary of state.
“This is the only time that I am aware of in British history that the Crown Prerogative has been backed up by a 17.5 million vote mandate; a proposal that could put Parliament in opposition to the people over something as simple as this is an extraordinary one,” he explained.
In other evidence, Mr Davis said that if Britain were unable to reach a new trade agreement with the remaining 27 member states, it would have to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules; although these only covered tariffs and not non-tariff barriers.
“I would not want anybody to think that was in my view a likely outcome,” the minister stressed.
He also rejected a suggestion the UK could join the European Free Trade Association – like Norway and Switzerland – as a “transitional” measure in order to speed up the formal process of EU withdrawal while carrying on long-term trade negotiations.
Emily Thornberry, Mr Davis’s Labour shadow, said it was “ludicrous and misguided” for Mr Davis to claim that the Government could not set out its Brexit plan in order to keep the its negotiating strategy secret from the UK’s European partners.
“We have already seen what happens when the Tories try to do everything themselves, refuse to consult other parties, and then present the rest of Europe with an undeliverable and unrepresentative wish-list of demands. It was a disaster under David Cameron and it would be a disaster under David Davis.”
The shadow secretary of state added: “Parliament must therefore not just be given a voice in the Government’s negotiating strategy, we must be given a vote, as the Tory-chaired Lords constitutional committee has said…That is not to stop Brexit happening but to ensure that it happens in the right way.”
Elsewhere at a parliamentary lunch with journalists, Nick Clegg claimed tensions over the EU would cause a “major political conflagration” within the Conservative Party and predicted Brexit standard-bearer Liam Fox would be the first to walk out of the UK Government.
The former Deputy Prime Minister said he expected the International Trade Secretary to “resign in a huff” within 18 months when it became clear he had no trade deals to negotiate.
Mr Clegg also said slow progress on Brexit would inevitably foster a “betrayal myth” among Tory backbenchers, who would blame their own leadership for failing to pull Britain out immediately after the June 23 referendum vote to leave.
In a separate development, the Home Office signalled the possibility of a return to the traditional British blue passport once Britain left the EU.
In a written answer to Conservative MP Julian Knight, the department said it was “considering potential changes” but no decision had been made on what a post-Brexit British passport would look like.
Mr Knight, who represents Solihull, suggested the answer indicated a clear shift in the Government’s position, adding: “The blue passport is a symbol of our independence as a strong, proud nation.”