Helen speaks in favour of parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit negotiations

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Today I spoke in favour of parliamentary scrutiny of the UK leaving the EU, calling for Ministers to consider using the time honoured process of producing a White Paper. It is essential that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise and vote on the negotiating strategy before Article 50 is triggered.

"I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak in favour of the motion on the parliamentary scrutiny of the UK leaving the EU, which was put down by my hon. and right hon. Friends. We all want Parliament to scrutinise the negotiating strategy before Ministers trigger article 50, but I am in favour of us having a vote on it as well.

Article 50 states that it should be triggered in line with our constitutional arrangements. Well, I think if anybody was asked to define Britain’s constitution, they would say that it is basically a parliamentary democracy. They would not say that it is a royal autocracy or that it is a bit like the Kingdom of Bhutan. Therefore, for the Government to choose to use the royal prerogative is to choose to do something that is arcane, undemocratic and secretive, and none of those is conducive to a good deal.

The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who is sadly not in his place at the moment, was confident that the Government would have to come back because of the Standing Orders of the House. I hope that the Government will come back, but we see no sign of that at the moment from Ministers or their lawyers. They are still fighting a case to defend the royal prerogative. They saying that compelling the Government to introduce legislation would be to trespass on Parliament. When I asked the Secretary of State about that on Monday, he gave a very interesting reply. He said:

“The main guidance I gave to the Attorney General was that a would-be vote in this House on article 50 could have two outcomes. It either lets it through or it stops it… It would be a refusal to implement the decision of the British people”.

The Secretary of State should go back to his original idea of producing a White Paper. As many hon. Members have said, people voted for Brexit, but they did not vote how to Brexit. If the Secretary of State followed his initial idea of producing a White Paper, the Government could set out different options for Brexit—whether soft or hard, or something more complicated would probably be better—and the House could vote on which Brexit strategy it thought would be best. That is not a completely revolutionary new process; it is the process that we used when we voted on House of Lords reform in the last Parliament, and I commend it to Ministers. The leave campaigners voted to restore parliamentary sovereignty and take back control, and that is exactly what we should do.

I am extremely concerned about the problems with the customs union. I remind the House that the customs union was established in 1968. It is what we joined in 1973. It is what people voted in favour of last time we had a referendum in 1975. Although people clearly have reservations about immigration, European law and the European Court of Justice, most people are in favour of ​what they call the Common Market. I am very keen that one of the options that the Government keep on the table is that we remain within the customs union because, without it, we will see a huge burden on the 40% of our exports that go to the EU."

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