Parliament should scrutinise Brexit as it happens, not ‘after the fact'
The House of Lords EU Committee has today urged that Parliament be actively involved in scrutinising the forthcoming negotiations on Brexit as they happen – rather than after decisions have been taken, as proposed by the Government. The Committee also say it would be in the interests of Government, Parliament and the public for Parliament to vote on the Government's Brexit negotiation guidelines before Article 50 is triggered.
The Committee states in its report, Brexit: Parliamentary Scrutiny, that the job of Parliament, as well as of the Government, is to achieve a successful outcome to the negotiations on Brexit. Parliament should not ‘micromanage' the negotiations, but the Committee are clear that too much is at stake – including many key aspects of domestic policy – for Ministers and officials to be allowed to take decisions behind closed doors, without parliamentary and democratic scrutiny.
The report says the Government's proposal that Parliament should only have a say after Brexit negotiations are finished, by voting on any final agreement between the UK and EU, is unacceptable. The Committee concludes that allowing Parliament to provide ‘timely and constructive' commentary throughout the negotiations will in fact increase the chance of Parliament and the public accepting the final deal.
The committee welcomes the commitment by Brexit Secretary David Davis MP that the UK Parliament will have at least the same access to information and negotiation documents as the EU Parliament will get from the European Commission. The report makes clear that this commitment binds the Government to:
- Provide parliamentary Committees with a wide range of documents relevant to the negotiations;
- Provide those documents in sufficient time for the Committees to provide comment to Government and for the Government to take those views into account;
- Respond to any formal recommendations on the negotiations made by Committees and give reasons for any it does not accept;
- Adopt, in discussion with Parliament, procedures to protect confidential information, so as to avoid compromising the conduct of the negotiations.
The Committee invites the Government to confirm it will abide by these principles once negotiations start to ensure parity between the UK and European Parliaments.
Commenting, Lord Boswell, Chairman of the Lords EU Select Committee, said:
"For many people, the referendum was about returning power to Parliament, about bringing sovereignty back home. Now is the time to deliver on that ambition.
"So I welcome David Davis' undertaking to give MPs and Lords at least as much access to information relevant to the negotiations as Members of the European Parliament will have. We can't allow a situation where parliamentarians here in Westminster are treated as second-class citizens.
"But at the same time Ministers keep saying that they won't offer a running commentary on the negotiations. What they offer instead, namely parliamentary scrutiny after the fact, is in reality not scrutiny at all – it could be no more than a rubber stamp. That is not good enough, given that these are the most important and complex negotiations the Government has ever undertaken.
"Parliamentary scrutiny should start before Article 50 is triggered, with the Government asking Parliament to approve the negotiating guidelines. It should then continue once the negotiations have started by designating committees in each House to lead in scrutinising the negotiations. The Government should give these committees the relevant information on the negotiations and allow them time to comment and make recommendations to Government.
"Brexit is happening, and Parliament has a vital role to play in making it a success. We're not asking to ‘micromanage' the negotiations, which will rightly be conducted by the Government. But we do have a role and a duty to scrutinise the way the Government goes about that task. There is just too much at stake for the whole country for us to settle for less."