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Brexit: No vote on talks but MPs may have say on EU deal

MPs will not have a say on how Brexit negotiations are handled but there could still be a vote on the "final" deal, a government source has said.

October 10

0:00
2016

London , United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland - 10 Oct 2016 - Guardian

Giving Parliament a vote to "second-guess" the referendum decision to leave the European Union "is not an acceptable way forward", Downing Street has said. The Leave campaign won a majority in June's referendum, with the prime minister announcing last week that the government would trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty - beginning formal negotiations between the UK and EU - by the end of March next year.

Prime Minister Theresa May is coming under growing pressure to allow MPs a vote on membership of the European single market, with MPs from all mainstream parties arguing that the referendum result did not amount to a vote for "hard Brexit".

Conservative MP Stephen Phillips, who backed Leave in the June 23 referendum, warned against the "tyranny" of denying MPs a vote on the Government's stance in upcoming withdrawal negotiations under Article 50 of the EU treaties.And former attorney general Dominic Grieve cautioned that the Government could be brought down if it tried to force through a new deal with the EU without MPs' approval.

The developments came as Mrs May visited Denmark and the Netherlands in the latest round of talks with counterparts from the remaining 27 EU states, designed to set out the UK's intention to maintain good relations with its former partners following Brexit.EU leaders have so far insisted that there will be no talks on the Brexit deal before Article 50 is formally invoked - something Mrs May has promised to do by the end of March 2017.

Mr Phillips has been granted permission by Speaker John Bercow to seek MPs' support for an urgent debate on Tuesday on the Brexit negotiations. He will make his case on the floor of the Commons following a statement by Brexit Secretary David Davis on Monday afternoon.

The Sleaford and North Hykeham MP said that bypassing Parliament was "simply not an acceptable way for the executive to proceed", telling Mr Bercow in a letter:

"I and many others did not exercise our vote in the referendum so as to restore the sovereignty of this Parliament only to see what we regarded as the tyranny of the European Union replaced by that of a Government that apparently wishes to ignore the views of the House on the most important issue facing the nation."

Mrs May's Government had "no authority or mandate to adopt a negotiating position without reference to the wishes of the House and those of the British people expressed through their elected representatives", he said.Mr Grieve told BBC Radio 4's World at One:

"There's a very well-established constitutional convention that any signing of a new treaty or alteration of an existing treaty of importance needs to be put to the House of Commons for its affirmative approval.

"My view is that this is a matter where the approval of the House of Commons needs to be sought before the Article 50 process is triggered."

This constitutional convention would apply even if the Government was successful in fighting off a legal challenge against its plans to invoke Article 50 under its powers of royal prerogative, Mr Grieve argued.

"The referendum was an advisory referendum and in that sense it has no legal force at all, and for Parliament to be by-passed by the administration because there's been a referendum seems to me to be a very undesirable step to embark on," he said.

And he warned: "If a situation arises that the Government at the end of the day is about to conclude a deal for the future of the United Kingdom which can't command parliamentary approval - or at least acquiescence - then it's perfectly obvious in those circumstances such a Government wouldn't survive. I would have thought there would have to be an election."

Asked about Mr Phillips' comments, a Downing Street spokesman said: "What the Government is focused on quite clearly is making the best possible success of Brexit that we can, while acknowledging it is important that we are not blocking the will of the people so clearly expressed in the referendum in June.

"Parliament is of course going to debate and scrutinise that process as it goes on and that is absolutely necessary and the right thing to do."But having a second vote or a vote to second-guess the will of the British people is not an acceptable way forward."

The prime minister is visiting Denmark and the Netherlands for talks on "delivering Brexit". Her discussions with counterparts Lars Lokke Rasmussen and Mark Rutte come a week ahead of her first European Council meeting.

At a press conference with Mr Rasmussen in Copenhagen, Mrs May said:

"We are not turning our backs on Europe. We want to maintain strong relationships with our European partners."The UK would continue to "meet our various rights and obligations" until it left the EU, she added.Mr Rasmussen said it was "tragic" that UK voters had decided in favour of Brexit, but he hoped for a "friendly divorce".

There is an expectation that there will ultimately be votes on the agreement - with the prime minister's "Great Repeal Bill" and, at the end of the process, on the ultimate deal. But that is a long time away and, for many MPs, simply not good enough, when the process of negotiations will shape our relationship with the rest of the world for years to come.And with no votes any time soon, there is also - so far - nothing on paper, nothing that fits into the prime minister's chosen template of Green Papers, White Papers, and then ultimately legislation.

The pound has continued to fall against the US dollar as worries persist over the UK’s economic prospects outside the EU. Sterling suffered sharp losses last week as ministers at the Conservative party conference signalled they would opt for a “hard Brexit” settlement that sacrifices access to the single market and prioritises stricter immigration controls. Sterling was under pressure again at the beginning of this week but some calm had returned to markets.

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