Article 50: so much for Parliamentary sovereignty!
This week, Theresa May ruled out giving Parliament a vote before Article 50 is triggered. She’s explained her position in terms of respecting the will of the people as expressed in June’s referendum – and the TUC accepts that decision too. But we are still disappointed at her decision – in the name of a referendum that insisted on British parliamentary sovereignty – to ignore that very institution in one of the crucial votes on Britain’s future relationship with the rest of the European Union.
The argument that Parliament should get a vote over triggering Article 50 is not about accepting or ignoring the referendum result, it’s about how that result is put into practice. The referendum on 23 June decided whether we should stay in the EU or not. But it clearly didn’t set out how that decision should be effected: MPs and Peers should get a say in the mandate for Mrs May’s government’s Article 50 negotiations, as part of the national debate that the TUC has called for before Article 50 is triggered.
There are signs that this is precisely what Mrs May wants to avoid, and while it’s understandable that she wants to enter the negotiations with as free a hand as possible, it doesn’t make that the democratic thing to do. It means we would be led into the negotiations by people out of touch with the national mood on the right2remain for EU citizens currently living and working in the UK, and not yet unambiguously in line with a massive majority in favour of retaining the workers’ rights secured at EU level*. Nor is it consistent with the result of the referendum, which was all about ‘taking back control’ (for some – but as TUC polling shows, not all – over immigration, for others over our laws, our trade, or whatever.)
But clearly for Leave voters in abandoned communities in England and Wales, still less for the pro-Remain majorities in London, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the referendum result wasn’t about taking control back from ‘Brussels’ and giving it straight to Messrs May, Davis, Fox & Johnson! They weren’t even the team elected to lead the country at the last General Election, so their mandate on these matters is tenuous at best.
The TUC wouldn’t go so far as to say that Parliament has all the answers. We want the UK negotiating mandate to be decided by a national debate involving the devolved administrations, unions & business, and civil society as a whole – a broader conception of the national will than Parliamentary sovereignty. But it’s not acceptable for the small elite at the top of the Cabinet to make such decisions about all of our futures.
* Our post-referendum poll showed that the vast majority of both Remain and Leave voters back post-Brexit policies of safeguarding vital rights like maternity leave (73% of Remain and 69% of Leave voters) and maintaining protection against discrimination at work (80% of Remain voters and 77% of Leave voters) and safeguarding vital rights like maternity leave.