Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

South London Press column - Why Parliament must be consulted before Article 50 is triggered


On November 3, the British High Court ruled Parliament must be consulted before Article 50 is triggered and Britain begins the process of leaving the EU.

The High Court judges were asked a simple question: is the Prime Minister acting lawfully by side-lining Parliament, and trying to trigger Article 50 without setting out the Government’s vision before Parliament?

And they said no, because our Parliament is sovereign, and it is Parliament, not the Prime Minister alone that can make and unmake laws. Our democracy is sustained by elections and by the courts upholding the law. The courts have a duty to ensure that no one, is above the law. It is their job to ensure the Government is held to account for compliance with UK law.

We are lucky to live in a country where we have independent judges. The Government should express its commitment to the rule of law which underpins this country, and not go along with media hounding of judges. Personal attacks on judges doing their job are unacceptable and corrosive of democracy.

People have voted, by a narrow margin, to leave the EU and that is the basis on which we must proceed. The Labour Party accepts this mandate and we will not block Article 50 outright. But the Government is also negotiating the terms of our future relationship with the EU and we do not accept that the Government can proceed without any scrutiny of its proposal.
We’re absolutely clear that before we get to that stage the Government must have put its plan before Parliament.

I supported the UK staying in the EU and am worried about the implications of leaving the EU for the rights and status of long-term EU residents here, rights of people at work, jobs and the economy. I want the Government to end the uncertainty for EU nationals living in the UK, to aim high and to press for the fullest possible access to the single market and to remain in the customs union.

The deal the Government seeks with the EU will concern our living standards, our future travel opportunities and what sort of country we will be. I am concerned about the difficulty of agreeing treaties as evident from Theresa May’s talks with India this week and the years it took Canada to secure a trade deal with the EU.

The Government needs the help of Parliament to do this, because we’ve all got a stake in this. This is the most important set of negotiations for generations and will affect our future and the future of our children. Parliamentary scrutiny is not about holding the Government back, but is about ensuring that they get the best deal they can for the country.

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