MPs back May’s Brexit ‘policy’
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has been largely silent on Brexit. Source: Flickr
UK MPs voted overwhelmingly last week in favour of Brexit and endorsed a March 2017 timetable for beginning talks. Iain Duncan Smith, a pro-Leave, former Conservative cabinet minister, said the vote gave Prime Minister Theresa May a “blank cheque”.
A total of 461 MPs voted to endorse the Leave vote in the June 23 referendum and to back May’s urgent timetable for talks. Around 89 MPs voted against, including the Scottish National Party, five Liberal Democrats, pro-EU former Conservative finance minister Ken Clarke and 23 Labour MPs who defied their party orders.
The vote was triggered by a Labour motion demanding that May release a plan setting out her objectives before she kickstarts the Article 50 process. May’s staff say nothing detailed will be released.
Although the large majority of Labour MPs wanted Britain to remain in the EU, many represent poor, northern English constituencies which voted Leave.
Leftist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has yet to show any enthusiasm for the EU, told MPs to join the Conservative in the vote.
Although the parliamentary debate and vote were initiated by Labour, the result highlighted the party’s divisions. Most of the 23 Labour MPs who voted against May’s Brexit plan represent affluent urban constituencies which voted Remain on June 23.
But generally the largely pro-EU Commons voting for Britain to leave the bloc.
Dominic Grieve, the Conservative ex-attorney-general, said the idea of MPs voting against Brexit after a clear 52-per-cent endorsement at the referendum was a “fantasy castle”.
Labour’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer has tied the opposition’s continued support for May’s position on her achieving “five tests” of openness about her negotiating strategy. So far May has been distinctly taciturn.
With the Commons giving its support to trigger Article 50, what is the point of this week’s Supreme Court ruling on whether MPs should have the final say on the process?
The Commons vote last week was on a non-binding Labour motion. The Supreme Court is deciding whether the government needs formal parliamentary approval to start the Brexit process, which means bringing forward primary legislation.
The Supreme Court ruling is due next month and will probably force May to bring forward a short bill to approve Article 50 which will have to pass through both chambers of Parliament, with the prospect of delays, amendments and lengthy debate. While MPs may be unwilling to be seen as opposing a majority of those who voted on June 23, they may be willing to talk the process into the long grass.