David Davis made a statement yesterday in the House of Commons on the process for invoking article 50. During the debate Bill Cash made the following intervention:
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Mr David Davis): With permission, I would like to make a statement on the process for invoking article 50. The Government’s priority at every stage following the European Union referendum has been to respect the outcome of that referendum and to ensure it is delivered on. To leave the European Union was the decision of the British people. It was taken after a 6:1 vote in this House to put that decision in their hands. As the Government told voters:
“This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide”—
no ifs, no buts. So there can be no going back; the point of no return was passed on 23 June.
Implementing the decision to leave the EU means following the right processes. We must leave in the way agreed in law by the UK and other member states, which means following the process set out in article 50 of the treaty on European Union. We have been clear about the timing. There was a good reason why the Government did not take the advice of some in this House on 24 June and trigger article 50 immediately. Instead, the Prime Minister was clear that she would not invoke article 50 before the end of this year. That gives us time to develop a detailed negotiating position, but we have also said that the process should not drag on and that we intend to trigger article 50 by the end of March next year.
Let me now turn to the issues at hand this week. Legal action was taken to challenge the Government on the proper process for triggering article 50. We have always been of the clear view that this is a matter for the Government, and that it is constitutionally proper and lawful to give effect to the referendum result by the use of prerogative powers. As I have said, the basis on which the referendum was held was that the Government would give effect to the result of that referendum. That was the basis on which people were asked to vote.
Our argument in the High Court was that decisions on the making and withdrawal from treaties are clear examples of the use of the royal prerogative, and that Parliament, while having a role in the process, which I will come on to, has not constrained the use of the prerogative to withdraw from the EU. Our position in the case was that the Government were therefore entitled to invoke the procedure set out in article 50. The Court has, however, come to a different view. It held that the Government do not have the prerogative power to give notice under article 50 without legislation authorising them to do so.
The Court said that the starting point was that the Crown does not have power to vary the law of the land using its prerogative powers unless Parliament legislated to the contrary. It held that the European Communities Act 1972 brought rights arising under EU law into the law of the United Kingdom, and that the Crown has no prerogative power to withdraw from the EU because the effect of withdrawal would be to take away those rights.
Let me be clear about this: we believe in and value the independence of our judiciary, the foundation upon which our rule of law is built—[Interruption.] I have to say to the Opposition that I have a little more background in protecting that independence than they have, in view of the previous Government. We also value the freedom of our press. Both those things underpin our democracy.
The Government disagree with the Court’s judgment. The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by an Act of Parliament. Our position remains that the only means of leaving is through the procedure set out in article 50, and that triggering article 50 is properly a matter for the Government using their prerogative powers. As a result, we will appeal the High Court’s judgment at the Supreme Court.
Given our appeal, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the details of the legal arguments—I am sure that the House understands this—but let me say a brief word about the process of the appeal. We have taken two necessary procedural steps. First, the Government have been granted a certificate to bypass the Court of Appeal and leapfrog the case to the Supreme Court. This will ensure that, when we lodge our appeal, it will be heard directly in the Supreme Court without further delay. Secondly, we will this week apply for substantive permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. It is likely that any hearing will be scheduled in the Supreme Court in early December. We would hope that the judgment would be provided soon after. This timetable remains consistent with our aim to trigger article 50 by the end of March next year.
We are now preparing our submissions to the Supreme Court in the usual way. As I have said, it would not be proper to go into those in great detail here today, but the core of our argument will remain that we believe that it is proper and lawful for the Government to trigger article 50 by the use of prerogative powers.
Of course, litigation is also under way in Northern Ireland. It is considering a number of specific issues linked to Northern Ireland’s constitutional arrangements. The High Court in Belfast found in the Government’s favour on these points. A hearing is being held in Belfast tomorrow to consider whether an appeal by the claimants in that case should also leapfrog to the Supreme Court, and whether the issues that overlap with the English courts should remain stayed pending the outcome of the hearing in the Supreme Court. Again, it would not be appropriate for me to say more at this stage, except that in the event of any appeal in the Northern Ireland litigation, the Government will robustly defend their position. For the avoidance of doubt, our view is that the legal timetable in relation to this case in the event of an appeal should also be consistent with our commitment to notifying under article 50 by the end of March next year.
I have said that because of our appeal, I will not go into detail on the points that were raised in the High Court’s judgment, but let me set out some fundamental principles for how we move ahead. First, our plan remains to invoke article 50 by the end of March. We believe that the legal timetable will allow for that. Secondly, the referendum result must be respected and delivered. The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum provided for by an Act of Parliament. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union and it is the duty of the Government to make sure that we do just that. Parliament had its say in legislating for the referendum, which it did in both Houses, with an overwhelming majority in this House and cross-party support. The people have spoken and we intend to act on their decision.
Thirdly, irrespective of the ongoing court process, there is an important role for Parliament. Parliament will have a central role in ensuring that we find the best way forward, and we have been clear that we will be as transparent and open as possible. There have already been a number of debates and parliamentary statements on Brexit, and the Prime Minister has pledged that that process will continue before article 50 is invoked. I informed the House in October that there would be a series of debates on Brexit in Government time—the first will take place today—and that is on top of a number of other debates and opportunities for scrutiny. The new Exiting the European Union Committee has been established, and it provides another place for parliamentary scrutiny of our withdrawal from the EU. If I remember correctly, its members will be visiting my Department tomorrow.
The Government will introduce legislation in the next Session that, when enacted, will repeal the European Communities Act on the day we leave the EU. This great repeal Bill will end the authority of EU law and return power to the United Kingdom. We have made it clear that European Union law will be transposed into UK law at the time we leave, providing certainty for workers, businesses and consumers. We intend that this Act of Parliament will be in place before the end of the article 50 process.
It is important to remember that article 50 is the beginning of the process, not the end. As the Prime Minister has made clear, there will be many opportunities for Parliament to continue to engage with the Government once article 50 has been invoked. When negotiations have concluded, we will observe in full all relevant legal and constitutional obligations that apply. However, there is a balance to be struck between parliamentary scrutiny and preserving our negotiating position, which was why the House unanimously concluded last month that the process should be undertaken in a way that respects the decision of the people of the United Kingdom when they voted to leave the EU on 23 June, and does not undermine the negotiating position of the Government as negotiations are entered into. We will give no quarter to anyone who, while going through the motions of respecting the outcome of the referendum, in fact seeks to thwart the decision of the British people.
We are disappointed by the Court’s judgment in this case and we will appeal against it in the Supreme Court. None of this in any way diminishes our determination to respect and deliver the outcome of the referendum, and to notify under article 50 by the end of March next year. We are going to get on with delivering on the mandate to leave the European Union in the best way possible for the UK’s national interest—best for jobs, best for growth, and best for investment.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the European Union Referendum Act 2015 and the Lisbon treaty Act of 2008 are both constitutional Acts—sovereign Acts—of the first order? Does he also agree that not only did the 2015 Act expressly and clearly give the voters the absolute right to leave the EU, but the 2008 Act also clearly intended that the Government would give notice to leave under article 50, and that the Government stated that both before and after the referendum?
Mr Davis: My hon. Friend is exactly right, and that was the subject of our case.