David Davis MP writes in The Telegraph on the dangers of upending centuries of Parliamentary tradition
As published in The Telegraph:
The British constitution is based on four things: statute law, common law, works of authority, and Parliamentary conventions. These conventions exist for a reason. They’re unwritten understandings about how something in Parliament should be done which, although not legally enforceable, until now has been almost universally observed.
To the public, process is arcane, boring, and sometimes incomprehensible. But given that we lack a written constitution, it is important, and Parliament must be conducted in a manner which is recognised and respected. Recently the Speaker, the chief officer and highest authority in the House of Commons who is expected to remain strictly impartial, has attracted much controversy with his interpretation of Parliamentary rules.
This leads me to question whether the Labour Party realises the path it is embarking on with its own attempts at procedural chicanery. How would they feel if a Labour government were elected on a radical platform, only to have the House hijacked by a small coterie of Blairites?
There have already been questions over the Opposition’s use of a Humble Address in 2017 to force the Government to reveal certain documents relating to Brexit. Such a procedural device had not been used in the House of Commons since 1866.
Since then Dominic Grieve has moved an amendment on a business motion forcing the Government to return earlier to the Commons after Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement was defeated. This defied all precedent as Parliamentary rules usually only allow a Government Minister to amend motions of this kind.
Now the floodgates have opened, and we have several amendments being put down by a range of characters seeking to delay, obstruct and even sabotage Brexit. Amendments put down by Yvette Cooper, Dominic Grieve and Nick Boles would do enormous damage to the constitution of the UK by taking control away from the Government and damaging any government’s ability to govern for years to come.
These MPs are trying to upend centuries of UK constitutional and Parliamentary traditions as they attempt to defy the referendum. This desperate move would fundamentally change the job of Parliament and pit it against the people.
The historic convention that Government negotiates, and then once negotiations are over Parliament approves, has stood for hundreds of years. That’s because Government has to lead the negotiations or it is akin to trying to thread a needle with 650 people nudging your elbow.
People voted for the UK to take back control. They did not vote to tear up the British constitution. It would be a dangerous development if a minority of MPs could overturn the will of 498 MPs who voted to trigger Article 50, not to mention the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit.
By passing the Act that triggered Article 50, MPs decided that the UK leaving the EU on March 29, 2019 is the default position. Only repealing the EU Withdrawal Act or further legislation to amend it can stop the UK leaving on that date. It is only right and proper for such decisions to be at the discretion of the UK government.
Throughout my career I have sought fiercely to defend the rights of backbenchers holding the executive to account. However, there are some processes that should belong to the executive. Muddying the waters is wrong and will leave a toxic legacy.
Under the Westminster system Her Majesty’s Government controls the Parliamentary agenda. Backbenchers should not arbitrarily be able to take away that power. How does this affect the national interest at a time when the Government is negotiating with the EU? Where does power lie? Who controls the legislative agenda? Who is accountable and how? These are all fundamental questions for our democracy, not playthings for anti-Brexit MPs to tinker with.
Some of the present machinations bring our unwritten constitution and Parliamentary system into disrepute. They threaten the viability and integrity of the House of Commons as whole. This must stop, and it must stop now.