Friday 15 December 2017

May hoping challenge to MPs on Brexit will avert rebellion threat

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she wanted a ‘red, white and blue Brexit' Picture: PA
British Prime Minister Theresa May said she wanted a ‘red, white and blue Brexit' Picture: PA

Michael Wilkinson

British MPs will be challenged by Prime Minister Theresa May today to explicitly back her to trigger Brexit by April in the House of Commons, a Tory MP has revealed.

She will hope the move fends off a potential Commons rebellion as up to 40 Tory backbenchers were thought to be ready to back a Labour motion calling for her to set out her Brexit plan.

An amendment in the name of Ms May will accept the Labour motion, allowing potentially rebellious Tories to back it, prominent eurosceptic Steve Baker revealed in a tweet in the middle of the second day of the Supreme Court hearing.

But it will also challenge them to "respect the wishes" of voters in the referendum and call on the government to trigger Article 50 by the end of March - in accordance with the timetable set out by the PM.

Yesterday the British government rejected the suggestion its Brexit strategy was an "affront" to parliamentary sovereignty.

Eleven Supreme Court justices were told on the second day of the historic hearing in London that the case put forward by those challenging the government's plan represented "a serious constitutional trap".

The Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas and two other judges decided at the High Court in November that Ms May lacked power to use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the two-year process of negotiating Brexit without the prior authority of parliament.

"It is said that the government giving Article 50 notice is an affront to parliamentary sovereignty because parliament has created rights and only it can alter them," James Eadie QC, for the government, said in the packed court.

"Our case fully respects, and offers no affront, to parliamentary sovereignty," he said, rejecting the claim.

Ministers warned they could not "rule by decree".

Lord Pannick, making his arguments on behalf of Gina Miller, who won the ruling at the High Court, told the justices that ministers could not use prerogative powers to "take away the rights of citizens".

He argued that parliament did not intend for the rights and duties created by the 1972 European Communities Act to be removed by ministers alone.

Mocking the government, he said to argue otherwise would give the Act a "lesser status" than the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Lord Pannick said it would be "quite extraordinary" if that Act "could be set at nought by the actions of a minister acting without parliamentary authority".

"I'm interested in all these terms that have been identified - hard Brexit, soft Brexit, black Brexit, white Brexit, grey Brexit, but actually what I think we should be looking for is a red, white and blue Brexit," Ms May said yesterday.

"That is the right deal for the United Kingdom. What is going to be the relationship between the UK and the European Union once we've left, that's what we're about and that's what we will be working towards."

But Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat leader, said: "The Prime Minister has surpassed herself with this statement. It's jingoistic claptrap.

"If this Conservative government cared about Britain and cared about what makes our country great they would not be running headlong towards a hard Brexit like this. It doesn't matter what colour she tries to paint this, her plans for Brexit will wreck the economy.

"This government want to pull us out of the Single Market, Customs Union, which would wreck the economy and blow a £220bn (€260bn) black hole in the budget."

Eurosceptic MP Steve Baker urged his Tory colleagues to back the amendment.

"Every Conservative MP should respect the result by voting with the government on this excellent amendment to trigger Article 50 on the Prime Minister's schedule," he said.

A Downing Street spokesman stressed the amendment was "a separate issue" from the government's Supreme Court battle to overturn a ruling that it should obtain Parliament's approval before triggering Article 50.

"The Prime Minister has been clear that we will set out our plans in due course. That remains the position," the spokesman said. "We won't be showing our negotiating hand until we have to, but we have not suggested we will not set out the position. That's what the amendment goes to." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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