10 October 2016

David Davis and Theresa May are both clear that Parliament will not have a vote on the UK’s Brexit negotiating position. But Robyn Munro explains why they must find a way to engage Parliament in the Brexit process.

Speaking before the House this afternoon, David Davis resisted calls to give Parliament a vote on the Government’s negotiating position. The Brexit Secretary said that the Government would resist any attempt to ‘thwart the will of the British people’ or to ‘keep the UK in the EU by the back door’.

The Government may be wary of giving Parliament a formal role in Brexit negotiations, but if it wants to secure the best deal possible, then it must find a way of working with parliamentarians to keep both Houses engaged in the process.

Voting in the House of Commons is not the only way to engage Parliament.

The Government has three other obvious options to work with parliamentarians:

  1. Regular evidence sessions with select committees: to feed in their views on the UK’s negotiating position.
  2. Meetings between ministers and relevant select committee chairs: to keep parliamentarians informed of its negotiating position and the progress of talks, in confidential meetings.
  3. Sharing confidential documents with select MPs: a practice used in the European Parliament to keep MEPs abreast of the progress of talks and agreements reached, without making these public.

Knowing Parliament’s position will strengthen the Government’s hand in Brexit talks.

Ultimately it will be up to Parliament to ratify the final deal and vote through any legislation that is required (including the Great Repeal Bill).

By not engaging Parliament before the negotiations begin, the Government risks agreeing a deal with the EU that it cannot ratify in the UK. By engaging with Parliament, the Government will signal that it knows which potential deals could work. This will increase its credibility as a negotiating partner and reduce pressure to compromise on issues which it knows will not be acceptable to Parliament.

David Davis committed to providing Parliament with information about the UK’s negotiating position.

Speaking before the Lords EU Select Committee, the Brexit Secretary promised to ‘match and, hopefully, improve on what the European Parliament sees’ in advance of and during the talks.

We don’t yet know exactly what role the European Parliament will play in talks. If Brexit negotiations follow the same principles as other international negotiations, then MEPs will have considerable access to information and influence over the EU’s negotiating position. It is expected that the European Parliament will pass a resolution ahead of negotiations, agreeing on the guidelines for talks. And once negotiations begin, the Commission is legally required to keep the European Parliament ‘immediately and fully informed’ on the progress of negotiations.

If the Government wants to strengthen its position around the negotiating table, and follow through on the commitment to ‘match’ the level of information received by the European Parliament, it needs to find other ways of engaging parliamentarians in the negotiation process. It is in the Government’s interests – and that of everyone who voted for Brexit – to involve Parliament from the early stages of the negotiation process.