How our MPs reacted to judges' Brexit ruling

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 9 Nov 2016

EUROSCEPTICS were up in arms after the High Court ruled that Parliament must approve the decision to leave the UK. Parliamentary Correspondent Patrick Daly spoke to Northern Lincolnshire's MPs about the judgement.

THE great fear, sparked by the decision by three High Court judges to give MPs a say on Brexit, was that this might be the slippery slope to an attempt to disregard the referendum result.

After all, more MPs campaigned to remain in the European Union than wanted out – it was the public that felt differently.

But, by and large, politicians seem certain that elected representatives will not try and block Brexit from happening.

Melanie Onn, MP for Great Grimsby, found herself in an awkward situation in the summer after opting to fight to remain, despite her constituents voting by a 70 per cent majority to leave.

She has sought to reassure her electorate that she will not stand in the way of triggering Article 50 – the starting gun for the process of exiting the EU – saying it would be "unthinkable" to try and derail it.

"If the decision to trigger Article 50 comes before Parliament, I will vote for it," confirmed the Labour MP. "As much as I still wish it was not the case, Britain voted to leave the EU and it is unthinkable to me that MPs should somehow try to undo that decision."

Ms Onn's determination to see Brexit go-ahead does not mean that she thinks it was wrong for the judges to make the decision they did, however. In fact, much of the overblown criticism more generally of the High Court has withered in recent days as people have been reminded that an independent judiciary exists for good reason in the UK.

While Ms Onn says she won't vote against implementing Article 50, she believes the vote should be used for the Government to explain what it wants to achieve through the Brexit negotiations.

One of her major bugbears is about workers' rights and whether they will be eroded after Brexit. During a debate in the House of Commons on Monday evening, she said she worried it would result in a "chipping away" of rights "in the name of efficiency, cutting red tape or streamlining" – a key reason for MPs to have a role in scrutinising Article 50.

Ms Onn said: "The question now isn't about whether or not we leave the EU, it's how to get the best deal for Great Grimsby and the country.

"That's why it's right that the sovereignty of Parliament has been recognised. It can't be left to Theresa May alone, an unelected Prime Minister, to decide Britain's future outside the EU.

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"Our trading relationship with Europe has a huge impact on our ports, fisheries and food manufacturing industries, so Grimsby needs a voice to make sure that our town's interests aren't forgotten."

It appeared there was cross-party support for such an attitude amongst the remain campaigners. Victoria Atkins, Conservative MP for Louth, confirmed she backed the Prime Minister's desire to begin the uncoupling from the EU by March, despite having wanted to stay in the 28-country bloc.

Mrs Atkins said: "If I am called upon to vote on the issue of whether to trigger Article 50, I will vote to trigger it."

The reason why Ms Atkins refers to an "if" is that this is still not a done deal – the Government is opting to appeal the decision made last Thursday at the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.

A hearing is due in early December, according to Brexit Secretary David Davis, with a result expected in January – a wait of 11 weeks or so.

According to Tory sources, Attorney General Jeremy Wright has briefed MPs, telling them the original judgement was upheld on a technicality to do with the Government not being permitted to use its Royal Prerogative to remove rights – rights created by the EU. He believes the Prime Minister has ground to challenge that ruling.

There was much anger directed at the independent judges who made the original decision – Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, and Lord Justice Sales – in Friday morning's papers. The wig-wearing trio were pictured on the front page of the Daily Mail over the headline 'Enemies of the People'.

Interim-Ukip leader Nigel Farage has promised a 100,000 person pro-Brexit march on the day of the Supreme Court hearing, a move designed to fan the flames of discontent as well as misunderstanding how judicial judgements are made.

Some pro-Brexit Tory MPs stooped to flinging insults at the "unelected" judges for their decision, something Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers distanced himself from.

"The implication and the way it was reported was that the judges were overturning the result of the referendum which they weren't," said the backbench Tory.

"In theory, it could enable such a decision but it's highly unlikely. If that did happen, then there would have to be a General Election and we would run on a manifesto that we would carry out the will of the people."

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Given what his constituency neighbour had already implied, Mr Vickers pointed out that Labour did not want such an outcome. Any snap election would have to be agreed by a two-thirds majority in the Commons and could easily be blocked by Opposition MPs worried about whether they'd hold onto their seat at another election.

Mr Vickers said: "The Labour Party, in my view, do not want an election fought in the near future. It would be a re-run of the referendum where the entire Labour parliamentary party were on the wrong side and at odds with their electorate. Would they want to go again on that basis? Probably not."

The House of Lords could technically vote against Brexit but that would only be setting the chamber up for either radical democratic reform or annihilation – outcomes which would likely see the peers lose their jobs either way.

So with such little opposition to Article 50 passing through Parliament, why bother contesting the court's decision in that case? Theresa May has instructed the Attorney General to ready an appeal – a process that will take time and cost a fair amount of money. Mr Vickers said it was about acting on the wishes of the public.

"We have got to implement their decision," he explained.

"The day after the referendum, David Cameron (former PM) said the result was an instruction to the Government and not a piece of advice and Theresa May has followed that up by saying Brexit means Brexit. She is very determined to deliver it."

Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy was more boisterous on the issue. The Brigg MP branded any attempt to block Brexit "an absolute disgrace" and said that, while he had regard for the independence of the judges, he was "less respectful" of those who brought the case to the High Court, accusing them of seeking to "prevent us leaving the EU".

Mr Percy opposed the decision for Parliament to have a vote, saying MPs and Lords were "hopelessly out of touch" on the question of EU membership" and that they could not "properly represent the views of the public".

"The question on the ballot paper was simple – it was to leave or remain. There was no 'Leave in certain circumstances' option," said the minister.

"Parliament passed legislation to create this referendum and to pass this decision to the people. We must now implement the will of the public and, in our case locally, the overwhelming will of the people."

With all that, what seemed like a constitutional crisis last Thursday seems to have merely shrunk, in the eyes of Northern Lincolnshire MPs, to a hurdle Brexit must jump over before it can be unleashed.

But if this proves anything, it is that the path to leaving the EU will be far from straightforward.

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