“What a waste of time and money” – Starmer on Tories’ failed Brexit appeal

24th January, 2017 6:21 pm

Keir Starmer

This is the speech by Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, in response to the statement by David Davis, his opposite number, in the Commons today on the government’s defeat over article 50 in the Supreme Court.

I thank the secretary of state for early sight of his statement. This is a good day for parliamentary sovereignty, as the Supreme Court has ruled that we shall have a say in this house on article 50. Given the issues that are involved, that is quite right and the prime minister was wrong to have attempted to sideline parliament in this process. This bill is to be introduced only because the prime minister has been ordered to do so. I hope that, in the aftermath, there will not be the attacks on our judges that there were when the High Court gave its ruling. It is the duty of all of us to defend them if there are such attacks, and to do so quickly. I hope that the secretary of state will join me in that endeavour.

The question now moves on to the proper role of parliament. The Supreme Court said nothing about the particular form of legislation. On issues as important as this, it would be wrong for the government to try to minimise the role of parliament, or to seek to avoid amendments. I ask the secretary of state to confirm that he will not take that approach.

This is a question of substance, not of process. Last week, the prime minister committed herself to swapping the known benefits of single market membership and the customs union for the hoped-for benefits of a free trade agreement, with a fall-back position of breaking our economic model. That is high risk, and there are big gaps, inconsistencies and unanswered questions in her approach.

If the prime minister fails in her endeavour, the cost will be borne by families and working people and communities throughout the UK. The stakes are high, and the role of this house in holding the prime minister and the government to account throughout the process is crucial.

Labour accepts and respects the referendum result, and will not frustrate the process, but we will be seeking to lay amendments to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability throughout the process. That starts with a white paper or plan—a speech is not a white paper or plan. We need something on which to hold the government to account throughout the process. We cannot have a speech as the only basis for accountability for two years or more. That is the first step. There needs to be a reporting-back procedure and a meaningful vote at the end of the exercise. The government should welcome such scrutiny, and not try to resist it, because the end result will be better if scrutinised than it would otherwise be. I hope that the secretary of state will confirm that he will not seek to minimise scrutiny and accountability.

I will leave it to others to talk about the devolved administrations, but whatever the court ruled, it is important that those interests are taken properly into account.

I end with this: what a waste of time and money. The high court decision was 82 days ago. The prime minister could have accepted then the need to introduce a bill, and we could have debated the issues. I would like the secretary of state to lay out what the cost to the taxpayer has been of this appeal.

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