Although I campaigned hard to remain in the European Union, I respect the outcome of the referendum. The UK will therefore now be leaving the EU and the triggering of Article 50 is required to start the process. The recent court ruling was important, but it does not change the outcome of the referendum. What the court said was that the Government cannot initiate Article 50 using what is known as the Royal prerogative power; instead this must be a decision for Parliament. The Government is currently appealing but if it is unsuccessful, then I expect that they will come forward with legislation to trigger Article 50, which I will support.
I know that there are some who have argued that the referendum was only advisory, but this misses the point that it is politically binding - the decision having been taken to ask the people to make their choice - and Parliament should accept the result and work to secure the best deal for our country as we leave the European Union. I say that because the consequences of Parliament refusing to accept the referendum vote would be very serious for faith in our democracy. It has also been argued that Parliament should delay the triggering of Article 50 until there is a firm deal on the table, but this can’t happen for the very simple reason that until negotiations begin – and that requires Article 50 to be triggered first – no deal will be able to be reached.
Having said that, the referendum did not decide the terms on which we will leave; nor did it set out what Britain’s new relationship with the other 27 member states will look like once we have left. This will be a matter for negotiation in what is the most complex challenge we have faced as a country in decades.
There is no more important issue facing Britain than the terms of our departure from the EU, and it is vital that there is full scrutiny and accountability during the process. Parliament cannot be a bystander; it has to be a participant. The referendum result has, understandably, created a great deal of uncertainty and the decisions that will be made by the Government over the coming months and years will have profound implications for the future of our country, our economy, our people and their jobs and our place in the world.
In my view, we must seek as full access as possible to the single market, including for business and financial services which are so important to our economy. We must also protect employment, environmental and social rights. I accept that adjustments to the freedom of movement principle will be made and we must establish fair migration rules as part of our new relationship with the EU. I also strongly believe that the Government should immediately guarantee the status of EU nationals who are currently living and working in the UK and contributing so much to our society.
The Prime Minister has announced that she wants to begin the formal process of leaving the EU by triggering Article 50 before 31 March 2017. The House of Commons unanimously agreed that there should be full and transparent debate on the Government's plans. To allow sufficient time for this, the Government should publish its negotiating objectives, accompanied by an economic impact assessment, as soon as possible so that the House of Commons can consider and pass judgement on these. I also hope that the Government will indicate that if it cannot complete all the negotiations needed within the two years then it will seek transitional arrangements so as to provide more certainty and a smoother transition.
In my role as the Chair of the new Brexit select committee, I and my colleagues will be scrutinising the Government’s plans very carefully as this process unfolds.
Hilary Benn MP