Mark Harper is Member of Parliament for Forest of Dean, and is a former Chief Whip.
Perhaps the least contentious aspect of the EU Referendum was the simple question of whether or not we should have one.
In the General Election last year the Conservative Party increased its share of the vote and won a majority standing on a manifesto promising a referendum, and committing to act upon the result.
In one of the first steps taken by the new Government, David Cameron introduced a Referendum Act which was passed by a ratio of six to one in the House of Commons – with strong cross-party support. At that point, and with that overwhelming vote, Parliament put the decision of whether to leave or remain in the hands of the British people.
And if that wasn’t clear enough, the booklet sent to every household setting out the Government’s position made it clear that “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
In those three facts the Government’s mandate for acting upon the referendum result is crystal clear. The mandate is as straightforward as the decisive vote itself.
There are those that want Parliament to have a vote on giving notice under Article 50 – the mechanism in the EU treaties for withdrawing from the European Union.
It has long been the case that negotiations on making, or withdrawing from, international treaties have been conducted by the Government under the royal prerogative. It is the Government’s view – with which I fully agree – that giving notification under Article 50 is an example of such an act, and so does not require another Parliamentary vote.
Given that Parliament clearly put this decision in the hands of the British people, and the British people have been clear about leaving, the only possible reason for asking Parliament to vote on Article 50 is to delay or stop the UK leaving the EU altogether.
If you truly respect the result of the referendum, you can’t argue about triggering the process of leaving through Article 50.
In fact, even Jeremy Corbyn seems to think this is true, since just the day after the referendum, he told everyone who would listen that we should trigger Article 50 immediately – presumably without a pause to listen to Parliament at all.
There are those that say Parliament must approve the detail of the Government’s negotiating strategy. If we are going to get the best possible deal for our country, which is the Prime Minister’s objective, it isn’t sensible to show all of our cards.
Over the coming months, Parliament will of course be involved in a number of very important ways. First, in the next Parliamentary session there will be a Great Repeal Bill, which will remove from the statute book – once and for all – the European Communities Act.
Second, after we leave the EU, the Government has repeatedly committed to honour all the constitutional and parliamentary obligations on any future agreement with the remaining European Union.
Third, only yesterday the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons that there would be a series of general debates, before and after the Christmas Recess, to allow MPs to make their views clear to Ministers. Clearly this will involve debate on the high-level principles that the Government will pursue in the negotiations.
Parliamentary scrutiny will be important, but there must be an appropriate balance between transparency and confidentiality, in order to get the best deal for the United Kingdom.
Parliament should hold the Government effectively to account, but this does not mean that anyone should be able to frustrate the will of the British people, as expressed in the referendum on 23rd June.