The one thing both sides agreed on in the run up to the referendum in June was the importance of the vote and that it would settle the question of EU membership for a generation. Whether we like it or not, that question is now settled.
When Parliament passed the Referendum Act last year by an overwhelming margin, MPs handed over the decision about our future in the EU to the voters. The voters made their decision on 23 June and the Government has announced that it will implement that decision by beginning the process of leaving the EU not later than the end of March next year. Now however, some MPs are demanding a parliamentary vote on this beforehand. This is a demand for the opportunity to vote against initiating the process of leaving the EU. This explicitly runs counter to the Referendum Act 2015, which handed that decision to voters.
During last week’s debate on the negotiating process prior to leaving the EU, MP after MP got up and announced that, notwithstanding having campaigned to remain, they now accepted the will of their constituents, and acquiesced to the decision to leave. Then the mask slipped: one member stated that she would not give up on those who voted to remain, that those who voted to leave were beginning to regret doing so, and that -so proceeding- there would be a majority opinion for remaining. She is, of course entitled to that honest opinion. What was instructive however, was that she was cheered by those who insisted that they had now accepted the will of the people and would implement the decision made by them on 23 June.
Can they be trusted?
The demands made by MPs, that the Government first set out its negotiating strategy and submit it for their approval, needs to be seen in the light of their thinly veiled opposition to the whole enterprise. This demand is essentially an attempt to secure a means to delay, and ultimately to thwart the process.
Of course, even if the demand were made in good faith, it is manifestly absurd. If the Government sets out its negotiating strategy and objectives, then by doing so, it signals to the other EU members the price that they can extract. We would be sending our ministers bound and naked into the negotiation chamber.
Of course, Parliament can influence the Government through questions and debates and the two new select committees that are being set up. So long as the Government enjoys majority support in the Commons however, it must be allowed to get on and negotiate unfettered and unhindered, particularly by those still unreconciled to the referendum result.