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If there’s just one thing parliament should insist on following yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, it is that it must be able to vet any Brexit deal soon enough to make an impact. In particular, it must scrutinise an agreement as soon as it goes to the European Parliament.

Theresa May has already accepted that parliament will get a vote on the final deal. But what she hasn’t done is given any commitment on the timing.

Emma Reynolds, the Labour former shadow Europe minister, asked David Davis yesterday whether he could guarantee that MPs would be able to scrutinise and vote on an agreement at the same time that it was put to the European Parliament. The Brexit secretary said he hadn’t “given a great deal of thought” to the matter and would write back to her.

The fear is that the government will wait until the last minute in the two-year Article 50 process to let MPs vote – at which point parliamentary scrutiny would be meaningless. The prime minister has already made clear that voting “no” would mean we would quit the EU without any deal – an extremely destructive form of Brexit. She would put a gun to MPs’ heads and say “pull the trigger if you dare.”

On the other hand, if our parliament gets to vote on a deal at the same time as the European Parliament, there will be other options. This is because a draft deal is expected to go to the Strasbourg parliament in or around October 2018. Assuming Article 50 is triggered this March, there would be perhaps five months to figure something out if May comes back from her negotiations with a terrible deal.

There are several ideas about what that “something” might be. The Labour’s leadership wants to go back for more talks. The SNP wants to scrap Brexit and stay in the EU. The best option would probably be to ask voters whether they still wanted to quit once they’d seen what Brexit means.

But this doesn’t need to be decided now. Indeed, it’s probably impossible to achieve consensus today about the right way forward in such a hypothetical scenario. 

On the other hand, we do need to fix the principle that parliament will have enough time to make a difference – which, in turn, will mean government is more likely to consult it properly during the two-year Brexit process. And the best way of achieving that would be to put our parliament’s scrutiny on the same timetable as the European Parliament’s.

If MPs from all parties join forces to press this point, the government will struggle to withstand the pressure. After all, saying our parliament must wait until after the European Parliament has spoken is hardly taking back control.

by Hugo Dixon | 25.01.2017


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