Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

May Must Give Brexit Running Commentary to Lawmakers, Panel Says

  • Not good enough to expect Parliament to rubber stamp EU deal
  • Democratic scrutiny is vital, House of Lords committee says

The U.K. Parliament must be kept informed of Brexit negotiations as they happen or Prime Minister Theresa May will risk striking a deal that’s not supported by either Parliament or the public, a House of Lords panel said.

The warning, as May prepared to travel to Brussels to meet with leaders from the other 27 European Union member states, came in a report from the House of Lords EU Committee, which said there is too much at stake for the deal to be done “behind closed doors” without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

“Ministers keep saying that they won’t offer a running commentary on the negotiations. What they offer instead, namely parliamentary scrutiny after the fact, is in reality not scrutiny at all –- it could be no more than a rubber stamp,” Committee chairman Tim Boswell, a Conservative, said in an e-mailed statement. “For many people, the referendum was about returning power to Parliament, about bringing sovereignty back home. Now is the time to deliver on that ambition.”

The prime minister has been told by her European counterparts that there will be no negotiations or “backdoor deals” before she triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will start a two-year countdown to leaving the EU. She said earlier this month that it will be invoked before the end of March next year.

Poker Playing

May and Brexit Secretary David Davis have repeatedly said they will not give details of their negotiation strategy for fear of getting a worse deal as a result, a line repeated by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hamond in testimony to lawmakers on Wednesday. International Development Secretary Priti Patel, a member of May’s Brexit cabinet committee, compared it to playing cards.

“If I were to sit down and play poker with you this morning, I’m not going to show you my cards before we even start playing the game,” Patel told the BBC on Sunday. “We’re not going to come on every single day and give a running commentary.”

That secrecy is not sustainable in a democracy and scrutiny by lawmakers is needed if the government is to negotiate a good deal, the committee, which is made up of members of the unelected upper chamber, said in the report.

‘Vital Role’

Scrutiny should start before Article 50 is triggered, with parliamentary approval for the government’s negotiating guidelines, the panel said. Committees should then be able to scrutinize the negotiations and have access to information and documents to allow them to comment on their progress, it said.

“Brexit is happening, and Parliament has a vital role to play in making it a success,” Boswell said. "We’re not asking to ‘micromanage’ the negotiations, which will rightly be conducted by the government, but we do have a role and a duty to scrutinize the way the government goes about that task. There is just too much at stake for the whole country for us to settle for less.”

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