Editorial Board

Don't Nix This Brexit Fix

Parliament should keep the focus on the best possible deal, which is also the least harmful one.

Brexit with dignity.

Photographer: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images

Brexit was supposed to be about democracy: Those who wanted to leave the European Union argued that their rights were being trampled on by an unrepresentative EU bureaucracy. Now it’s the U.K. government that is paying insufficient attention to the interests of Brits -- and it’s their unelected representatives in Parliament who are defending them.

The Brexit referendum won the support of 52 percent of voters last year, and the U.K. remains deeply divided about what form its relationship with the rest of Europe should take. Nevertheless, the bill that would officially begin the process of Brexit easily passed the House of Commons unaltered last month.

Theresa May Tries to Win Power to Trigger Brexit

The House of Lords, however, added two crucial amendments to the bill this month. One would give Parliament the right to force the government to resume talks with the EU if a majority of U.K. lawmakers are dissatisfied with the exit agreement. The other would require that the residency rights of 3 million EU nationals currently in the U.K. be guaranteed at the outset of negotiations, rather than becoming a bargaining chip in the talks.

Both provisions make sense, and the House of Commons should accept them. Doing so will show supporters of Brexit that it will press the government to make the best possible deal -- and reassure opponents of Brexit that it favors the least harmful deal. In truth, these deals are one and the same.

The main concern is that if Prime Minister Theresa May abandons the negotiations without reaching an agreement, there’ll be nothing for Parliament to scrutinize and therefore the exit would just happen. May herself has said that “no deal is better than a bad deal for Britain,” but it’s hard to imagine how that would be true. Of course, the EU has leverage in these talks -- if the two-year deadline for reaching an agreement expires, the U.K. is out of the union -- but the EU's own enlightened economic self-interest should override any instincts for revenge.

It’s ironic but hardly surprising that this debate is being pushed forward by the unelected chamber of Parliament. The House of Commons approved the Brexit legislation by a lopsided margin that distorts the deep split among the public; the vote reflects anxiety among MPs about re-election rather than their enthusiasm for Brexit. The Lords, who don’t have to answer to voters, can take a longer, less self-serving view.

As Michael Heseltine, a former deputy prime minister who was fired as a government adviser for his rebellion in the House of Lords last week, said: “Sometimes in politics there are issues which transcend party politics. In the end you have to be your own person.”

Unlikely -- but as in baseball (or cricket), hope springs eternal.

    --Editors: Mark Gilbert, Michael Newman.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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