Friday, 3 February 2017

Article 50, the vote and Cornwall

This week, MPs in the Westminster Parliament voted by 494 to 114 to back the second reading of the “European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Bill” to give authority to the Prime Minister to trigger article 50 and commence the process to deliver Brexit.

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian, somewhat predictably, focussed on the recent Supreme Court ruling, and the debate in parliament. It was as follows:

I am someone who lives and breathes politics, but I often fail to understand the supposed logic that underpins political processes and how past and present governments make their decisions.

I am certainly perplexed by the twists and turns of Theresa May’s approach to the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.

The PM’s decision to proceed without parliamentary approval led to the pantomime of the challenge to the High Court which, in early November, ruled that the UK Government was acting unlawfully – a position confirmed by the Supreme Court last week (Tuesday 24th January), which stated that Brexit needed an act of parliament.

I could not understand why the UK Government was so keen to bypass the House of Commons, and did not seem to mind getting caught up in a legal fight lasting some three months.

Conservative MPs are lined up to vote to trigger the formal process of withdrawal, and with the leader of the official opposition instructing his MPs to back the Government, it is not like there is even the slightest chance that the necessary legislation not getting passed.

Indeed, the “European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Bill” had been tabled within 48 hours (Thursday 26th January) of the Supreme Court judgement and given its First Reading.

The Bill itself is not complex and only stretches to 137 words, merely stating that “the Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.”

It now all seems to be progressing along quite speedily with the second reading debate taking place this week and then the committee stage next week. It does make you wonder why the Government was so fixated on the legal fight.

What I have noticed about the recent debates surrounding the nature of Brexit is that they have involved the devolved administrations, with leading politicians from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, pushing for a greater say in the process and what they think is best for their respective countries.

And as a consequence, central government has instituted a Joint Ministerial Committee to work with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies on this issue.

By contrast, it saddens me that – unlike the other Celtic parts of the UK – government figures and senior MPs mention Cornwall so infrequently, which is surprising given the local risks from the loss of structural funding.

But, at least, it is to be welcomed that the Select Committee on Exiting the EU, chaired by Hilary Benn MP, will soon be taking up an invitation to visit Cornwall to find out more about the needs of our area and our local businesses.

I did view some of the parliamentary debate and thought the contrast between the MPs from Cornwall and Scotland was quite telling. Many SNP MPs spoke about protecting the best interests of Scotland, while those Cornish MPs who spoke in the debate gave their full support to Brexit but did not use the opportunity to demand that Cornwall’s best interests be specifically safeguarded as the new arrangements are delivered.

In addition, I attended a “Brexit Summit” at the Showground at Wadebridge, at which “A Catalyst for Change: Implications, Risks and Opportunities of Brexit for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly” was launched.

I have plenty to say on this and related issues, which will address in a future blog entry.

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