Clive Bull is Leading Britain's Conversation, including the Health Hour from 9pm
25 January 2017, 12:48
David Mellor has some tips for Theresa May to help stop EU negotiators taking advantage of any divisions in the government.
If you heard strange noises in Whitehall yesterday morning, there was no need to worry. It was just Theresa May’s chickens coming home to roost.
Entirely predictably (and rightly, as we'll get to later) the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament had to approve the start of our withdrawal from the EU.
Mrs May now faces an unholy alliance of Labour, Lib Dem and renegade Tory politicians – an especially potent combination in the Lords - determined to thwart the will of the people as expressed at the referendum. And, just at the time when the government needs a united front, to begin, with their new ally President Trump, to push the Brussels zealots back, there is a real danger, that, we will seem to be a house divided against ourselves.
As I, and others said, as early as last autumn, Theresa May should have called an election to get a proper mandate for Brexit and to give her complete legitimacy as Prime Minister. She would then have been cloaked in real authority to deal with this predictable, and predicted, problem.
Instead she flunked it and the consequences could be problematic. The British government will seem to many to lack the real authority it needs to deliver the best Brexit deal for Britain.
The Supreme Court cannot be faulted for its decision. The government was only proposing to use the Royal prerogative because they were uncertain of their ability to win crucial votes in Parliament.
That, of course, was the way Charles I did things. Not a happy precedent, and one the Supreme Court was never likely to endorse.
But, the Supreme Court did not insist on anything more than a simple vote. They chose not to empower the regional assemblies, which we have foolishly allowed to call themselves Parliaments. As Lord Neuberger rightly said, handling the Welsh and the Scots is a political matter, not a legal or constitutional one.
To carry conviction at this vital juncture, the government has to speak with one voice. But isn’t. Briefing from No. 10 indicated there would be no White Paper. However, David Davies, the Brexit Secretary equally obviously didn’t rule it out. Today, it was confirmed there would be a White Paper.
If Mrs May allows our negotiating position to be revealed in a series of highly contentious parliamentary debates, only one group will benefit - the EU negotiators ranged against us, who as of now, seem determined to stand out against a sensible solution. Their enthusiasm for doing us down will be accentuated by what they will perceive to be real divisions, even in the Prime Minister’s own party.
To ask the government to reveal its negotiating position is about as helpful as me demanding Signor Antonio Conte to state publicly his precise tactics in the vital upcoming matches against Arsenal and Liverpool. He would think I was mad. He will keep his cards close to his chest and Theresa May should be allowed to do the same.
A parliamentary vote on starting the exit process is one thing; a parliamentary vote on the details of how our negotiators will handle things is something entirely different.
Anyway, MPs and peers are not suited to debating these details. And often the consequences of allowing them to make decision best left to government can be catastrophic, as was proved when they were wrongly invited to vote by David Cameron on whether or not we should bomb Syria.
And when Parliament rejected bombing, President Obama panicked, and rejected it too, leaving a vacuum to be filled by the murderous Putin and his barrel bombs. As a result, thousands of people died unnecessarily, and the consequences of letting Russia off the leash can still be felt today.
Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
Stand firm, Theresa. Your country needs you.