Brexit and the sovereignty of parliament: a backbencher’s view

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Brexit is a constitutional, legal, and political challenge of a size the UK has not seen in decades and will have consequences that are both uncertain and long-lasting. In this post, Dominic Grieve offers his distinctive perspective on Brexit, discussing the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, the role of international courts in UK law, and the more troubling aspects of the Withdrawal Bill itself. 

The EU and the sovereignty of parliament

My Brexiter colleagues have in varying degrees signed up to the view that EU membership undermines the sovereignty of parliament in a manner which is damaging to our independence and our parliamentary democracy. This certainly fits in with a national (if principally English) narrative that can be traced back past the Bill of Rights 1688 to Magna Carta in 1215.  This narrative has proved very enduring; it places parliament as the central bastion of our liberties.

But it can also be used merely as an assertion of power, particularly when the executive has effective control over parliament. It is with that power that parliament enacted the European Communities Act 1972, which gave primacy to EU law in our country. It was parliament that chose to allow what is now the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to override UK statute law, so as to ensure our conformity with EU law in all areas in which it has competence.

The justification for requiring that supremacy was that without it, achieving adherence to the treaties and convergence between member states in implementing EU law would be very difficult. This was not an unreasonable argument; but it is hard to avoid concluding that the supremacy of EU law lies at the root of the feeling of powerlessness felt by sections of the electorate and reflected in the referendum result. This feeling has been encouraged by the habit of successive UK governments to hide behind decisions of the EU as a justification for being unwilling to address problems raised by its own electors. But where the lawyer and politician in me parts company with the views of my Brexiter colleagues is in the extent to which they appear oblivious to the extent to which parliamentary sovereignty is not – and never has been – unfettered. Continue reading

Government still lacks a strategic approach to research

 

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The Cabinet Office this week published the official Areas of Research Interest for six government departments, including the Department for Transport and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Tom Sasse, of the Institute for Government, welcomes the decision to publish, but claims that the quality of the output varies between departments. At a time when ministers have less money to spend on research, he argues that the government does not work well enough with academia and needs to change its approach if proper evidence-based policy making is to occur in the future.

Policy makers need to find the research and evidence they need to strengthen policy, and researchers need to identify the Government’s priorities so that they can provide input.

The 2015 Nurse Review of Research Councils called on the government to publish the priority questions it would like answered through new or existing research. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, announced the first publication of the Cabinet Office’s Areas of Research Interest (ARI) last week.

Six government departments (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Health; Transport; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cabinet Office; and the Foreign Office) have now published their ARIs, with the rest expected to follow soon.

These first six ARIs are mostly brief, high-level and of mixed quality. The Department for Transport’s ARI, however, stands out as an example for others to follow.

These ARIs are welcome, but government departments need to develop more comprehensive strategies for accessing the evidence and research they need.

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Would Whitehall be able to rise to the challenge of Brexit negotiations?

Nick-Wright

Much will be expected of the civil service if Britain votes to leave the EU. Every Whitehall department and diplomats in Brussels will be embroiled in complex negotiations to thrash out a series of new relationships. Without additional resources and expertise, the UK’s ability to obtain the best possible deal may be hampered, writes Nick Wright.

Following a vote to leave the EU, the UK would face an extensive round of highly complex negotiations to agree and manage withdrawal. Given the all-encompassing nature of EU membership, a crucial question is whether Whitehall – particularly the FCO and Cabinet Office – is sufficiently equipped and resourced to achieve a satisfactory outcome (whatever that might entail). In short, given the likely scope and intensity of the negotiations, could Whitehall face a ‘capabilities-expectations gap’ in terms of what it must deliver while simultaneously managing day-to-day government business?

No country has left the EU, so there is no template or precedent to follow. We do know that the negotiations would need to address both British withdrawal and its new relationship with the EU, and be ratified by the remaining EU-27, as well as the UK and European Parliaments. There are several possibilities for this: it could, for example, seek to be part of the European Economic Area (EEA), following the ‘Norwegian’ model (although David Cameron has ruled this out); or instead emulate a more detached ‘Swiss’ relationship through the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). The development of a special, ‘British’ model is also possible as the UK expects ‘more than to be grouped with Norway and Switzerland’ in the event of a Brexit. Whatever the decision, at least three new treaties may be required, giving an idea of the scale of what must be agreed within the two-year notice period set out in Article 50(3) TEU (although there are provisions for this to be extended).

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