Brexit could strengthen Parliament or weaken it. This applies to its standing in relation to both the government and the public. Given the promise that leaving the EU means ‘taking back control’, the way in which Parliament manages the Brexit process and its post-Brexit role will be among the criteria for judging whether the UK ‘makes a success of it’.
In one scenario, the UK emerges into a post-Brexit political landscape with the executive empowered, not Parliament. Parliament is not seen by either the government or the public to have made much positive difference to the nature of Brexit or the public’s understanding of or engagement with the process. In the other scenario, Parliament seizes the opportunity - arguably, the mandate - arising from the EU referendum to assert its role as a key site for information-gathering and dissemination, policy generation, consensus-building and decision-making.
What we are doing
We are researching and reporting on Parliament’s handling of Brexit - across its scrutiny of government, its legislative work, and its role in the international treaty-making and -unmaking that will be involved. The EU (Withdrawal) Act and associated legislation are a particular focus of our work, building on our track record of detailed research on delegated legislation and its scrutiny.
We are also looking ahead to Parliament in the post-Brexit era, identifying structures and procedures that will need to change, and capabilities and resources that may need to be different. Among other issues, we are looking at the role Parliament might play in the UK’s post-Brexit trade agreements and other treaties.
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In the run-up to the UK’s exit from the EU on 29 March 2019 we will be tracking the progress made by government and Parliament in preparing the statute book for exit day. Our analysis draws on parliamentary data and our own Statutory Instrument Tracker which we built several years ago to support our research on delegated legislation.
When an executive has negotiated a treaty that it can’t get through its legislature at the first attempt, as is probable in today’s ‘meaningful vote’, something in the process has gone wrong. If Parliament is going to get a bigger role in treaty-making, the experience of the Article 50 process could and should be taken as an opportunity to learn lessons.
In 2018, Jersey saw the launch and then abandonment of what could have been a unique official attempt to define formally the role of the jurisdiction’s parliamentarians.
If the result of the ‘meaningful vote’ - whenever it is held - is that no UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement enters into force, it could be near-unique in 170 years of UK treaty-making. But if the Withdrawal Agreement goes through, its parliamentary process will still be unusual: it could be the UK treaty with the most parliamentary decision-making involvement ever.
For its ‘fake news’ inquiry the House of Commons DCMS Committee has reportedly acquired papers related to a US court case involving Facebook. Andrew Kennon, former Commons Clerk of Committees, says the incident shows how the House’s powers to obtain evidence do work, but that it might also weaken the case for Parliament’s necessary powers in the long term.