The Supreme Court’s ruling that Parliament must be consulted on triggering Article 50 has prompted an avalanche of comment as the main political players vie to steer the process to their advantage.
In the Commons, the minister for exiting the EU, David Davis, earlier told the House the government was “determined to deliver” Brexit, and will “move swiftly” to introduce as “straightforward Bill, allowing the process to be completed by March, in line with the government’s current timetable”.
He reiterated the decision to leave the EU will not be waylaid, underscoring the “point of no return was passed on 23rd of June last year”.
The statement acts as a shot across the bows of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish National Party, all of which are threatening to derail the Brexit process.
Mindful of the strong Leave vote in its northern constituencies, in particular, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said that his party “respects the result of the referendum” and will not “frustrate” Article 50.
But he added: “However, Labour will seek to amend the Article 50 Bill to prevent the Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.”
The party is also demanding a detailed plan from the Government throughout the two-year-long Brexit negotiations following the invoking of Article 50, and a vote on the final deal before it goes through.
However, his stance may provoke further infighting within his beleaguered party, not least as the Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has hinted that Labour MPs who vote against triggering Article 50 may escape punishment from the party. Starmer told Sky News that a decision on how to handle the rebels would be taken “collegiately”. Four shadow ministers are said to be considering a revolt.
But with two by-elections looming, leave supporting Labour members are calling for more robust support for Brexit, fearful that without it the party’s support base will erode significantly.
“Labour must urgently adopt a Pro-Brexit policy or risk losing dozens of seats in the Midlands and the North to either the Tories or UKIP,” said Brendan Chilton of Labour Leave in a press release.
He added: “Labours confusing position on Brexit and other issues such as immigration is contributing to our continuing downward turn in the opinion polls. The country voted to leave the EU, Labour should champion the wishes of working class people in the UK and support Brexit.”
The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have gone a step further in their demands, insisting that they will only vote for Article 50 if the government promises to give the British people a say on the final deal following negotiations in a second referendum.
“This Tory Brexit government are keen to laud the democratic process when it suits them, but will not give the people a voice over the final deal. They seem happy to start with democracy and end in a stitch-up,” Liberal leader Tim Farron said.
While in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that the Scottish government must be given a say on Article 50, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that the regional parliaments do not need to be consulted.
Sturgeon said: “We are obviously disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in respect of the devolved administrations.
“Although the court has concluded that the UK government is not legally obliged to consult the devolved administrations, there remains a clear political obligation to do so.
“The Scottish government will bring forward a Legislative Consent Motion and ensure that the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to vote on whether or not it consents to the triggering of Article 50.”
The party has vowed that its 56 elected representatives in Westminster will table some 50 “serious and substantive” amendments to the Bill on Article 50.
The government will, therefore, have to negotiate a minefield to get the legislation through quickly and efficiently – and must do so effectively if it is not to provoke the ire of Leave supporters.
As Leave.EU chairman Arron Banks warned in a press release: “This Tory government wants to be a champion for ordinary people, now May must prove it by driving Brexit through Parliament post-haste – 17.4 million voters will be watching her every move.”