Amendment tabled to EU Withdrawal Bill to force Government to publish Article 50 legal advice

Leading supporters of the Open Britain campaign, led by Labour MPs Chris Leslie and Chuka Umunna, have today tabled an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill for debate at Report Stage, which, if passed, would require the Government to publish a summary of the legal advice it has received about whether the Article 50 process can be extended or halted. 

The Government have admitted that they have received legal advice on the subject but are refusing to publish it or even provide a summary of what it says. Ministers have consistently failed to make clear the legal position on the revocability of Article 50 and one was forced to clarify comments made in the House of Lords recently after he claimed that the Government’s notification of Article 50 made Brexit an irreversible process. With the Government still refusing to provide clarity, the MPs are tabling an amendment which would legally require them to do so if passed.

Lord Kerr, the former diplomat who was the key author of Article 50, said in a speech last month that the British Government could withdraw its letter and stop the process if it wanted to. His interpretation has been supported by legal experts such as Jean-Claude Piris, who served as Legal Counsel to the European Council.

Chris Leslie MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said:

“The passing of Amendment 7 to ensure a meaningful vote on any Brexit deal shows that there is appetite for cross-party working in Parliament to ensure that Brexit is properly scrutinised by people’s elected representatives.

“This amendment should also gain cross-party support because MPs and their constituents have every right to know the legal facts about what is and is not possible in the Brexit process. 

“Ministers have provided no clarity on this so far and it’s about time they did.”

Chuka Umunna MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said: 

“Legal experts and the architect of Article 50 himself have said, Theresa May’s letter signalled only the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU. Intentions can change, and it is perfectly within the Government’s power to call a halt to or pause this process and withdraw the letter if they want to.

“Ministers need to come clean about the legal advice they have received and give a simple answer to a simple question – can Article 50 be extended or withdrawn? People have every right to know that it can and that they still have a choice at the end of the Brexit negotiations as new facts emerge.”

/ends 

Notes to editors

Amendment Text

Chris Leslie

Chuka Umunna

Kate Green, Mike Gapes, Mrs Madeleine Moon, Angela Smith, Catherine McKinnell, Stephen Doughty, Paul Farrelly, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Ian Murray, Mary Creagh, Peter Kyle, Wes Streeting

To move the following new clause –

“Alteration to the notification under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on the European Union

Her Majesty’s Government shall publish a summary of the legal advice it has received in respect of the ability of the United Kingdom to extend, alter or revoke the notification, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on the European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.”

Member’s Explanatory Statement:

This new clause would require Ministers to place in the public domain a summary of the legal advice they have received concerning the options available for the United Kingdom in respect of the notification made under Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union.

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2017-2019/0147/amend/eu_rm_rep_1220.pdf 

Lord Callanan, a Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, said in the House of Lords a that he could “confirm” that the Supreme Court has judged Article 50 to be irreversible. However, he was forced to clarify his comments and admit that the Supreme Court did not rule on the revocability of Article 50 in its judgment in a legal case brought by Gina Miller.

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2017-11-13b.1836.4&s=Lord+Callanan+%22article+50%22#g1845.1

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2017-11-16a.2122.2&s=Lord+Callanan+%22supreme+court%22#g2123.6

Theresa May also endorsed the argument that the Supreme Court ruled on the revocability of Article 50 in the House of Commons in October.

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2017-10-09c.40.6&s=Theresa+May+%22we+have+no+intention%22#g51.0

Jean-Claude Piris said at a recent event organised by the Centre for European Reform that it is “legally possible” for the UK Government to withdraw its Article 50 letter having already invoked it.

Lord Kerr’s speech, organised by Open Britain, is here: http://www.open-britain.co.uk/full_text_of_lord_kerr_s_speech_article_50_the_facts