Along with many colleagues and campaigners for Remain, we were deeply disappointed by the decision for Britain to leave the European Union. But we also recognise the need to accept the result and move forward with the strongest possible team to negotiate the best deal for Britain, and to maintain positive relationships with our nearest neighbours and allies.
We have today written to the Prime Minister to ask him to urgently address how we ensure a strong voice for Parliament in the negotiations.
We welcomed the commitment last week to set up a new EU unit in Whitehall to bring together expertise from across Government, we also welcomed the recognition that colleagues on all sides of the House will wish to contribute to how we prepare and execute the negotiations.
The Prime Minister has tasked the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP to listen to all representations and facilitate their inputs to the process.
Parliament needs to be fully involved, and the representations made to the Prime Minister need to be open and transparent.
Following the Prime Minister’s statements last week, we believe the current approach and timeline is inadequate for the scale of the challenge ahead. We believe it is critical that Parliament is placed at the forefront, and that expertise from both Houses is brought to bear. The details will be for the Speaker and authorities in the House to decide, but it is vital to know the Prime Minister’s view, and to have his commitment to move forward immediately.
We therefore propose that a new Special Parliamentary Committee (SPC) on EU Renegotiation be established, with membership including representatives from the House of Commons and House of Lords in line with a broadly proportional membership from both. We believe also that there should be a larger Standing Conference which includes the SPC, in addition to the wider stakeholders, including MEPs, business representatives, the TUC, universities, the Mayors of our mayoral cities, local government representatives and devolved administrations.
1. There are six key principles we suggest could form the basis for how the SPC should move forward:
2. It should involve both houses, and be specifically tasked in the first instance with scrutinising the newly established EU unit, and then later holding the negotiating team to account.
3. A clear role for opposition parties must be secured.
4. Membership of the SPC must be based on a Leave / Remain balance.
5. It should have advisory and scrutiny roles.
6. Some of the sessions of the SPC will have to take place behind closed doors, due the sensitivities of negotiating positions, strategies and tactics.
Wider stakeholders who speak for the national interest in how we move forward must be involved. We would recommend broader engagement with MEPs, business representatives, the TUC, universities, the Mayors of our mayoral cities, local government representatives and devolved administrations.
Over the next two months, the terms of reference for and size/ membership of the SPC and Standing Conference should be determined. The SPC should have advisory and scrutiny roles and powers to call witnesses to give evidence. It should be served by a small publicly funded secretariat. The SPC should meet monthly if possible, and the Standing Conference should meet every three months. The programme should be supported by a council of experts who could present to the meetings on points of research or options going forward. This would be a Committee independent of Government. The agendas for the meetings of the SPC and Standing Conference could be determined by a group of elected officers in consultation with the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP.
In this time of national crisis the role of parliament has never been more important. We must now develop robust scrutiny structures and processes that command confidence. This is about the future of our country, and of our democracy.
Written with Seema Malhotra MP