All sides of Parliament turn on PM to demand vote on Brexit

Keir Starmer. © Lewis Whyld
A spat has erupted in the corridors of Westminster between Theresa May’s government and MPs from all sides of the House on whether to debate the Brexit negotiations in Parliament.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer came on BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday to challenge the prime minister to put the topic before MPs and let them have a vote. However, on Monday, Downing Street shut down Sir Keir, saying that a vote to “second-guess” the referendum result, which will see Britain leaving the European Union, “is not an acceptable way forward.”

A source from No10 told The Times: “While Labour are looking for ways to stop Brexit we are focused on delivering on the people’s verdict – and making a success of it. Of course parliament will have a role in the exit process, but this suggestion [of a vote] is simply an attempt to find another way to thwart the will of the British people.”

The PM is under increasing pressure to let the Brexit discussion go to a vote in the House, with even her own MPs rebelling against May’s seemingly preferred “hard Brexit” option.

Tory heavyweights such as Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry joined forces with former Labour and Liberal Democrats leaders Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, calling for a Commons vote. Fellow Tory MP and ‘Leave’ campaigner Stephen Phillips dubbed the lack of discussion about Brexit in Parliament a “tyranny.”

Phillips has now been granted permission by Speaker John Bercow to gather the support of MPs for an urgent debate on Brexit this Tuesday. The Sleaford and North Hykeham MP said in a letter to the speaker that bypassing Parliament is “simply not an acceptable way for the executive to proceed.”

“I and many others did not exercise our vote in the referendum so as to restore the sovereignty of this Parliament only to see what we regarded as the tyranny of the European Union replaced by that of a Government that apparently wishes to ignore the views of the House on the most important issue facing the nation,” he wrote.

Defending May’s position was his Tory colleague Philip Davies, who, standing on the right wing of the party, has been arguing for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU for a long time. Commenting on the calls for Brexit to be debated in Parliament, he told the Daily Mail it was “time for pro-EU fanatics to accept the result of the referendum.”

“Ed Miliband ought to reflect on the fact that one of the biggest votes to leave the EU came in his Doncaster North constituency. Not only is he spectacularly out of touch with his own constituents, he now wants to treat them with contempt. He clearly wouldn’t recognize a working class voter if he tripped over one and is completely out of touch with the people he is supposed to represent,” he said.

While Downing Street conceded that a debate and scrutiny of the process was “absolutely necessary and the right thing to do,” it added that “having a second vote or a vote to second-guess the will of the British people is not an acceptable way forward.”

The divisions in Westminster come mere days before a group of citizens take the government to High Court over Brexit on Thursday. Claimants such as investment manager Gina Miller and hairdresser Deir Dos Santos argue that the result of a consultative referendum cannot be implemented by a government without the consent of Parliament.

Brexit Secretary David Davis believes Theresa May and her Cabinet alone have the power to bring forward Brexit, and that further discussions would signal that the government cannot “give effect to the will of the people.”