Theresa May has declared there is no going back on Brexit despite a setback in the courts as she warns Europhile politicians and judges to “accept” the people have spoken.
Writing exclusively for The Sunday Telegraph, the Prime Minister reprimands MPs and peers looking to frustrate the start of Brexit for “re-fighting the battles of the past”.
In her first public comments since being ordered to hold a parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50, the mechanism to start Brexit talks, she vows to fight the courts.
Mrs May warns that an “important principle” of democracy hangs in the balance as pro-EU politicians plot to water down plans for Brexit, backed by 17.4 million Britons in June.
She also issues a rebuttal to critics who say leaving the EU is a return to the past, declaring that an “open and ambitious” future for the country awaits as she visits India for trade talks next week.
“Instead of re-fighting the battles of the past, we should be focusing on how we can come together as a country to make the most of this great national opportunity and forge a bold, confident, global future for Britain,” Mrs May says.
The Prime Minister’s decision to break cover comes after her most difficult week in office that has seen a blow from the courts over Brexit and the resignation of a Tory MP.
On Thursday, three High Court judges unexpectedly ruled that Mrs May could not trigger Article 50 without peers and MPs voting, directly contradicting the Government’s stance.
Ministers believed they had the power to implement the referendum result via Royal prerogative and immediately announced an appeal, with the Supreme Court due to rule in January.
As Eurosceptics criticised the decision amid fears MPs will use a vote to unpick the public’s decision, a furious backlash from pro-EU politicians and lawyers emerged.
On Saturday, Liz Truss, the Lord Chancellor, was forced to make clear her belief in an independent judiciary as a body representing 15,000 barristers demanded she act over criticism of the courts.
The Bar Council issued a statement in the afternoon saying it “condemns the serious and unjustified attacks on the judiciary arising out of the Article 50 litigation”.
The statement went on: “It regrets the lack of public statement by the Lord Chancellor condemning these attacks and calls upon the Lord Chancellor to do so as a matter of urgency.
Theresa May: ‘no unnecessary delays in invoking Article 50’Play!01:35
“A strong independent judiciary is essential to a functioning democracy and to upholding the rule of law.” It followed similar calls from ToryMPs and former ministers.
Within hours Ms Truss, who has faced questions about her legal experience after becoming Justice Secretary, hit back with a statement of her own.
“The independence of the judiciary is the foundation upon which our rule of law is built and our judiciary is rightly respected the world over for its independence and impartiality,” she said.
“In relation to the case heard in the High Court, the Government has made it clear it will appeal to the Supreme Court. Legal process must be followed.”
The row infuriated allies of Mrs May who insisted ministers never questioned the court’s right to make a decision and Eurosceptics who said it was an attempt to stifle debate.
Dominic Raab, a former minister and prominent Brexit campaigner, said: “This is a hugely contentious ruling bound to provoke criticism and debate.
“Our judges are robust, not some precious shrinking violets. Frankly, the Bar Council sound like they want to gag debate, which is hardly democratic. All sides need a greater sense of perspective. ”
A Number 10 source said: “We have never questioned the independence of the judiciary. We’ve been very clear we disagree with their ruling and that is why we are appealing. But to suggest we questioned their independence is nonsense.”
There is growing concerns among Eurosceptics that pro-EU politicians will attempt to delay the start of Brexit and water down plans for a clean break if Mrs May’s appeal is lost, as some ministers fear.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, demanded Mrs May reveal her priorities for Brexit negotiations, saying there must be “transparency” over her intentions.
“All our businesses need the kind of assurances that apparently Nissan has had about the shape of the Government’s Brexit plans to make the right investment decisions,” he said.
“Thursday’s High Court decision underlines the necessity that the Prime Minister brings the Government’s negotiating terms for Brexit to Parliament without delay.
“We accept and respect the decision to leave the European Union. But there must be transparency and accountability to Parliament about the Government’s plans.
“I suspect the Government opposes democratic scrutiny of its plans because – frankly – there aren’t any plans, beyond the hollow rhetoric of ‘Brexit means Brexit’.”
However writing in this newspaper, Mrs May pledges to pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court over her right to trigger Brexit talks despite pressure to drop the case.
“This may appear to be a debate about process, and the legal argument is complex, but in reality there is an important principle at stake,” Mrs May writes.
“Parliament voted to put the decision about our membership of the EU in the hands of the British people. The people made their choice, and did so decisively.
“It is the responsibility of the government to get on with the job and to carry out their instruction in full. MPs and peers who regret the referendum result need to accept what the people decided.”
Labour is demanding Mrs May publish a “high level strategic plan” for Brexit talks as soon as possible that can be debated in Parliament and scrutinised by a committee of MPs.
It is understood they want the document to answer whether the Prime Minister wants Britain to be in the single market and customs union, which allows goods to travel freely without custom checks.
Government sources last night played down the likelihood of answering those questions, which are being fiercely debated in the cabinet, any time soon.
They said the choice over the single market and customs union was not binary – indicating ministers favour sector-by-sector deals with the EU – and added they would not “bind the hands” before negotiations.
yet it appears more details of the terms of trade with the EU that Mrs May wants to secure after Brexit will be made public, though there is no timetable.
David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, is expected to explain the Government’s position over the Article 50 ruling in the House of Commons on Monday.
Lord O’Donnell: It would be unwise to trigger Article 50 without Commons votePlay!02:01
Concerns that peers could use the absence of a Tory majority in the House of Lords to delay Brexit will increase after two leading figures warned they would not simply approve the start of talks.
Baroness Smith, Labour’s leader in the Lords, said Mrs May would not get a “blank cheque” and Lord Newby, the Liberal Democrat’s most senior peer, said the party wanted more details before approving any legislation.
“Parliament would want to have a sense of where the Government was going rather than simply waving the Bill through,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.
Mrs May is flying to New Delhi on Sunday on her first trade mission since entering Number 10 in an effort to boost likes with India ahead of Brexit.
In her piece for The Sunday Telegraph, she calls India one of Britain’s “most important and closest friends” and says their relationship can flourish after the UK leaves the EU.
“Free trade and increased cooperation will make us all more secure and more prosperous. Take advantage of the opportunities before us, and I truly believe that this can be the partnership of the century,” she says.
Meanwhile domestically Labour is gearing up for a snap election following the surprise resignation of Stephen Phillips, the Tory MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham who backed Brexit and quit over the refusal to give Parliament a vote on starting talks.
A senior Labour figure said: “We are ramping up. There is clearly an election coming. We are working hard to get the infrastructure in place.”
Reaction to Article 50 decision
Gina Miller, Investment manager and lead claimant
“It was the right decision because we were dealing with the sovereignty of parliament. It was not about winning or losing. It was about what was right. Now we can move forward with legal certainty.”
Liam Fox, International trade secretary
“The government is disappointed by the court’s judgement. The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by an Act of Parliament. The government is determined to respect the result of the referendum.”
Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party:
“This ruling underlines the need for the Government to bring its negotiating terms to parliament without delay. Labour respects the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. But there must be transparency and accountability to parliament on the terms of Brexit.”
Nigel Farage, UKIP leader
“I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand… I now fear that every attempt will be made to block or delay the triggering of Article 50. If this is so, they have no idea of the level of public anger they will provoke.”
Dominic Raab, Conservative MP and founder of Change Britain
“This case is a plain attempt to block Brexit by people who are out of touch with the country and refuse to accept the result. However, the vote to leave the EU was clear and they should not seek to obstruct it.”
Nicky Morgan, former health minister
“Right that Parliament should vote on legislation to trigger Article 50. Sovereignty regained from EU should go to sovereign UK Parliament.”
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