The SNP has boosted the possibility of Brexit being blocked or delayed by MPs if a Commons vote is called on triggering the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith yesterday pledged to mount a bid in parliament to hold up Brexit if he defeats Jeremy Corbyn.
An SNP spokesman said the party’s MPs would oppose triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty in any Commons vote, potentially derailing the government’s timetable for leaving the EU. Mr Smith said he would instruct Labour MPs under his leadership to vote against Article 50 unless Theresa May calls a general election or a second referendum so that voters can have a say on the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal.
“The SNP is focused on protecting Scotland’s relationship with Europe, in line with the clear wishes of the Scottish people who voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the EU,” the spokesman for the Nationalists said when asked whether the SNP would support a Commons bid to block Article 50. “SNP parliamentarians would not vote for any proposal that would take Scotland out of the EU.”
With the support of Labour and SNP MPs, a Commons vote on Article 50 would be balanced on a knife edge. The government has a majority of just 12, while a majority of MPs supported remaining in the EU, including 185 out of 330 Conservatives.
Just ten Labour MPs backed Brexit, although two thirds of Labour constituencies voted to leave in the referendum.
Downing Street insists it does not need parliamentary approval and that triggering Brexit is “a matter for the Prime Minister”, but has said that parliament will “have a role” in the process.
However, a legal challenge is being mounted on behalf of a group of academics and businesspeople in a bid to force the UK government to go to the Commons before invoking Article 50.
The Lisbon Treaty says a member state of the EU must act “in accordance with its own constitutional requirements” in deciding to leave the 28-nation bloc.
Sir Patrick McLaughlin, the Conservative Party chairman, responded to Mr Smith’s pledge yesterday by saying the result of the referendum was “clear and decisive” and that the government would “make a success out of Brexit”.
“If Labour cannot trust the public then no-one should put their trust in Labour,” Sir Patrick added.
Mr Smith claimed voters “didn’t know exactly what we were voting on”.
“The British people were lied to by the Leave campaign – they deserve to have a say on whatever exit deal the Tories strike with the EU,” the Labour challenger said.