Downing Street moved to quash speculation that the UK’s exit from the EU could be blocked or delayed, and sent a strong signal that the Prime Minister would not call a snap election to seek a new mandate ahead of Brexit negotiations. Mrs May’s cabinet will today gather at the Prime Minister’s country retreat at Chequers with ministers under instructions to set out the “opportunities” presented by Brexit in each of their portfolios.
Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith had led calls for a second referendum to give the public a say on negotiations with the EU, and pledged that if he defeats Jeremy Corbyn, he would block Article 50 in the House of Commons unless the government offers another vote or calls a general election.
A Number 10 spokesman insisted there was “no legal obligation” to hold a parliamentary vote authorising the start of the formal EU exit process, but pledged that “parliament will have its say” on the UK’s future outside the EU.
The comments suggest that parliament may only hold a debate on Article 50 after Mrs May has fired the starting gun on the UK’s exit.
A legal bid to prevent the government from triggering Article 50 without the prior authorisation of Parliament is due to be heard in the High Court in October.
Mrs May’s spokesman told reporters: “We have been very clear, Parliament will have its say. Triggering Article 50 won’t happen before the end of the year.
“When Parliament will have a say will be something that will be resolved over the coming months.
“Parliament will be involved, it will have a say, opinions will be aired, but I would just say that the referendum bill was passed by a majority of six to one in the Commons and that the PM has been clear that the will of the people who voted to leave the EU must be respected.”
The spokesman pointed out that Mr Smith was “not the leader of the Labour party”, adding: “Brexit does mean Brexit. The will of the people must be respected and it must be implemented. The Prime Minister has also been clear that there must be no attempts for us to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through a back-door mechanism and no second referendum.”
Mr Smith accused Mrs May of “running scared” of a parliamentary vote on Article 50 and seeking to avoid scrutiny.
Ahead of today’s cabinet meeting, he pointed out that ministers on both sides of the EU referendum campaign previously supported holding a second vote once the terms of the UK’s exit were confirmed, including Boris Johnson, David Davis and Jeremy Hunt.
The SNP claimed the government was “making it up as they go along” and demanded Mrs May’s cabinet emerge from their meeting with a blueprint for Brexit.
“It is over two months since the result of the Brexit referendum and ministers are only now being asked to come up with their ideas about how it might work at a ‘country house away day’,” said Europe spokesman Stephen Gethins.
“The Tories got us into this mess – we need them to deliver a clear plan and answers to all the questions still unanswered.”