The forthcoming negotiations on Brexit will be unprecedented in their complexity and their impact upon domestic policy. The direction of many key areas of policy, affecting core national interests, will be heavily influenced, if not determined, by the outcome of the negotiations. It is inconceivable that these negotiations should be conducted by the Government without active parliamentary scrutiny. As far as the negotiations themselves are concerned, Ministers have in recent weeks repeatedly ruled out what they describe as parliamentary micromanagement. Instead the Secretary of State, in evidence to this inquiry, offered “accountability after the event”. But there is a middle way between micromanagement, which would undermine the Government’s ability to negotiate effectively on behalf of the United Kingdom, and the exclusion of Parliament from a current and influential part in the process. We believe that Parliament can play a vital role in offering constructive and timely comment on both the process and the substance of the negotiations. Such scrutiny will contribute to a greater sense of parliamentary ownership of the process, strengthening the Government’s negotiating position and increasing the likelihood that the final agreement will enjoy parliamentary and public support. For parliamentary scrutiny to be effective, the Government will need to provide a regular flow of information to designated committees. We therefore welcome the Secretary of State’s undertaking to this Committee, subsequently repeated in the House of Commons, that the Westminster Parliament will receive at least the same level of information during the negotiations as the European Parliament. The evidence we have received on the way the European Parliament scrutinises negotiations on international agreements suggests that, if Westminster is to enjoy parity with the European Parliament: a) Relevant committees should have access, if necessary in confidence, to a wide range of relevant documents; b) Documents should be supplied in sufficient time for committees to be able to express their views, and for the Government to be able to take these views into account; c) In particular, the Government should respond to any formal recommendations made by committees, and, if recommendations are rejected, explain why; d) Both the Government and Parliament should adopt procedures to safeguard confidential information. We therefore invite the Government to confirm that these principles should underpin parliamentary scrutiny of the forthcoming negotiations.The entire nation is entering uncharted territory. Too much is at stake for the Government to seek to limit parliamentary scrutiny to establishing accountability after the fact. A new approach is needed, building on a recognition that for Parliament, just as for the Government, the overriding objective must be the achievement of a successful outcome to the negotiations on Brexit.
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