Although I was out on the streets campaigning for Brexit, I can’t go along with all this betrayal of democracy stuff that has followed the High Court’s decision that Parliament must take the decision on the triggering of Article 50.
As I have said endlessly, we live in a constitutional democracy under the rule of law and if the highest court in the land says what is proposed is unlawful that is the end of the matter.
Of course there will be an appeal, but considering the High Court fielded its A-team (Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Sales) one wouldn’t want to be betting the farm on the government’s chances of success.
And, even when the decision doesn’t accord with our own agenda, we should celebrate when the judiciary – the last line of defence against the over-mighty state – demonstrates its independence by clipping the government’s wings.
Just imagine the Russian Supreme Court declaring Putin’s annexation of Crimea illegal.
That said, there is a certain irony in wheeling out Parliamentary sovereignty to thwart the will of the people by those who are keen to make our Parliament subservient to the EU.
The promoters of this action make much of our sovereign parliament, but, ultimately, in a democracy sovereignty resides in the electorate.
I can’t improve the late Tony Benn’s articulation of this principle in a letter to his constituents just ahead of the 1975 referendum on our entry into the Common Market – which he opposed.
“The Parliamentary democracy we have developed and established in Britain is based, not upon the sovereignty of Parliament, but upon the sovereignty of the people, who, by exercising their vote, lend their sovereign powers to Members of Parliament, to use on their behalf for the duration of a single Parliament only – powers that must be returned intact to the electorate to whom they belong, to lend again to the Members of Parliament they elect at each subsequent General Election.”
Referendums don’t sit easily within this system but what I would suggest is that, on Benn’s reckoning, when it passed the Referendum Act – by a huge majority, incidentally – Parliament handed back that sovereignty to the electorate for a single day (23 June 2016).
And one view would be that MPs are bound to honour the decision made that day just as voters honour the decision made at a general election even when they have voted for the losing side.
Instead of launching what will, in all probability, be a futile appeal, the government should get on with preparing the necessary legislation.
Labour’s Owen Smith MP is quoted as saying: “Government must now spell out a vision of post-Brexit Britain before Article 50 is triggered by MPs. Brexit means Brexit is not good enough.”
How this is going to work is not entirely clear because, even if Parliament approves the government’s negotiating stance, there is no guarantee that what is proposed can be delivered.
It takes two to tango!
So, assuming Parliament gives the go-ahead for the government to trigger Article 50 on the basis that it intends to negotiate A, B and C and in a couple of years’ time it comes back and says: we could only persuade our European neighbours to give us X, Y and Z, will Parliament then have the power to reject the whole deal.
And where do we go from there?
Owen Smith’s answer is that we should have a second referendum.
And so ad infinitum!
Of course remainers like Stephen Kinnock MP are very careful to say that they respect the referendum vote, but they could hardly do otherwise without demonstrating their contempt for the majority of people in their constituencies who voted to leave.
So they have decided to play a long game by pretending to go along with the Brexit decision while hoping that something will turn up to tilt the scales in their favour.
It is noticeable that, having predicted that the UK economy would immediately crash if we voted “Leave”, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has now pushed his forecast of a downturn out to 2018.
It reminds me of Groucho Marx’s: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
My best guess is that we could be in for an early General Election.
Indeed, conspiracy theorists are suggesting that the Blairites are trying to precipitate just such an outcome as they see a disastrous Labour defeat as their only hope of getting rid of Corbyn.
Finally, a word of advice from Paul Getty on how to get rich: “Rise early, work hard and strike oil.”