Yesterday we learned that a High Court ruling has decreed a parliamentary vote on the triggering of Article 50 must occur before the act itself, despite the Government’s plan to the contrary.
Cue media frenzy.
But what does this actually mean – that Article 50 won’t be triggered? That the UK won’t cast off from the anchorage of the Union? In short, no. What this means is that Britain’s race to the exit door of the EU will now have a few more obstacles in it’s path. Think 400m hurdle rather than 100m sprint.
The question asked by the electorate and press corps alike is whether or not this extra hurdle will make any difference. Here, I’m afraid I must disappoint. As an avid Remainer mine was one of the many voices among the chorus singing the praises of the European Union. I passionately believe we should remain a member of this club. But I also passionately believe in democracy. In the will of the people. What business would I, or anyone have in the political arena if I didn’t believe democracy to be the very foundation of this diverse, cultured, privileged society. And foundations must be upheld.
The ‘advisory’ nature of the referendum has been deployed as an argument for ignoring the result. This is also a misguided belief. Parliament enacted the ‘European Union Referendum Act 2015’, the formal title of which was ‘To make provision for the holding of a referendum in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union’. It is true to say that the Act does not contain a section expressly stating that the Government is under a legal duty to implement the result – a mistake on the part of the Government of the day, perhaps. But it also does not say it is advisory, nor include any provision that implementing the result is subject to a minimum turnout threshold or a minimum percentage vote, as some petitions have suggested be instilled. During the second reading debate on the Referendum Bill, the Foreign Secretary said that the Referendum would give ‘British people the final say on our EU membership’, and that ‘the decision about our membership should be taken by the British people, not by Whitehall bureaucrats, certainly not by Brussels bureaucrats; not even by Government Ministers or parliamentarians in this Chamber’. So it was clear from the outset – the British electorate would make the final decision on the course our country takes. Treating the result as advisory would be a flagrant breach of the unequivocal promises made to the British people.
Let us not forget, over 17.4 million Brits voted to leave – the highest number ever to have voted in the history of the United Kingdom for any electoral exercise. This democratic decision cannot be ignored.
With the threat not only of de-selection but of revolt and riots in the street, it is exceptionally unlikely that MPs would overturn the decision, regardless of their own personal beliefs. The tide is simply too strong.
The more likely sticking point will be the Lords. With a majority for remain and answerable to no-one, there is a possibility they could attempt to voice their concerns through action to disrupt the Bill. That said, the most they can do is attempt to delay it – the various Parliament Acts do not allow for the Lords to simply throw out government legislation entirely.
So what this decision really means is that while Parliament will not realistically have a say over whether it happens, it will have a say over how it happens. Oversight is not a bad thing, nor an attempt to block the inevitable. Not allowing Parliamentary scrutiny would be to give the Executive Branch a free pass, essentially replacing the iron fist of Brussels with the iron fist of No. 10. How can the Legislative Branch not be involved in one of the biggest legislative exercises of modern times?
In summary, Britain will leave the European Union. That ship has sailed. Promulgating fallacies like this High Court ruling being the last bastion of hope for those calling for democracy to be overruled, will not change the inevitable outcome. Regardless of the side to which you subscribed, the battles of the campaign must now cease to be fought and shibboleth abandoned. The people have spoken, and though passion may have strained it must not corrupt our values or disrupt our unity.
For Remainers the High Court ruling ensures Parliamentary scrutiny over such a sensitive decision. For Leavers the ruling makes certain that Brexit will happen in the most effective way possible, with the Government being forced to outline their aims and objectives. A good thing for both sides, surely?
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. But if not us, who? If not now, when? As we leave the EU fleet in our wake, choppy waters are inevitable. All the more reason to rally together and steady the ship.