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The Article 50 decision: can we please get a grip?

‘Democracy doesn’t exist.  I am never voting again.”

That’s Nick from Salford’s view, anyway – read out from a tweet this morning on Radio Five Live. His reasoning, of course, was the decision by the High Court yesterday that the Government cannot invoke Article 50 to begin the process of leaving the EU without first winning a parliamentary vote.

Nick isn’t alone in his reaction. Last  night’s Question Time was probably the most depressing edition ever, with levels of aggression and apparent hatred from the participants towards – well, anyone, really – which surpassed anything I’ve previously witnessed. And that, even just from listening in the car, without actually being able to see what undoubtedly must have been faces contorted with rage.

This morning’s papers were arguably worse. Headlines like “Enemies of the people”; “Out of touch judges”; “Constitutional crisis”; and “Who do EU think you are?”, alongside photographs of those who handed down the decision and details of their personal lives (and the fact that they ‘aren’t elected’, as if that is a bad thing rather than a good one) added to the fury of the unthinking mob. There have been multiple death and rape threats made to the woman who brought the case.

Can we just take a step back a moment? Yesterday, British judges in a British court made a judgment on British law, and asserted the supremacy of Parliament. Leaving aside the fact that it would be hard to find a better definition of the single statement that all Leavers seem to agree on (that Brexit was about “taking back control”), that is all they did. Parliament now gets a vote. So let it vote.

Everyone knows the headline figures of the EU Referendum, in which 52% voted to leave and 48% to remain. But other figures are more important than that in the context of a parliamentary vote on the next steps. More important, too, than the fact that every region of the UK outside Scotland and London voted out; and more important even, than the fact that of the 382 areas broken down by the electoral commission, 263 (exactly 70%) voted to go. The most relevant number of all in this context is that of the 650 parliamentary constituencies in the UK, no fewer than 450 voted Leave.

That means that the High Court ruling – important in a legal context – is irrelevant in a political one. When parliament has its vote, the idea that more than a handful of MPs will vote against the electorate of their constituencies on this matter is for the birds. Sure, a very small number of Conservative Remainers might, where their view is particularly strong and the local vote was tight. But in some Labour constituencies, the level of support for Brexit was running at 60-70%. No MP from such an area is going to vote to Remain. It would be stone-cold certain career-ending political suicide. It simply won’t happen.

So why is the Government even bothering to appeal this decision in the Supreme Court? Just put it to the vote that the law says is constitutionally required.  It will pass.

And if it doesn’t, somehow? Then, it will clearly – without room for doubt – result in the calling of a General Election, in which Theresa May will be returned with a much-increased majority on an unambiguous mandate to invoke Article 50. All those in big Leave constituencies in the North who were daft enough to take on the irrefutable maths will be out looking for a new job, replaced by candidates (from another party, if necessary) who will have pledged to vote to leave. A fresh poll in the Commons will be passed by a distance, and the Lords will know that they have no option in the circumstances but to acquiesce. Discussion over.

All this fuss, all this rage, all this aggression: the whole lot is completely unnecessary – totally misunderstanding the process of law in the country. The fact that it does so might well raise questions about the logic of the original referendum, but that’s another story altogether. For the purposes of the High Court decision, it’s just process – and process that can be dealt with within days.

What it all says about the state of our democracy, of course (that our phone-ins and our newspapers should have responded in the medieval fashion that they have to the judgement of three law Lords) is another matter – although for precisely the opposite reasons that Nick in Salford appears to think.

Posted in Britain, Europe, My articles, Politics.

One Response

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  1. says

    As an addendum to this, Daniel Hannan talks in a piece in the Telegraph today (link below) about the Constitutional argument being ‘preposterous’ on the grounds that ‘Does anyone imagine that the corporations which funded the court case were interested purely in the constitutional niceties?’.

    No, Dan, of course no-one does, but so what? It doesn’t matter a row of beans *why* they brought it, because the judges don’t decide on the basis of *why* a case was brought. They decide on the merits of the case in law.

    The law requires parliament to vote. So that puts ‘the corporations’ on the side of the law for getting a vote, and bully for them. Sadly, from a Remainer’s perspective, it doesn’t change the politics one jot: the Leavers are on the winning side of that. Perhaps both sides – perhaps the world as a whole – would benefit from stopping this new tendency to bleat about decisions that go against them, and play the cards they get dealt.

    So don’t get your knickers in a twist, Dan: just get the vote done. Or, as Alf Ramsey said to the boys in 1966, “you’ve won this thing once, so win it again.”

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