Given today’s court ruling on article 50 I think its important to establish a few points.
Firstly, it goes along with what I said immediately after the referendum, that there is a massive legal question mark hanging over the whole brexit process. Let us review the facts, 52% of the electorate on a turn out of about 70% voted leave, which means only 37% of the electorate actually backed brexit in a non legally binding referendum. This is well short of what would be considered the minimum democratic standards. In most democracies to do something as radical as leave the EU would require a clear majority of the electorate to back it (i.e. 50% +1 vote). And of course we have to ignore the numerous blatant lies told by the leave camp prior to the vote, many of which they reneged on within hours of the polls closing.
Yet on the basis of this Theresa May was not only going to try and drag the country out of the EU, but she wasn’t going to consult parliament, neither to confirm the decision to invoke article 50 nor even to set the terms of the UK’s exit. She was going to appoint herself as the all seeing all knowing dictator, the dear leader, whom we must trust implicitly. And she appeared to be aiming for a hard brexit, despite there being nothing on the ballot paper about that, plus the impression was given during the referendum campaign that they’d be aiming for a soft brexit. Indeed Boris Johnson initial pitch was that he won’t even trigger article 50 but just negotiate a better deal.
And since we’re talking about, when did Theresa May win an election? Where’s all this stuff about hard brexit in the Tory election manifesto? When did they get elected on the promise of giving away billions to foreign multinationals? (such as Nissan and EDF).
Now brexiters will make various excuses at this point, whinge about remoaners, but while doing so they will ignore a very important point – you are setting a very dangerous electoral precedence. If Theresa May, an unelected standin PM with no democratic mandate, can leave the EU with no vote in Parliament, on the back of a non legally binding referendum, which only 37% of the electorate supported, what’s to stop Nicola Sturgeon (who actually did win an election and a 2nd referendum in the event of brexit was in the SNP manifesto) taking Scotland out of the UK on a similar mandate? And I discussed before “the Spanish option” for preventing Scottish independence, will not work. It would most likely result in an overwhelming Yes vote, possibly even a majority of the electorate backing it. And then what are they going to do if she wins and decides to implement Scottish independence unilaterally, invade Scotland? Keep the place under martial law forever? I seem to remember that being tried out in Ireland, remind me how did that work out?
And speaking of Ireland, keep in mind the same potentially applies in Northern Ireland. If there’s one thing that would drive enough people in the province to back a united Ireland its a hard brexit. And the precedence Theresa May is setting is that if somehow Sinn Fein can get a vote, even if its non legally binding (i.e. not approved by Westminster) and even if less than 50% of the NI population back the measure, they can have their way. Unionists assurances that they can prevent a vote by controlling enough of Stormont seats may not hold if the economy tanks and electorates decide to punish them for supporting brexit in the first place (or at least the one unionist party who foolishly backed brexit) .
All in all, I’d argue the Tory case here is slim to non-existent. Parliament and the house of lords should vote and they should be allowed to vote their conscience. And given that a vast majority of both houses are anti-brexit, then they should be allowed to vote that way. If that pisses off the brexit brigade, too bad, go away and hold another referendum and do it properly this time. i.e. no lies, you have to get 50% of the electorate to back brexit and you have to lay out exactly what brexit means, firmly nail your colours to the mast as to what sort of brexit you are looking for…..and a signed letter from the EU confirming you can get what you claim you’ll get.
Of course the danger is that MP’s will be pressured into backing brexit against their better judgement. Well I would advice them to think again. Keep in mind if you are a labour MP, polls have shown that labour supporters overwhelmingly backed remain, by as much as 90% in some cases. If your constituency voted brexit, you have to consider that this motion was backed by a minority of labour supporters (who should really stop reading the Daily Express) along with the Tory and UKIP voters. The Tory and UKIP members in your constituency aren’t going to suddenly vote for you just because you voted for article 50…..but the overwhelming majority of labour supporters might stop voting for you if you do! Hence why I would urge everyone to go to your MP and make it clear that if they vote for article 50 they can count on you never voting for them or their party ever again.
And the Tories here are also in a tight spot. Quite a number of the marginal seats in Oxfordshire and in and around London (basically where elections in the UK tend to be fought and won) voted remain. And I mean by a very wide margin, 70% in some cases. The likes of Amber Rudd, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn all contest seats like this. It is hypocritical to say the least to argue that a labour MP who is pro-remain should be pressured into voting for article 50, just because his district did so, but then say that pro-leave MP’s can defy the overwhelming support for remain in their constituencies. And ultimately these MP’s need to consider the consequences for themselves of now voting for article 50. To be blunt its possible all of those I’ve just mentioned could be out on their ear at the end of the next election, if the electorate decides to punish them at the polls.
And since we are talking about it, recall the house of lords is not bound by the electorate. They are well within their rights to vote the way they see as being in the best interest of the country. And given all of what I’ve said above it would be perfectly reasonable for them to vote against article 50. This would eventually trigger the use of the Parliament act, but in the process it would allow some sort of compromise to be sought.
And the obvious compromise is two fold. Firstly put all the cards on the table. On the one hand aim for a soft brexit, with as close ties to Europe as possible. Secondly look at further devolution of powers to Scotland and Northern Ireland, perhaps making the UK an entirely federal state. This could allow both regions to join the EU in their own right. Now the powers that be say no, but there is a legal precedence here. Greenland left the EU but Denmark (which Greenland is still part of) remained. So I suspect it could be argued the same could apply to Northern Ireland and Scotland in reverse, so long as they were suitably independent from Westminster.
Unfortunately, I doubt this will happen. This is the problem with the whole brexit process. It is in the hands of a bunch of authoritarian, narrow minded, hard right ideologues, who see it as a god given mandate to roll back every bit of progressive legislation passed in the UK since the end of the war. The very fact the forced the courts to intervene like this should show you that they will steer the ship into the iceberg rather than give up control or change course.