Today’s supreme court ruling that the government can’t use royal prerogative to invoke Article 50 and instead must put it to parliament has, by and large, been met with consternation from Brexiteers. Given the outpouring since the result from Remain supporters for the result to be ignored or overturned, one can understand why Leavers are worried about this recent development.
There has been a worrying display of anti-democratic sentiment since June 23rd. From petitions calling for a second referendum, to public protests (neither of these garnering anything like enough numbers to match the 17.4m who voted to leave mind you), to outright defiance from MPs such as David Lammy, calling for the biggest vote for any one thing in British history to be ignored by those in power.
That said, the judgement this morning has been met with rather more hysteria from Brexiters than is warranted. Farage has donned the tin-foil head gear, claiming he fears ‘a betrayal may be at hand’, and the likes of Leave.EU are equally unhinged, with founder and UKIP financier Arron Banks stating “Why wouldn’t unelected judges want to preserve an EU system where unelected elites like themselves are all-powerful?”
It’s really quite spectacularly hysterical. Those ‘unelected judges’, as they’ve also been dubbed by David Davis, weren’t upholding the EU system, but rather British constitutional democracy. Sure, it would’ve been nice if we’d had more of that when powers were being handed over to the EU in the first place, but it’s good to see it’s finally kicking in. The judgement today has not subverted democracy, overturned the referendum result, or said that we can’t leave the EU.
The result means that MPs will vote on triggering Article 50. Or to put it another way, our elected representatives will be required to act out the will of the people. This, more than anything else, is precisely what Leavers voted to Leave for. I find myself siding with the Remainer school of thought that it’s ironic that those that campaigned for parliamentary sovereignty are apoplectic about a UK court ruling that parliament will be sovereign on this issue.
What’s more, the ruling means that government cannot and should not try to change domestic law without Parliamentary approval. This is a good and sensible conclusion, and one pointed out by Vote Leave’s Dominic Cummings. Those of us that saw Brexit as a step towards returning powers to the individual rather than a ruling elite should welcome the ruling. It allows us to keep our legislators in check via our elected representatives.
Now, there are of course an overwhelming majority of MPs who were in favour of Remain. But that doesn’t mean that they will all be ignoring the referendum result, even if a few noisy ones wish to do exactly that. Former Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps tweeted to say that, although he backed Remain, he wont be voting to frustrate the will of the British people or his constituents. Jeremy Corbyn too has reiterated that Labour respect the result of the referendum. It’s likely both parties will whip in favour of triggering Article 50.
I have another proposal though. Each MP should do precisely what they were elected to do and represent their constituents. Any MP whose constituency voted to Remain in the EU should be given free reign to vote against triggering Article 50. But those MPs whose constituents voted to Leave the EU should acknowledge the instruction given to them by those who elected them, and vote in favour of the motion.
Unfortunately, the referendum result wasn’t broken down according to Parliamentary constituency, but by local authority area. However some work has been done to extrapolate these results to parliamentary level, finding that of 574 English and Welsh constituencies, 421 probably voted to leave, and of those, 270 definitely did. Conversely, 152 voted to remain, with half (76) almost definitely voting to remain, The result hasn’t been converted for Scotland, but let’s throw Nicola Sturgeon a bone and suggest that all of Scotland’s 59 constituencies voted to Remain. Thus, if MPs vote how their constituents did, as they should in a representative democracy, Article 50 gets triggered by a vote of 421 to 211.
Remainers get to be properly represented in parliament, Leavers get Article 50 triggered, and it’s all done by a sovereign UK parliament according to British constitution. Sounds good to me.