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When Brexit means something else

November 8, 2016

 

The manner in which people received the news about the landmark Brexit announcement outside the High Court seemed to confirm that one law you can rely upon in politics these days is that for every action, you now get a totally disproportionate reaction.

 

I suppose it needed a weekend of reflection for talk of revolts, rebellions and hanging judges from the lamp-posts to be supplemented by something approaching reasonable.

 

Legal eagles must forgive my own crude analysis, but as I understand things, the judgement of the court is that the power of prerogative enjoyed by the executive (and which basically allows rule by decree) does not apply when it comes to revoking the original 1972 decision to join what eventually became the EU.

 

That action requires an act of primary legislation; and that’s Parliament’s job alone.

 

A few clever clogs like me were left asking what’s was so wrong about a court ruling that underpins parliamentary sovereignty anyway? Wasn’t that the Leave objective?

 

I’ll admit however that it’s a slightly disingenuous reaction.

 

At one level the judgement changes nothing. At another it causes huge consternation for Leave voters; a state of affairs made even more perplexing by Nigel Farage himself conceding that the referendum was “advisory” and not binding.

 

Those who voted to quit are feeling understandably disenfranchised by apparently invisible small print on the ballot paper. Remainers just look on with a smile.

 

For the media, it’s the gift that keeps on giving – and it’s not just the “enemy of the people” stuff, which coincidentally appears just at a time when laws that deal with disrespect for court proceedings come under review.

 

I saw an interviewer that I’d previously regarded as professional ask someone on the street: "How do feel about the courts blocking Brexit?". The response was all too predictable.

 

Facts were in notoriously short supply during the referendum campaign, I probably shouldn’t expect things to change now. The same goes for the reaction promising all sorts of vile retribution.

 

The thing about democracy though is that you’re obliged to sign up for the full package. It’s not just about a dictatorship of the majority.

 

A true constitutional democracy enshrines the widest possible voter representation, an ability to speak our minds without fear of vilification or imprisonment, a free press and an independent judiciary.

 

It took Lord Chancellor Liz Truss a long time before going public in upholding these basic tenets. But that’s probably to be expected from ministers who increasingly appear to be making up their Brexit sound-bites as they go along.

 

All that said, I am far from convinced that Parliament would do a better job of things.

 

As much as some may seek to put the institution on a pedestal, Westminster can be a disgracefully petty-minded place where the chance to gain political advantage often holds sway over greater issues of state.

 

Any tears shed in the chamber are more likely to be about who spilled the milk than who eventually cleans up the mess.

 

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So what happens next?

 

Clearly matters have not left the judicial arena just yet. An appeal to the Supreme Court is scheduled for next month.

 

Don’t be fooled however into thinking that this is battle between the forces of darkness and light or even a surrogate referendum. What we have here is a contest of vested interests where a government with its back to the cliff-edge faces off against influential global entities determined to secure the best verdict that money can buy.

 

Gina Miller has access to impressive resources. There may be a cast of thousands backing the action but this is not Mr & Ms Public seeking an equitable status quo.

 

I’ve no idea of the outcome save to ask would I bet on a group that has managed to bring matters thus far or a government that blundered into Brexit and cannot explain to its own people, let alone other countries, what the best outcome looks like?

 

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Is another general election on the cards?

 

My short answer to that one is: ‘not necessarily’. The odd back-bench resignation by a petulant MP is unlikely to prompt Theresa May into resorting to the ballot box just yet. Then again, it’s only Tuesday.

 

The present overall view is that there’s just no appetite for an electoral contest that would swiftly turn into re-run of the EU referendum along party lines. The collateral damage inflicted by an embittered electorate would be too great and the returns too uncertain.

 

Of course, there those pundits who reckon that a 16-point Tory lead over Labour in the polls make the prospects of a Spring general election a real possibility if the need arose. That’s bad news for Welsh local authorities who would inevitably see local elections in May swamped by unconnected issues.

 

On balance though, it’s hard to see politicians willingly signing up for an election where there would be very few winners.

 

 

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