I didn’t want Brexit but the High Court’s decision on article 50 isn’t a victory
The High Court’s ruling that Parliament must be allowed to vote on triggering article 50 produced an outpouring of posts across Facebook and Twitter rejoicing at the ‘good news’. But for all the talk of ‘striking a blow for democracy’, the case has been bankrolled by an extremely wealthy fund manager and a host of other business people. To many who voted for Britain to leave the EU, the case will look like nothing more than a roadblock constructed by a powerful elite.
I wanted Britain to remain in the EU but the referendum result was clear. The vote took place following an act of parliament. MPs voted to allow the British people to decide the fate of our EU membership and they have to deal with the consequences. If the government loses its appeal to the Supreme Court and MPs do end up voting on triggering the leave process, it will only make things more difficult. It is not some tremendous win for remainers.
As I’ve written before, it doesn’t make sense for the British government to reveal its negotiating position ahead of the process beginning. European leaders and EU officials have already made it quite clear that they want to make things hard for the UK to deter other member states from contemplating similar divorce proceedings.
MPs will have plenty of opportunities to scrutinise the Brexit process – from the dedicated select committee to debates on various aspects of the negotiation – and were they not to vote to trigger article 50, they would be directly contravening the wishes of many of their consituents. If the government has to bring an act of parliament to get the process started, it’s highly likely that amendments and obsfucation of all kinds will make things drag on even further.
Nichola Sturgeon’s SNP government is already suggesting that it might join the court challenge with similar noises coming from Welsh politicians. Their motivation is clear: They want to prevent the UK from leaving the EU and see an opportunity to frustrate the Westminster government’s efforts.
One argument for the High Court decision is that Leave campaigners argued for the sovereignty of the UK Parliament over European institutions. Surely, the thinking goes, they should be delighted to have it consent to the triggering of article 50. But that ignores the fact that the referendum was the result of the will of Parliament. The result of the vote is mandate for Theresa May’s government to start the process.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn famously (and clumsily) said that article 50 should be invoked immediately on the morning after the referendum result. Now he is taking advantage of the High Court decision to argue entirely the opposite position: “This ruling underlines the need for the Government to bring its negotiating terms to parliament without delay.”
Cut through all the arguments about this case and it comes down to people wishing the decision had gone the other way. I wish it had too but making the situation more difficult for the government won’t help. Whatever the final result of the case, the UK will be leaving the EU. Trying to make the process trickier will only convince those who are already disillusioned with the political system that they are right.
If you wanted to remain, you’ve won nothing today but extra pain from the same headaches we’re all going to have to face.
Image credit: Mick Baker