Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Government statement on Article 50

Following the Supreme Court's ruling on the Article 50 challenge, the government has issued this statement.

I made my view clear before the referendum that whatever the result was, the government should keep their promise to implement the democratic decision of the majority, and I stand by that.

The difference between myself and those who want to try to stop Britain leaving the EU is not about Europe, it is about democracy.

I strongly disagree with anyone who supported the challenge because they thought parliament should overturn the decision of the British people, but the people who brought the action had the right under the law to do so and the judges had the duty to rule, not on whether Britain should leave the EU or not but on what the law says about who has the authority to make that decision.

I am entirely relaxed about the fact that the judges decided it is parliament, for two reasons.

First, the whole point of the main argument made by people who voted leave was for the British people, through their representatives in parliament, to take back control. Anything which makes parliament stronger helps to do that.

Second, I am confident that parliament will respect the decision of the majority. There are just too many MPs who represent constituencies where the majority voted "Leave" for there to be any realistic chance that the House of Commons will vote against triggering Article 50.

The House of Lords has a pro-Remain majority who would love to stop Britain leaving the EU, but they too have made it clear that they will not stop article fifty being moved for a simple reason. The House of Lords will often go against the House of Commons when they believe that on the specific issue concerned the public are with them and not with MPs. Especially when it was not part of the governing party's election manifesto and the "Salisbury convention" that the unelected House does not stop an elected government from carrying out an election promise doesn't apply.

But on Europe, the House of Lords know that if they try to stop Britain leaving the EU they are going against, not the House of Commons, but the people. And as it was in the Conservative manifesto to hold a referendum on British membership of the EU and respect the result, the Lords would be breaking the Salisbury Convention as well.

So I expect the government to get a bill through the Commons and the Lords before the end of March giving them the authority to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty and thereby begin the process of leaving the EU.

What may make things more complicated, and is harder to predict, is whether the bill might be amended to put conditions on requiring the government to adopt particular tactics or to consult parliament about their negotiating strategy.

It is difficult to know how likely this is to work, not least because Labour is all over the place on what amendments it will support.

I will offer a prediction that amendments which appear likely to have the effect of requiring the government to provide more information to parliament about the negotiations and listen to the views of parliament but which do not appear inflexible enough to make the negotiating process unmanageable might stand a chance of being passed, but anything which looks like a "wrecking amendment" - in other words, an attempt to sabotage the negotiations - will be defeated.


Jim said...

Personally, i think, for reasons I have stated already on this very blog, this ruling is mad. "There needs to be a vote in parliament for a government to obey an act of parliament and follow a treaty"

However, I think they done it as it makes so little difference now that to give the people who wanted it, a simple win was no longer really an important matter. So what the heck, why not.

Though it does highlight that all too wrong aspect of this nation, that 650 people can over ride the will of the very people whom elect them.

Anonymous said...

Jim, you don't live in a democracy, you live in a parliamentary democracy.

Chris Whiteside said...

Personally, I find the arguments put by the three Supreme Court Justices who voted against this ruling more convincing than those of the eight who voted for it.

But they are not there to rule for what is popular with me or anyone else, they are there to rule on what the law says, and I would much rather live in a country run by law than by any other way you can run a country, including countries which have democracy - whether participatory or representative - but not the rule of law.

Anybody who does not realise how utterly tyrannical a country where the popular vote is sovereign can still be if it is not tempered by the rule of law urgently needs to read Thucydides "History of the Peleponnesian War" or a good history of the French Revolution.

Yes, it does seem pretty daft that after parliament passed a law, which cleared the House of Commons by six to one, to set up a referendum on this subject, the government has to get another law through to implement the result.

But the 650 people who in theory can over-ride the will of the people are not any 650 people - they are MPs accountable to the electorate. Estimates vary but it is generally accepted that more than 400 MPs represent constituencies which either definitely or very probably voted Leave.

How many of those MPs will dare stick up two fingers at their constituents?

There will be some Labour and Lib/Dem MPs in that position who will be brave or foolish enough, depending on your viewpoint, to do so, but I think there is virtually no chance that enough MPs will do so to stop Article 50: indeed, I suspect there will be more MPs representing constituencies with a "Remain" majority who respect the national vote than there will MPs representing "Leave" voting constituencies who are willing to defy both their own constituents and the electorate as a whole.