High Court Ruling: A win for Parliamentary Sovereignty — and for Brexiteers

‘Brexit’ must be a successful project in order to be legitimate — and this ruling ensures parliamentary collaboration to ensure Brexit’s sucess.

Many have said that the actual, biggest obstacle to making a success out of Brexit is the Prime Minister herself. Her micro-managing, domineering style has left many wondering whether she is serious about collaboration between parliament — which of course is sovereign — as well as devolved legislatures and administrations, and other institutions and bodies throughout the UK which should and need to play a vital role in the negotiations to exit the European Union. This ruling may only bring the issue back from being one solely associated with the executive and the Crown Prerogative Powers and to the sovereign parliament, but will have impacts on the Brexit ‘strategy’ so far engineered by Theresa May and her Cabinet.

The ruling of course is a victory for Parliamentary Sovereignty and the ideal that, indeed, many ‘Brexiteers’ espoused throughout the EU referendum campaign: that they wanted parliament to be sovereign “once again.” Because Theresa May has no mandate other than an advisory referendum for brexit, she must seek parliamentary approval before triggering Article 50. This isn’t controversial, despite what some in the press may have to say. The ideal that parliament is able to have its say both on Brexit, and on the type of Brexit, is an important matter in “restoring” its own sovereignty. It’s also important to note that Theresa May lacks a mandate for any kind of Brexit: her Conservative Party was elected on a mandate to “keep Britain in the Single Market,” and to explore new relationships with the EU.

That lack of a mandate, put simply, means Theresa May cannot engage with the prospect of Britain’s withdrawl from the EU until parliament has put the triggering of Article 50 to a vote and it has passed. It’s worrying to see how many Brexiteers are outraged at this prospect, especially considering as it could actually help their position.

Theresa May’s government has so-far been accused of cluelessness surrounding the issue of Brexit. In the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council, both Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones criticised the U.K. government’s lack of concrete plan of action heading into the Brexit negotiations, while the centralist and controlling approach the Prime Minister has so far favoured should be questioned following this ruling. In order for Brexit to be legitimate and not have a backlash, it needs to be successful. In order for Brexit to be successful, it will need the collective will of parliament, the entire cabinet, the devolved administrations throughout the UK and even non-governmental organisations to influence and aid the negotiations, both in the public and in the private domains.

A Brexit that is influenced from all sides and all governments is a Brexit that is both more legitimate and, probably, going to be more popular. Despite compromises that would obviously have to be made between different nations and regions of the UK, the opportunity for co-operation between all sides builds a consensus position which will benefit the concept of Brexit itself.

This ruling also allows the U.K. Government to ‘cover its own back’ in negotiations. With Theresa May’s centralist style, any faults or wrongs with a Brexit deal would be designated as her own fault, or the fault of her own government, which would prove punishing for the Conservative Party and for public confidence in the U.K. Government. A collective Brexit, meanwhile, allows the Conservative Party to push the blame for unpopular moves onto other parties in the negotiation; essentially protecting its own position and maintaining credibility. The risk, however, is that any failures from this collective approach are viewed as an ‘establishment stitchup’ (to quote UKIP’s Suzanne Evans), fuelling the popularity of anti-establishment parties.

Despite that risk, the concept of a collectively negotiated Brexit, overseen by parliament and various other institutions means this High Court ruling is a win both for the founding principle of the UK constitution in parliamentary sovereignty, and for Brexiteers, who will now see their position on Brexit further legitimised by a collective. Despite the talk of parliament now “blocking Brexit,” parliament is much more likely to legitimise and ensure scrutiny of Brexit.