Sovereignty, Judges and Brexit

Ralph Ferrett
Nov 4, 2016 · 6 min read

So before I get on to the more substantive topics can I just take a minute to bask in the reaction yesterday and today from the hard core Brexiteers and the Daily Heil (et al). People, and publications, who have dedicated for a generation or more themselves to the ideal of “Parliamentary Sovereignty”. People who have treated any act, suggestion (and more often figment of the imagination) that Parliament isn’t, and shouldn’t, be the ultimate decision making body, the first and last word on any matter of significance in this realm.

Them, spitting teeth and feathers, at a court ruling that BACKED UP EVERYTHING THEY HAVE BEEN SAYING FOR YEARS. It is hilarious, actually side splittingly funny. I have been genuinely LOLing in real life at the absurdity of it. If you backed Brexit because you believed in “chucking the darkies out” sorry Parliamentary Sovereignty, and you are now annoyed a court has upheld that a Sovereign Parliament will now have the ultimate say on the most significant political, legal and constitutional change the UK has underwent in at least a 100 years, then congratulations you have managed to up the bar on hypocrisy to levels I never thought possible! Bravo bravo bravo!

Ha hah ha hah ha hah ha!

So anyway now I have got that out of my system onto more serious matters.

I voted remain, and did so wholeheartedly. I think the decision to leave is a huge mistake that is going to have very long lasting, and negative, consequences for our country and beyond. I think we will all be poorer for a very long time to come. Britain has already become a nastier, more shameful place. And I rather think that the breakup of the United Kingdom has become a matter of “When, not If”. Furthermore I believe it was sold to the British public on the basis of deliberate knowing lies (£350 Million to the NHS) and deception by a rabid, lying, right wing press. Unless these things are proven wrong I’m not going to change in these opinions.

But…. I believe fundamentally in democracy. That means sometimes you lose, sometimes the other side wins; and it is essential that that is respected. Unless it is clear that public opinion has substantially shifted (and changing of the public’s mind and decisions is another facet of democracy) then the British public have voted to leave the EU and that decision needs to be respected.

How we leave the EU, what sort of relationship we have thereafter, hasn’t been decided though. It wasn’t on my ballot paper what we do if we vote leave. And none of the parties have outlined their negotiating stance, or priorities, in fact none of the national party leaders have fought a general election for their mandates, then someone, somebody needs on our behalf to have a meaningful say of how and when Brexit happens.

And it seems pretty straightforward to me that in a parliamentary democracy where parliament is sovereign, that parliament should be the body to do so. This is pretty elementary stuff, constitutionally. The High Court clearly agree, and I suspect that the supreme court will also agree. I’m personally of the opinion, however disastrous it would be for my Party Labour, that we probably need a general election to determine a democratic mandate for the Brexit priorities and negotiations. But failing that it is absolutely right that Parliament should have oversight.

Sorry I have just dissolved into laughter again about the thought of people who have been fighting for parliamentary sovereignty, being annoyed that a court has ruled that our parliament is in fact sovereign… ha ha ha ha ha ha…. Don’t mind me!

Anyhow back to the topic. So given that Brexit is going to happen I think that this is probably good news for us on a couple of counts.

Firstly because rushing isn’t really in our interests. Cameron did not expect to lose the referendum and both Government and our Civil Service are woefully under prepared to undertake these seismically massive negotiations. Time for us to prepare. Time for us to determine our position, our fall backs. Time to sound out the other side so we can go into negotiations knowing where we agree and where we don’t. Time to get the French and German elections out of the way so the start of negotiations isn’t being conducted on the basis of playing to other nations elections and particularly so that these negotiations are not being used to counter LePen in France.

Time, time is a useful thing when you have a massively important and complicated negotiation to do. Time is going to be in very limited supply once Article 50 is invoked. And despite what the Narnian fantasies of the three Brexiteers and Tim “Al Murray” Martin will tell you these negotiations are harder for us than they are for the EU. At the end of two years we are the ones in a very precarious position if a successful negotiation isn’t concluded.

Really it is in our best interest for as much of that negotiation to have been successfully concluded as possible prior to us invoking article 50. Once that is done there is a ticking time bomb…. A gun to our heads…. That really doesn’t help us do “The best deal for Britain”. We have had our legal, political and economic systems hitched to the EU for 40 years, untangling that in a way that doesn’t have disastrous consequences shouldn’t be rushed. That is surely common sense?

I don’t, BTW, for a second buy that Theresa May doesn’t realise this. I don’t much like her, or her policies. But she has always struck me as a canny operator. Announcing both the timetable for Article 50, the UK Government’s priorities (and the order we hold them in) in a conference speech was clearly to me at least far more about internal party management (a majority of 12 no proper personal mandate is a bitch) and dealing with a rabid right wing press that a sensible and considered approach to something difficult.

I’d be in no way surprised to learn that possibly May, and likely Phillip Hammond and the Treasury are secretly quite glad the court ruled how it did. It gives them some wiggle room to actually do stuff in a more slow and considered way, and gives them a convenient scapegoat for why it is taking longer (”And I’d have gotten away with it to if it wasn’t for those pesky meddling Judges”).

Taking the mechanics of Article 50 and Brexit through Parliament makes a nice little trap for Labour too. You have a Labour leadership who are pro brexit, but a parliamentary party and wider membership overwhelmingly anti brexit. Setting up Labour in the Commons and Lords as the enemy of democracy and frustrater of the will of the people most sound nice to Tory election strategists.

It is also very difficult strategically for Labour. Most Labour voters voted to remain, and many of those will expect the Labour party to be articulating for the 48.1%, but doing so would run a real risk of even worse electoral problems for Labour in it’s heartlands.

If May is smart about things she could have her cake and eat it. Delivery a better Brexit, in her own terms, at her own pace, and put the blame for delays and problems at the feet of others. As a politician, I’d be happy with that.

One thing though I think is pretty clear though the decision yesterday will have no bearing on whether or not Brexit happens. But it will have an impact on when it happens and how it happens.

I suspect most of my small audience shares with me a belief that Brexit is emphatically not in the national interest. But if it is going to happen then a considered, patient, well thought out Brexit is infinitely preferable to a rushed, botched one taking place on a schedule designed primarily to placate the swivel eyed loons in the Tory party and the Daily Heil.

Whatever happens 2017 is shaping up to be just as cray cray as 2016….. What a goddam horrible thought that is huh?

Originally published at Lunchtime Legend.

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