The latest in the Brexit court case had the High Court rule against the Government. The court stated that Parliament, not the Government, must vote to invoke Article 50. This means the full legislative process must be followed prior to the UK triggering the two-year exit period. Prior to this verdict, Prime Minister Theresa May had stated she would trigger Article 50 at the end of March 2017 without a vote in Parliament.
Critics and Brexiteers have been vocal against Parliament trying to stall or reverse the Brexit vote, but in my opinion (and in the opinion of many of the so called ‘remoaners’) this is not about stopping Brexit, but stopping the Government from securing a Brexit they want and not one the country at large may want. How can I say this? Simple. The question the UK electorate was given was ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?’ Yes or no? There was no second question of ‘If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, do you want a hard or soft Brexit?’ People have been vocal about the retraction of the pledge for £350m a week for the NHS, a retraction that came the morning after the vote. Vote Leave ministers backtracked by saying it was a suggestion of what to do with the £350m not an election pledge. After all, it wasn’t an election but a referendum.
I am not disputing the result. Yes, we as a country voted to leave the EU. That is the result. Though I did not want it, I accept it. The UK will be leaving the EU. There is no turning back. I’m not sure how many other ways I can say this, however what I refuse to accept is that the Government has a free reign to define Brexit after the vote. Brexit thus far is being dealt with through the secrecy of not revealing any details beyond ‘Brexit means Brexit’ or ‘We are going to get the best deal for Britain’. Soundbites, in other words, not a vision.
The lack of a plan isn’t May’s fault alone, yet she also can’t side-step parliamentary process. The referendum was not legally binding. It was advisory only. This means that though the electorate has spoken, Parliament didn’t agree to accept the result as law prior to the referendum. Both David Cameron and May have taken it upon themselves to respect the wishes of the British public and implement Brexit. Fair enough. I agree. The will of the people should and must be followed, but it has to be done properly.
Britain needs to have a debate on what its future looks like. This was not mooted in the referendum. Though the Government asks us not to distinguish between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit, we need to decide on what we want to keep out of the separation. People voted leave for numerous different reasons, just as people voted remain for numerous different reasons. There was no one unifying voice; even the campaigns were divided. So how can our Government get a sense of the public mood without the correct parliamentary procedure, in which MPs can voice the concerns of their constituents and fight for the best Brexit for voters?
The High Court ruling is actually doing what the Brexiteers want. It is upholding the supremacy of Parliament. Parliament decides on the laws for the UK. That’s what Vote Leave banged on about. Yet now the likes of UKIP are saying the courts are wrong and risk the reversal of Brexit. Some have even called for an early general election so the UK can vote out pro-EU MPs. This is not how a democracy works. We have the three pillars of Government, the executive, legislature and judiciary. Each one serves to protect our democracy. We have here an example of the executive wanting to bypass the legislature, and the judiciary have told them in no uncertain terms that they can’t do that.
Our representatives must have the right to voice their support, concerns and objections just as they would on any other bill. An MP has to balance their party’s demands with their constituents’ will and their own conscience. Some MPs represent areas that voted to remain. In a democracy, once one side wins a debate we don’t tell the other to keep quiet. We keep challenging. We hold the other side to account for their actions. We ensure that the outcome is balanced and doesn’t ignore, in this case, the 48% who disagreed with the winning side.
It’s highly unlikely that this judgement (though it is being appealed) will ignore or ‘reverse’ Brexit. At worst what it could do is delay it. The PM may miss her March deadline and I’m sure the EU will not thank us for stretching this process out even longer, but it is the right thing to do. It is the legal thing to do. It’s the democratic thing to do.