Parliament must decide
The Government has pulled off a
massive confidence trick. It has
convinced everyone that Britain
has decided to leave the EU. The public,
the political parties, the press and the broadcast media, the EU itself and the
governments of the EU countries all believe it.
But it’s not true.
Britain has not
decided to leave the EU – not yet.
That is a decision that only Parliament can make.
The UK’s High Court ruled on the
question, on 3rd November 2016.
It said loud and clear that neither the Government nor the people
through a referendum has the power to make the decision. Unless and until the Supreme Court overturns
the ruling on appeal, that is the law of the land. Nobody should be surprised by it; anyone who
knew a bit of British history, from Magna Carta
onwards, knew it already.
Several mass-circulation newspapers
have helped the Government pull off this trick.
Their competition for a certain readership has lead them to fan the
flames of anti-EU sentiment with unbalanced and distorted reporting, immoderate language, and vicious
attacks on anyone who dares to suggest that the referendum vote does not
automatically lead to Brexit. They have gone so far as to challenge the rule of
law by attacking the judiciary: one
actually used its front page to display photographs of the High Court judges
over the screaming headline “Enemies of the People”.
We have come remarkably close to
the state Germany
was in when Hitler came to power, where newspapers made an almost identical
attack on judges and in the end a whirlpool of lies and brutality dragged the
country into dictatorship. The question
about Brexit, important though it is, is now overshadowed by a much greater
one: do we want to be ruled by our
democracy and our law?
Parliament must insist on its
right to make the decision on whether or not the UK remains in the EU. It must not allow itself to be fobbed off
with a vote on details of how Brexit is implemented – on when to give notice to
the EU or on negotiating strategy. That
would trick Parliament into declaring indirectly that a decision to leave has
been made. Parliament must insist on its
right to make the fundamental decision in a clear vote on the proposition “that
shall leave EU”. It must amend any Bill
presented by the Government until that proposition is stated directly and
clearly in it.
Parliament must then do its duty,
with each member voting according to their conscience for what they believe to
be in the best interests of their constituents, regardless of party affiliation
or personal interest. They must
carefully inform themselves about the actual benefits of being in the EU, the
supposed benefits of being outside it, and the very great costs of the process
They will, of course, be voting
in the light of the referendum result:
but they must not be intimidated into believing that they are bound by
that result. They must remember that the
majority was very small, and that many of the Leave votes were probably
anti-Government votes by people who really preferred Remain. Parliament will be making the most important
decision that Britain
has faced in 75 years.