There must be a great deal of head scratching going on this morning in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling on how Britain gets itself out of the European Union.
The court has said, by majority, that any triggering of Article 50, the legal mechanism by which we formally inform the European Union of our desire to leave, must be approved by parliament. But that opens the possibility of the democratic will of the people being denied.
Parliament voted on allowing a referendum on the UK’s position on Europe. At that point it surely it stands to reason that the parliamentarians accepted that a likely consequence of their action was a vote to leave the EU. By giving the people the decision, in a referendum, it passed over responsibility.
Delivering the court’s judgment, Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger said the court had taken the view it did because leaving the EU would mean a fundamental change and cutting off the source of EU law and changing legal rights. He continued: “The UK’s constitutional arrangements require such changes to be clearly authorised by Parliament.” Allowing the referendum was parliament’s authorisation.
There now should not be any attempt to block what the majority of the people of the UK voted for.
One of the big questions surrounding the court ruling is: What is all the fuss about? The government will bring a bill to the House and it will be voted on. As the government has a working majority in the House of Commons, it should get it through. The government’s own deadline of triggering by the end of March could still be met.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed his party respected the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and said the party would not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50, but then went on to ruin what appeared to be a principled stance by adding his party would seek amendments. How is that not frustrating its passage?
And the Lib Dems have said their MPs and peers would vote against Article 50 unless there was guarantee of the public having a vote on the final deal reached between the UK and EU. Luckily there a so few of them in the Commons it should not make a difference.
But the second biggest group of opposition MPs, the SNP, have said they will vote against it. That puts the party in a curious position, with leader Nicola Sturgeon complaining loudly that the collective will of the Scottish people is being denied in Brexit yet her party is willing to stand in the way of the democratic will of the British people. Maybe it is an eye-for-an-eye thing.
And the court did rule, unanimously in this case, that the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly should have no say in the triggering of Article 50. Given that EU relations are a reserved matter it is easy to follow the legal logic on that, But giving Scotland no say at all, as Theresa May is currently doing, is surely a denial of natural justice.