Brian Monteith: Courts row over Brexit is merely a sideshow

Theresa May, pictured with Jean-Claude Juncker, must now respond to Thursday's court setback. Picture: Thierry Charlier/AFP
Theresa May, pictured with Jean-Claude Juncker, must now respond to Thursday's court setback. Picture: Thierry Charlier/AFP
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The court row over the process for the UK leaving the European Union is merely a sideshow, writes Brian Monteith

Indeed, the First Minister has tried to build the deflection further by floating the idea that she might sanction Scottish taxpayers’ money to be used in opposing the UK government in the Supreme Court. The very idea reveals the degree of contempt that Nicola Sturgeon holds for the Scottish people and how her priority is mischief-making and grievance-generating rather than healing sectarian intolerance, saving our failing state schools or assisting our troubled economy.

British Prime Minister Theresa May with European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker before meeting at the European Union Commission headquarter in Brussels. Picture: Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Theresa May with European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker before meeting at the European Union Commission headquarter in Brussels. Picture: Getty Images)

If “Brexit means Brexit” then “leave” must mean leave. The decision by the High Court to force the Prime Minister into a vote in parliament to trigger Article 50, so beginning the process of the UK exiting the EU, cannot in itself change the outcome of the referendum.

It matters not to me the motives of Gina Miller, who challenged the government in the High Court, or the possible subterranean conflicts of interest that the three judges may have. Nor would it trouble me if, in appealing the decision at the Supreme Court, the government were to lose again. Ultimately Brexit will mean Brexit and leave will mean actually leaving the EU because the people have willed it to be.

The only other consequence would be that any successful attempt to block the decision that parliament had itself delegated to the British people would result in a fresh general election and the long-overdue completion of the reform of the House of Lords. Neither of these outcomes, in my estimation, would be especially bad. I do not, however, expect the High Court’s decision to evolve in this way.

The chances are that the UK government will win its appeal, and that even if it does not and a vote happens, both Houses of Parliament will not stand in the way of Article 50 being triggered when the government wants – as politicians value their positions too highly. The real dispute that is taking place – that is strangely passing unremarked in the UK – is whom the UK government actually negotiates with.

Let us recall that the remain campaign, led as it was by the then prime minister David Cameron, assured us of two absolute certainties. The first was that if we left the European Union we would leave the single market and the second was that if we voted to leave the EU Article 50 would be triggered immediately. Now, having lost his referendum campaign and having left the field of battle to lick his wounds, some of Cameron’s followers are fighting a rearguard action that, by implication, argues the prime minister was lying to us all.

Cameron, Osborne and others were, however, right to say that leaving the EU meant leaving its single market. The price of taking back control of taxes, laws, the judiciary and our borders is that we must be outside the internal market and the customs union and have only the same terms of access that currently Japan, China, India and the United States enjoy, many of whom trade more from outside the single market than we do from inside it. To improve upon those terms, to have preferential access like Canada has just secured, is what requires the negotiations to be had.

To ensure the success of achieving preferential access means identifying what the negotiating parameters will be and that must be done before triggering Article 50. This is because there is a power struggle within the EU between the heads of state – such as Merkel, Hollande and other national leaders – and the European Commission.

The key to ensuring that the UK can enter negotiations knowing what is required to achieve preferential access to the internal market is to first hold bilateral talks and high-level conversations with all the member states. Only once these talks are completed should the UK trigger Article 50, for it is then that the direct involvement of the European Commission, with its own interests that are significantly different from the member states, will come into play.

Like the UK, other member states are fighting the EU Commission in an effort to retain power and influence being lost to the Brussels machine. While EU commissioners are inured to democratic accountability, it is national political leaders that have most to lose through punishment by their electorates if a tariff war causes further unemployment across the eurozone.

If there are any risks in the UK being punished for leaving the EU the threat will come from the EU Commission, not Germany, France or Italy.

These are the real factors at play, not the processes of the British courts or plotting of Westminster politicians behind which the SNP can make its mischief.

The reason that Article 50 has not been triggered immediately is because it was not in the UK’s interest to do so. No more, no less. To rush into negotiation risks having a bad deal, and it is in all of our interests to recognise that a bad deal will be worse than no deal at all.

l Brian Monteith is a director of Global Britain