The latest twist in the Brexit tale is the legal limbo hanging over who can trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, signalling the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. Following a lawsuit filed in the summer, the High Court ruled on October 13 that the British government cannot trigger Article 50 without Parliament’s permission. This decision was immediately appealed by the government, who are anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s final word in December.
Rule of law is one of the foundations upon which Britain’s success over the centuries was built, and must be respected. However, I, like many people, was surprised by the message the High Court’s ruling was sending –that Parliament supersedes the will of the people, not the other way around. After all, isn’t Parliament supposed to reflect the will of citizens? Don’t all MPs, from the lowliest backbencher, to the prime minister, work for us?
In any case, I am not terribly worried about this court battle. If the triggering of Article 50 does end up going to Parliament, there will be enormous pressure on MPs to vote in line with their constituents, leading to a crushing majority in favour of leaving the European Union (EU). It is true that most MPs, across all parties, favoured remaining in the EU prior to June’s referendum, but not aligning with their electorate on this subject could very likely cost them their jobs next election. This threat is especially true for Labour MPs, many of whom saw constituents in northern “safe” seats reject the party’s advice advice by voting to leave the EU.
Where there is greater cause for concern, however, is in the growing pushback by elites opposed to Brexit. The following three examples are among the most publicized, but by no means the only instances of such pushback:
- Gina Miller: Following the referendum in June, a legal battle was launched by investment manager Gina Miller, challenging the government’s intention to trigger Article 50 without parliamentary consent. As mentioned above, the High Court ruled in favour of Miller and her co-claimants, spurring the government to appeal the decision in the Supreme Court. Miller claimed that this ruling was about preserving parliamentary sovereignty, an important motivator for many Leave voters. However, one wonders why she or any of the other claimants did not defend Parliament while its powers were being stifled by institutions in Brussels.
- Richard Branson: The Independent recently revealed that former Labour ministers have received funding from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group in their efforts to build a campaign opposing Brexit. Office space and legal advice were also committed, indicating preparations to launch a sophisticated drive to frustrate the British government’s efforts to sever ties with the EU. Branson was an outspoken opponent of Brexit during the referendum campaign, and seems not to have accepted June’s result by opposing the government’s effort to deliver it.
- Tony Blair and John Major: Former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major have made statements in recent days on the possibility of a second referendum being held on Britain’s EU membership. Amid rumours floating about some form of political comeback, Blair recently suggested that Britons should “keep our options open” regarding a second referendum. He appears to ignore that options were open prior to the referendum, and that a clear choice was subsequently made to leave.
Timely debate is an essential tenet of functioning democracies, especially in the case of major decisions like continued EU membership. And indeed, such a debate was held in the months and years leading up to June’s referendum. Both sides debated vigorously, and the people of Britain have made their decision. Article 50 will be triggered, and the UK will leave the EU. Rather than trying to undermine voters, pro-Remain elites should focus their energies on how to help Britain make the most of the opportunities presented by Brexit.