Parliamentary opponents of Brexit, and in particular
opponents of “no deal”, are understandably encouraged by the passing of
legislation designed to prevent the Johnson government from taking the UK out
of the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement on 31st October. It would be going too
far, however, to assume that a “no deal” Brexit has been definitively averted.
The majority of MPs publicly or privately opposing Brexit should be giving
urgent thought on how to consolidate
their advantage when Parliament reassembles in mid-October. It is obvious that Johnson and his advisers will be
actively seeking ways of thwarting the Parliamentary legislation, even
including a simple refusal to obey the clear provisions of the law itself.
“We can tolerate neither our vices nor their cures”
(Livy, Roman historian, 1st century AD)
by Brendan Donnelly Director, The Federal Trust
2nd September 2019
The recent unexpectedly lengthy prorogation of Parliament,
carried out with brutal speed and secrecy, should be a salutary reminder to
those hoping to prevent a “no deal” Brexit on 31st October of the
range of powers the British government possesses to manipulate Parliamentary
business. There is every sign that this ruthless and determined government
intends to use these powers to the full over the coming months. The ramshackle
constitutional and political arrangements of the British state, cruelly exposed
by the Brexit process, will allow the cabal at the head of the present
government ample opportunity to ride roughshod over Parliamentary opposition.
criticism of the Prime Minister is that she prematurely triggered the Article
50 negotiations in March 2017 and did so without a realistic plan for their conduct.
If she had waited longer and planned better, her critics contend, she could
have negotiated a more acceptable Withdrawal Agreement and Political
Declaration than the texts she is now having such difficulty steering through
Parliament. It is certainly true that
Theresa May began the Brexit negotiations with no realistic plan. But no amount
of delay and no amount of planning would have allowed her ever to achieve
results acceptable to a majority of “Leave” voters and their Parliamentary
sympathisers, let alone to the electorate or to Parliament as a whole. “No
deal” was from the beginning the most likely outcome. The contradictory and
unrealisable expectations reposed in “Brexit” could never lead to an outcome
with which its partisans would be satisfied.
David Jones, the Minister for Brexit, assured the House of Commons this week that it would have the opportunity to vote on the treaty negotiated by Mrs. May’s government to bring about British withdrawal from the European Union. This assurance provoked mixed reactions. It helped to suppress a brewing Conservative revolt, but was widely criticized on the Opposition benches as giving no meaningful choice to the House of Commons, since the Minister had made clear that Brexit would anyway proceed, irrespective of the outcome of the Parliamentary vote. Both the welcome and the criticism for Mr. Jones were equally illuminating. Neither his supporters nor his critics seemed to recall that Parliament has the right to decide for itself whether it wishes to vote on the Brexit treaty and that it is up to Parliament to decide what the consequences of any such vote might be. Parliament does not need to be dependent upon more or less tasty morsels from the governmental table furnished by Mr. Davis. The willingness of many Parliamentarians to subsist on a constitutional diet determined by the government well reflects the indecent haste with which they have rejected (at least for the short term) the chance offered it by the Supreme Court to play an autonomous role in the UK’s proposed withdrawal from the European Union. Continue reading How long will Parliament ignore the 48% ?→
On general principles of good governance yesterday’s decision of the Supreme Court must be welcomed. Most Parliamentarians are profoundly uneasy at the erratic course Mrs. May and her government have steered over the past six months in response to the ill-defined outcome of the advisory European referendum on 23rd June. It was politically convenient for Mrs. May to claim to believe that a modern version of the divine right of kings dispensed her from the obligation to involve Parliament in these matters. Happily, the Supreme Court has rejected such pretensions. Nevertheless, any pleasure at yesterday’s verdict must be tinged with disappointment that the Court needed to take such a decision in the first place. Continue reading The Supremes say “Stop in the name of Parliament”→
When challenged about its claimed right to initiate the process of taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union without Parliamentary consent, Mrs. May’s government has relied on two arguments, one legal and one political. The first is that the renunciation of treaties, such as the Treaty of Rome, is under the UK’s largely unwritten constitution an executive privilege of government. The High Court on 3rd November decisively rejected this claim by the government, a decision that will be challenged in the Supreme Court next month. Whatever the decision of the higher court on the strictly legal issue, it will leave open the broader question of the political and ethical appropriateness of the British government’s seeking to leave the European Union without Parliamentary sanction. In response to this challenge, the government deploys its second, political argument, that the British people have spoken in the referendum of 23rd June, their decision to leave the European Union is irrevocable and those who seek to reverse it are acting undemocratically. This claim deserves much more critical scrutiny than it has received in public debate over recent months. Too many commentators and politicians have allowed themselves to be browbeaten and morally blackmailed by accusations from the government and its allies in the media that the referendum of 23rd June, with its narrow majority in favour of ill-defined revolutionary change, constituted a mandatory basis for whatever action the government decided it wished to take in interpretation of that decision. Continue reading A “Titanic” success for the government in the High Court→