Outrage among Leave voters today as the high court ruled against Mrs. May’s attempts to trigger article 50 without parliamentary approval. Even though some suspicious conclusions can be made from this decision, I think it’s important to discuss what it would actually mean for parliament to be given their say, as I don’t think, like many on the Remain side are salivating, that this marks the end of Brexit altogether.
The government will likely appeal this decision with the supreme court, but despite the fact that if they lose the case it would have to be brought to the European Court of Justice, and also despite that one of the judges who ruled against Mrs. May, claiming he was “not expressing any view about the merits of leaving the European Union,” happened to a founder of the European Law Institute, Lord Thomas, I don’t think it’s wise to engage in conspiracy theories about the overturn of democracy by unelected judges – even though we entered every EU treaty under the royal prerogative, without consulting parliament.
The Conservative party have a majority in parliament, and whilst we know the Tories are split from those who want to leave, those who want to remain but don’t want to subvert the referendum, and those who want to remain regardless, I think it’s pretty well understood that if there’s one thing you can bank on with the Tory party it is the replacement of principle with the future of their political careers. In other words, no party would likely commit political suicide when they have their re-election in the bag with an 18-point lead against the opposition party, highest number since 2009. The real worry is that the Conservative politicians will not outright reject Brexit, but rather delay. In doing this, they can avoid being criticised as wholly against it and can prevent it from ever getting underway.
The case was brought by a group calling themselves the People’s Challenge, and jury is still out on whether that means a challenge by the people, or to the people, but this decision will stoke a lot of tensions in the electorate, so much so that it would not be surprising to see a UK Independence Party victory in 2020 if the referendum is subverted, or delayed, or victory for a different right wing party which might appear in the cracks of a currently disintegrating UKIP. For as long as I can remember there has been a warring two sides of mainstream political discourse, between those who feel that nothing ever changes and those who feel that nothing has to. Well it’s no surprise at times like this that change seems like only something you see in old literature, if the status quo has grown so big to be legally unchallengeable.
However, even if the vote is delayed, or blocked, or subverted or whatever other synonym anxious journalists can muster, there are still actions to be taken. Theresa May still has the power to call an early election. With such a high lead in the polls she would certainly win the vote, and including Brexit in her manifesto is all she has to do to shift the course of Brexit negotiations from “should we” to “how should we”, and reject outright any notion of a “soft” Brexit (which, as stated previously on this site is just another word for Remain). There is a great difference between the political elite expressing desire to overturn a referendum, and expressing desire to overturn a general election vote, and it will in many cases act as a de-facto second referendum, but not for the purposes of re-decision, rather as democratic strategy to eliminate the political elite.