Any law student that has ever studied constitutional law would have been beaming at the chance today to use their knowledge of parliamentary sovereignty that laboured them throughout their public law exams many years ago. Having heard submissions over a four-day period in December, the Supreme Court justices ruled this morning, in an 8-3 majority, that the government must seek parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50. The government had previously advocated that it could trigger the Article through use of the royal prerogative, seeing as the European Communities Act 1972 which Parliament implemented did not provide citizens with full-fledged rights, but were instead rights based on Treaty provisions. Lord Neuberger, providing a summary of Court’s findings, stated that circumventing an Act of Parliament would breach fundamental constitutional principles. TCC looks at the significance of the ruling, what is next to come, and whether there are some serious problems underlying our country’s politics.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RULING?
It is a constant feature that many countries around the globe do not understand our basis of having an unwritten constitution, but the UK has made clear for centuries that Parliament is sovereign. Parliament giveth, and Parliament taketh away, and by implementing EU law through the ECA 1972, it is only our legislature that has the ability to remove it. The Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, provided a brief statement on behalf of the government when exiting court – despite stating disappointment, he clarified that it is a sacrosanct part of our country that every person and institution, including the government, is subject to the rule of law. Accordingly, the government would do everything to comply with the verdict.
The outcome of the ruling is not surprising, although many contended that the Supreme Court would hold a unanimous decision. Despite many questioning why the government appealed, it is welcomed to have matters of such constitutional importance going to the highest Court in the land. However, May has been expecting the verdict. Rumours surface that she will present a Bill within a matter of days – one which could be extremely short; just the necessary requirements to get the job done. The Conservatives operate a majority in the Commons, and Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said that his party would not seek to frustrate the process for invoking Article 50. The Lords is slightly more contentious, with rumours that some die-hard remainers could make one last stand, but it is still expected that the Bill would adequately pass. Therefore, the Prime Minister’s proposed triggering in March looks to be on schedule.
Whilst the outcome was unsurprising, what is more surprising, and saddening, is what a mess our politics have become. The Brexit campaign was volatile, deceitful and a show of politics at its ugliest. Brexiteers, having obtained their majority in the referendum, now champion that the “will of the people” must be followed. For the past year we have been fed campaigns about sovereignty, autonomy, democracy – but all have been used as manipulated, eschewed definitions. Who knows what they actually mean? We were asked to vote on Brexit – but who knew what that actually was?
Mud-slinging took place from both sides, resulting in the public being fed distorted and cunning lies on which to make one of the most crucial decisions of our lifetime. Now, Parliament will pass legislation to trigger Article 50, because it is the will of the people. Is it? Is it the will of the people if that “will” was formulated based on lies and without a solid understanding of what form the very thing we were voting for would take place. Did anyone actually vote to leave the single market? No, because we were never asked.
A BBC correspondent reporting the matter stated that with the government having lost the appeal, it is now for Parliament to choose how to act. What choice are we identifying? It is a choice as to what legislation it puts in place, but what about real, wider choice? James O’Brien on LBC this morning provided a thought-provoking message: “members of Parliament will be forced to accept triggering Article 50, despite many believing that it will harm their constituents”. In the aftermath of Brexit, we have seen some interesting developments such as inflation start to creep up which will filter into UK households, uncertainty in investment and, now, that the UK will leave the single market and customs union. If the MPs whose constituencies have been adversely affected by such events and decisions decided to vote in their people’s interests, they would be crucified as “enemies of the people”, for subverting democracy and the “will of the people” that was based upon uninformed lies and uncertainty as to the Brexit form. If they upheld their integrity, and voting with what they thought was right, they would be out of the game altogether. I thought that we have a democratically-elected Parliament, whereby it was the job of MPs to represent the best interests of their people – but, in doing so, this could ultimately subvert the will of the people? What a paradoxical mess, my head is spinning.
Last week, Theresa May, when delivering her Brexit speech at Lancaster House, stated that whatever agreement was reached with the EU following their lengthy negotiations would be put to a vote in Parliament. Corbyn intends to hold her to this, despite the aforementioned acceptance that his party would not prevent the Article 50 triggering, he would seek to amend any deals taking place to prevent the UK becoming a “de-regulated haven”. However, having the opportunity to vote on agreements reached between the government and the EU after their negotiations, is it not too late by this point to have any significant impact?
TCC is not an enemy of the people, we seek to provide thought-provoking ideas and attract the public to consider their own opinion on such matters. That said, we could feature on the Daily Mail front page tomorrow.
By Dre Efthymiou