Sir Humphrey Appleby once intoned to Jim Hacker, “Minister, if you’re going to do this damn silly thing, don’t do it in this damn silly way.”
This particular phrase has stuck in my mind several times since Theresa May took over as Prime Minister with an insistence that her entire plan for leaving the EU was that Brexit means Brexit.
I voted to Leave the European Union, and one of the many reasons I voted to leave was because I wanted more power in the hands of the House of Commons and British Parliamentarians. The official slogan of the official vote leave campaign was “Take Back Control”.
Mrs May wasn’t on the Brexit side, and there was considerable disquiet from Brexit voters that the new Prime Minister was a Remainer. It has left her with little legitimacy from either Brexit or Remain voters, and therefore with little leeway in implementing policy.
Prominent Leave campaigner Peter Bone MP today put forward a Private Members Bill to enable a notification under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Such a notification is a formality that is required before we start to negotiate on the terms of our exit.
Yet the notification has not been made – and some Brexiteers fear it will never be made. This is in part because of the legal disagreement between the Government and the Judiciary over the right of the Royal Prerogative to make the notification.
Frankly the Government has gone down the wrong path and it ought to recognise that.
By insisting that the Prime Minister has the ability to make a notification under Article 50, and that it doesn’t require an Act of Parliament, the Government has set off a chain of events that were entirely unnecessary.
This insistence has further enraged Brexit voters and made them feel genuine concern that the establishment is trying to frustrate the will of the British people.
It has emboldened Remain voters who believe that they are right to try and frustrate the will of the British people.
It has sparked the resignation of a Member of Parliament, Stephen Phillips QC, from the Government’s own side, who called the moves a “tyranny” and said the Government was acting in a way that was “fundamentally undemocratic, unconstitutional and cuts across the rights and privileges of the legislature.”
It has lost a case in the High Court of England and Wales and looks about to lose in the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
Rather than continuing to avoid democratic institutions in a kamikaze attempt to avoid gifting further democratic legitimacy to the notification of Article 50, the Government should abandon the appeal to the Supreme Court, which many legal observers believe it is doomed to lose, and instead put its weight behind Peter Bone’s Private Members Bill, a move which would also give him the honour of sponsoring the Act of Parliament that finally begins our exit from the oppression of the European Union.
The only way to heal the deep divisions caused by Brexit is by ensuring democratic oversight of the entire process, and by winning a vote in the House of Commons to give expression to the will of the British people.
In other words, if the Government is going to do this very sensible thing, it should ensure it does it in a very sensible way…