Brexit needs democratic legitimacy of Commons vote

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…

Brexit must mean Brexit

One hundred and eleven days ago, some seventeen million people voted for this country to leave the European Union. That is a mandate larger than any Government, including this one, has ever had.

The backlash has been vicious and ongoing. Some one hundred and seventy days before the Prime Minister intends to have delivered notice to the EU, we have had a debate in the cradle of democracy, led by those who lost the election, whose entire purpose is to frustrate the seventeen million people who voted for us to leave.

The debate has now moved on from Brexit or Remain, to Hard or Soft Brexit – or as one Bremoaner put it, a Long Brexit. Remain supporter after Remain supporter has stood up in the House of Commons and claimed that voters backing Brexit didn’t know what they were voting for, or were not voting for us to leave the Single Market.

It is certainly true that there was no detailed plan for Brexit on the ballot paper. Exit polling (much more accurate than other polling, since it asks people who have just voted) suggests that the number one reason people gave for voting Brexit was a desire to “take back control” of Britain’s laws. The second reason people gave for voting Brexit was a desire to “take back control” of immigration, including the ability to choose which people come into our country.

Membership of the Single Market is incompatible with taking back control of Britain’s laws. The Single Market has an incredibly complex and voluminous legal framework to make it work. That framework is imposed by the European Commission and enforced by the European Courts of Justice, based in Luxembourg. It isn’t possible to have free access to the Single Market without accepting the legal framework that comes with it.

Membership of the Single Market is akin to remaining a member of the European Union. It will, by necessity, require the decisions of the ECJ to remain sovereign, essentially allowing a foreign court to continue overruling the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The difference between the ECJ and the ECtHR, which is not part of the EU, is that decisions made in Luxembourg (ECJ) are mandatory, while decisions made in Strasbourg (ECtHR) are merely advisory.

It has also been made very clear by the other Member States of the European Union that membership of the Single Market is underpinned by Freedom of Movement. Many of those who voted for Brexit clearly did so with the intention of ending Freedom of Movement. Not, as Sir Kier Starmer MP, the Shadow Brexit Minister, suggested today some small movement on Freedom of Movement.

For British business it is very worrying that membership of the Single Market may be taken away. This is because the narrative about that membership suggests that there is no halfway house between membership of the Single Market and massive trade tariffs.

It is entirely irresponsible for people to suggest that to be outside the Single Market will be a financial disaster. It is no surprise that the same people who told you that the entire world would end if the UK electorate didn’t do as they say and vote to remain are those who are now suggesting that membership of the Single Market must be a red line.

As the Brexiteers keep trying to make clear to the world, and to business, the United Kingdom is the fifth largest economy on the planet. We have no free trade agreement with our largest customer, the United States. It is simply dishonest to suggest that Germany and France will want to impose huge trade tariffs on us, given the number of jobs in those countries that rely on exports to the UK. It is also dishonest to suggest those trade tariffs will be enormous, given the World Trade Organisation rules that would engage if we left without a trade deal. Germany doesn’t want to see the price of a Mercedes go up by 10% in the UK, because we’ll simply start buying Jaguars or Lexus’.

Polling indicates that voters are more able to identify with having voted Brexit or Bremain than with any of the political parties. It is the defining decision of our generation, and it is a subject that will dominate British politics for the next few years – in a way that no decision has since the Corn Laws. Any MP who represents a seat that voted hugely for Brexit and is perceived to be trying to frustrate that democratic decision will need to look nervously over their shoulder come 2020.

When we leave the European Union, on or before the 31st March 2019, voters who backed Brexit will expect that, in Mrs May’s now infamous phrase, Brexit has meant Brexit. It cannot be that somehow we are still controlled by the unelected Eurocrats.

Brexit does not mean keeping Freedom of Movement. Brexit does not mean allowing the European Courts of Justice to retain powers over British laws. Brexit does not mean some form of Associate Membership of the EU.

Brexit must mean Brexit.