Friday, 4 November 2016

It wasn't a mere consultation exercise

I have faith in our Prime Minister's judgement and whatever Master Plan has been formulated under her leadership behind closed doors. Which is perhaps rather irrational of me.

But I do see Mrs May as a lady of good sense, and absolutely not a taker of stupid risks, nor one to casually or flippantly play ducks and drakes with the country's future. There is (possibly) the danger of her doing nothing at all, and on that score the obstacles now being placed in the way of a rapid invocation of Article 50, and therefore the beginning of our formal withdrawal from the EU, might secretly suit her. But I get the feeling that all along she has favoured Britain getting back complete control, and is not now going to be thwarted.

And the Supreme Court may help her. There is surely an overwhelming argument for letting matters proceed unhindered: that the electorate were made to understand - before the referendum - that their collective vote would determine what should happen. And not the eventual decision of Parliament.

I have in front of me the leaflet produced by David Cameron's government and distributed to every front door. It's the pro-remain leaflet titled Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK. It says things like:

On Thursday, 23rd June there will be a referendum. It's your opportunity to decide if the UK remains in the European Union (EU). It's a big decision. One that will affect you, your family and your children for decades to come.


This is your chance to decide your own future and the future of the United Kingdom. It is important that you vote.


The referendum on Thursday, 23rd June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union.


This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.


If you're aged 18 or over on 23rd June and are entitled to vote, this is your chance to decide.


The EU referendum is a big decision for you and your family's future.

Nothing in these words about the Referendum merely testing the waters, so that the Government would learn what the collective mood of the people might be. Anyone reading that leaflet would understand that voting was to be terribly important, and that it would settle the future of the country, with far-reaching effects. That's certainly how I saw it.

There are now many voices saying that the Referendum was somehow not binding. Or that if the Government are bound, then Parliament as a whole is not - and by extension not the Devolved Parliaments either. So that Mrs May and her team may well feel obliged to steam ahead - being 'the Government' - but those who are not directly in charge of the country's affairs have a constitutional right to debate the outcome.

The Supreme Court will have to consider what the Referendum promised. I think it will find it difficult to ignore the pre-election passion and hype, which was highly appropriate for a procedure that might transform Britain, but inappropriate for a non-binding consultation exercise. We were urged to vote, not just register an opinion.

Personally I think that Parliament are, like the Government, stuck with the result, and would do better to support the Government in carrying out the will of the majority, and not introduce endless delay.


  1. The most distressing thing about this judgement has been the vicious attack on the judiciary by the press. The implication that they were allowing personal pro-EU opinions to colour their judgement was nothing short of a damn lie. One judge was even declared to be an ex-Olympian and openly gay, as if that mattered an iota.

    The government is set to appeal. Stephen Philips (a staunch pro-Brexiter) reckons they'll lose again. If they do then it will merely confirm that we are a parliamentary democracy.

    I didn't vote for Brexit and neither did the majority of MPs. I trust, however, that those MPs will respect the wishes of the electorate and allow the Brexit negotiations to continue. As you rightly say, the referendum was never intended merely to be a consultation exercise.


  2. Two things. Firstly MP's were told in a briefing paper in June 2015 such a referendum was not binding;

    Second point is that the majority are not always right. Parliament passed laws protecting against discrimination and as a Trans person I am glad, however I do not think such laws would have had a majority if voted for by the public in a referendum.

  3. Well, no matter what Members of Pariliament were told, this was a pubic vote and the public were led to believe it was going to be decisive. That their collective will should prevail. We are on our way out. That's what the majority wanted. That's the nature of referendums.

    I do understand that the consequent plan - including the details of negotiations to be made - was left unsettled, and this might well properly be the part of Brexit that MPs must look at and have a say on. And I see how this might restrict Mrs May's freedom of action, although exactly what she has in mind, and whether that would be different from what a majority of MPs would wish, is unknown. It's odd that she is not trusted to act in the country's best interests, as if she were oblivious to the views of MPs and sundry experts. I don't see her being reckless.

    The affair illustrates the uneasy way that referendums sit with the procedures of British Parliamentary democracy. Personally I think that the die is cast, and nothing now can alter the position. All you can do is make the best of it. And like many, I wish they would face the facts and get on with it.



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