Friday, November 04, 2016

Constitutional Capers

I haven't ranted about Brexit for a while now, have I?  Actually, I know that it is a month since I last posted here on the subject.  I checked.  But, in the light of yesterday's High Court ruling that Parliament must be consulted and approve any deal to leave EU, I felt that I should return to the subject.  In fact, it is less the Judicial decision, which is simply a reiteration of the basic tenets of the British constitution, but the disturbing reaction to it in some quarters.  All day I've seen screaming tabloid headlines decrying the judiciary and questioning their right to derail 'the will of the people'.  It goes beyond the usual nonsense about 'unelected  judges', (they might not be elected, but thay are appointed by the Lord Chancellor who is appointed by the prime minister, who is an elected representative and heads a government sustained a majority in the House of Commons, whose members are elected and are actually meant to represent the 'will of the people'), with the right-wing press teetering on the verge of accusing the judiciary of treason, describing them as 'enemies of the people'.  On top of that, I've heard numerous vox pops on the radio in which 'ordinary' people demonstrate their shocking ignorance of this country's democratic system by accusing the judiciary of being 'undemocratic' by their upholding of the sovereignty of parliament.

What they all seem incapable of grasping is that the court ruling actually has little to do with trying to prevent Brexit, (though, God knows, many of us wish that it did), but rather to do with avoiding a constitutional crisis and preventing the establishment of a dangerous political precedent.  The fact is that in the UK only parliament is sovereign and can make laws binding upon the whole country.  A referendum has no constitutional standing whatsoever and its outcome cannot be binding upon parliament, (unless parliament has previously legislated that it can be, of course).  Consequently, to have any legitimacy, any actions taken by the government based upon the outcome of a referendum has to be approved by parliament, whether by an Act of Parliament or just a resolution.  Moreover, if the government is allowed to simply ignore parliament (the UK's supreme elected authority) and push through legislation of this kind with the justification that it is 'the will of the people' as expressed in a referendum, then the whole concept of parliamentary democracy would be undermined.  It would set a precedent by which government's would effectively be able to bypass the normal checks and balances provided by parliament and the courts to introduce legislation which would otherwise be illegal,  unconstitutional, repressive or unfair by simply holding a referendum to justify it.

Ultimately, it's a question of whether any individual or elite can be allowed to wield power arbitrarily, without checks and balances.  It's pretty much the issue we had a civil war over and the resulting political system evolved to prevent anyone, be they King Charles I or Oliver Cromwell, from being able to enjoy absolute power without democratic safeguards. Not that this seems to bother Theresa May and her merry band of Brexiteers.  Not that that should surprise anyone who recalls her tenure as (a very bad)  Home Secretary, during which she demonstrated little regard for such things as due process and the rule of law.  So, whilst all the Brexit bastards are shouting and screaming about this judicial decision, just bear in mind that that issues far more important than just Brexit are at stake.

OK, I promise not to rant about Brexit again for a while,  I think that next time I might just talk about model railways instead.  (I managed to get that locomotive I bought on eBay last week running, so I'm about to move forward with a full restoration).

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