Friday, 1 July 2016
Is Brexit inevitable?
Despite an occasional urge to blog on topics outside the scope of planning law and practice, I have always resisted such temptations – until now. However, I feel so strongly about the subject on which I am writing today that I will make this a one-off exception to my usual rule.
Few, if any, of the benefits that the charlatans running the Brexit campaign were promising to gullible voters would be forthcoming if we were to leave the EU. The money that would allegedly be ‘clawed back’ from Europe, would be a good deal less in net terms than some of the figures being bandied about by the Brexiteers, and is very unlikely to reach the NHS, or match the EU support currently paid to farmers, or to replace the structural funds currently paid by the EU to deprived areas. As for immigration, even if we were no longer to be in the EU, net in-migration is likely to be every bit as high as it is now, and the promised ‘control’ of our borders may prove to be illusory.
As for red-tape and EU bureaucracy, there is a widespread consensus that nearly all of the rules that have been made in compliance with EU law would in practice have to be retained in our legislation, because the interests that they protect would need to be protected whether or not we were an EU member. Even fishing quotas are unlikely to change. So all those people who rejoiced last Friday that “we’ve got our country back” had been badly misled, both in believing that we had somehow lost our independence in the first place and in thinking that we would in practice have any greater freedom of action as non-members of the EU than we have now.
Like quite a few other people I know, I feel so upset by the European referendum result, and its disastrous consequences for this country, that I cannot accept this outcome, and feel that we must find some way of reversing last Thursday’s decision. I believe strongly in parliamentary democracy. Referenda, on the other hand, do not represent genuine democracy and are far too prone to be swayed by demagoguery, as was all too apparent in the case of last week’s referendum. I do not accept for one moment that it is ‘undemocratic’ to seek to overturn the result of that referendum, so as to ensure our continued full membership of the EU. In the end, it must be parliament that decides. [And in case anyone believes that MPs are there simply to give effect to the wishes of their constituents, I suggest they should re-read Edmund Burke’s classic Address to the Electors of Bristol.]
I was interested to see that there are other lawyers who are thinking on the same lines as me. The first point that should be clearly understood is that the result of last week’s referendum is not binding in any way. It has no legal status, and does not oblige the government or parliament to give effect to its outcome. Secondly, eminent constitutional experts have pointed out that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty can only lawfully be invoked by an Act of Parliament. The royal prerogative that ministers exercise on behalf of the Crown, which includes (at least nominally) the power to make treaties and to declare war, does not extend to the formal procedure for leaving the EU, because our membership of the EU is enshrined in our primary legislation, and an amending Act would therefore be required to start the process leading to the UK’s departure from the EU.
The government was very wise not to seek to invoke Article 50 for the time being, and it is clearly very much in our interests to delay doing so for a number of reasons, not least to allow for the possibility of a change of mind that might avoid the Article 50 procedure having to be invoked at all. Michael Zander QC (Emeritus professor of law at the London School of Economics), in a letter to The Times, has suggested that if the mood of the country towards Brexit has changed by the time the government seeks to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, MPs would have “a constitutional right, even a duty”, to refuse to give the will of the people effect. I entirely concur with that view.
[I really don’t propose to permit myself any further digressions from planning law in this blog, and I shall similarly limit discussion in the comments section below. As the French say - Retournons à nos moutons.]
© MARTIN H GOODALL