THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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November 2016

Brexit: it's just not about the law

 A lot of time is being wasted on discussion of the decision this week in the Queens Bench division of the High Court. I have reviewed some of my learned friends' arguments as to why the decision was wrong and they may have a point. I remain supremely indifferent. I am not waiting with bated breath for the decision of the Supreme Court and neither should you, dear reader.

Breathe. Relax. All will be well.

Here is the simple political fact of the matter. Whatever his or her personal views, every Conservative Member of Parliament was elected on the following manifesto pledge:

It will be a fundamental principle of a future Conservative Government that membership of the European Union depends on the consent of the British people – and in recent years that consent has worn wafer-thin. That’s why, after the election, we will negotiate a new settlement for Britain in Europe, and then ask the British people whether they want to stay in the EU on this reformed basis or leave. David Cameron has committed that he will only lead a government that offers an in-out referendum. We will hold that in-out referendum before the end of 2017 and respect the outcome.

The resulting Conservative government has honoured that pledge, except for the last three words. Sadly David Cameron failed to honour his own personal pledge to remain in office, serve Article 50 notice the next day and deliver the chosen outcome. The irritation which unites for the first time the British people and the EU leadership is his fault.

Theresa May has a clear mandate and is entitled to call any vote she needs on a three line whip. She has the Parliamentary majority to do it. Most Conservative MPs who supported Remain are indicating that they will honour the People's choice. I believe most Labour MPs whose constituents voted Leave will also. It would be political suicide else.

The Liberal Democrats seem intent upon political suicide. So be it. That Party's continued dishonest existence besmirches the name of liberalism and the memory of the fine men and women who voted for it (as I would have done) when it was a true liberal party.  They have threatened to block Brexit in the House of Lords. Excellent! That will lead inevitably to the demise of that (now it has been messed up by Blair's "reforms") vile and corrupt institution.

When I gave up political blogging, I was on the verge of despair. The hostile-to-economic-reality views of the ruling statist élite seemed to be beyond all challenge. We were locked into an ever tightening treaty relationship with states even more inclined to authoritarianism than our own.  The unbearable arrogance of the European élite was symbolised by the regular sneering use of the word "populism". Brexit gave me back my optimism and my belief in the institution of Parliamentary government in my country. 

I know that not all my fellow citizens are classical liberals. I know that many are wrongly hostile to economic globalisation.  Some sadly are even a little bigoted and reluctant to import the best talent as well as the best goods and services. Saddest of all many of them —  despite all the historical lessons of the last century that was almost entirely given over to worldwide experimenting with its ideas — are still mired in the intellectual bogs of the historical backwaters of socialism.  This, despite clear evidence that humanity has never had a greater enemy than Karl Marx.

Britain will no more be a paradise after Brexit than it ever was before.  But the fellow citizens who disagree with me will be within reach of my arguments. They will share the same language, culture and historical background. Sometimes they will win when they should not and bad things will happen. I will sigh and accept that so long as I have belief that our democracy works and therefore hope that their errors may be peacefully corrected. 

I am a Hayekian liberal and no Tory. I joined the Conservative Party when Margaret Thatcher led it and as a student politician was one of the first people to call himself a Thatcherite. I left that Party the day it betrayed her and have never missed the company of the snobs, fogies, and economic illiterates who make up the bulk of its members. I have now however rejoined it with the specific intention of doing what I can to hold it to its pledges.

I anticipate no difficulty. Theresa May is an unpleasant authoritarian, but she is no fool politically. She will deliver a good, hard Brexit as long as we are all vigilant. Better yet all the anti democratic sneering of the Remainers in the process will laser the political cataracts from the eyes of the essentially sensible British people. They have been led in the dark for too long by the leftist establishment and its toadies in the Guardian and BBC. A new age dawns, if we keep our heads when all around are losing theirs and blaming us.

Bring it on!

Of Judges, Politicians, Crown Prerogative and Article 50

My RSS feed makes interesting — and amusing — reading this morning. Both in the mainstream media and the blogosphere, there are many interesting and strident opinions on yesterday's judgement in the Queens Bench Division of the High Court. Most of them are wrong. 

Britain's Constitution is famously "unwritten"  but can be summarised in three words; Parliament is sovereign.  The reassertion of that Constitution was, for many, what the Leave campaign was about. Many Leavers believed Parliament was not sovereign for so long as the UK remained a member of the EU. I was always relaxed on that point because Parliament could not (without actually dissolving itself and the UK) lose the power to leave. It was certainly wrong to have delegated many of its powers to Brussels via the European treaties but it could rescind that at any time.

When Parliament legislated to grant us a referendum, it began the process of leaving.  The government promised it would act on our decision.  But it was always going to be Parliament that would carry out those actions. I am therefore not shocked by or concerned about the High Court's decision.  That so many journalists and bloggers are concerned rather amuses me.

I wish this was a legal or a constitutional problem to be resolved by the judiciary. I have far more faith in our judges than our politicians. But it isn't. It is, and always was, a political problem.

In this, as in so many other ways the (to be polite) "special" breed of people who are attracted to power over their fellow men have a different point of view (and self interest) to the people they seek to rule. All over the western world this conflict-of-interest is leading to a tension in our democracies.  A tension between the "élite", the demos and "populists" seeking (depending on your point of view) either to bring the élite to heel or to become a new élite. In Britain there has never been any popular support for European political union, only for freer trade. So our tension came to a head over Brexit. In America it's coming to a head over globalism. In France, it's more about a war to defend the magnificent French culture from the perceived threat of immigration. In Hungary and Poland — though they have no immigrants to speak of — it's about culture too.

This does not mean that I am complacent about our political problem. It is very real. Those politicians who would like to keep their season ticket on the EU gravy train will do everything they dare to thwart the people's will.  It is too soon for the Leave campaign to fold its tents and beat its swords into ploughshares.  Yesterday at my hairdressers in Westminster, some Mandarin or other in the neighbouring booth was predicting to his barber that the court's decision would now be turned to political advantage by calling a General Election. That would become the "real referendum" and sanity would be restored.  No-one could then say that the people had been cheated, because nothing is more democratic than a General Election. Right?

The judges were very clear that they were not opining on the question of whether we should leave the EU or not. The judgement was about the precise scope of "Crown prerogative".

"The sole question in this case is whether, as a matter of the constitutional law of the United Kingdom, the Crown — acting through the executive government of the day — is entitled to use its prerogative powers to give notice under Article 50..."

In my view the judgement is correct and changes nothing.  The nonsense being written about "activist judges" and "shyster lawyers" is a waste of bandwidth.  Dangerously, it is also a useful smokescreen for the people that we should fear. The people we must always fear; politicians. Specifically in this case those dodging and diving to find a safe political way to subvert the referendum result. And Teresa May, whose Brexit bona fides are still in doubt and for whom the pointless appeal against this decision provides an illusion that she is valiantly championing the people's will.

Translated into General Election terms, constituency by constituency, the electorates of some two thirds of MPs voted Leave. So for once we can take comfort in the fact that mostly only wicked, self-serving people are attracted to the parasitical life of political power. Few MPs, however much they may regret the loss of lucrative Kinnockish opportunities in Brussels when their political careers end in inevitable failure, have the ethical fortitude to stand by principles when their seat is at stake.

The political battles continue but the war will be won. So please leave the nice judges alone and turn the white heat of your righteous wrath towards the Palace of Westminster again.