A year ago I predicted that Britain was almost certain to trigger Article 50 and begin exiting the EU, after a narrow but clear victory for “leave” in the referendum.
So it has proved. In March prime minister Theresa May sent a letter to Brussels indicating that Britain will leave the bloc after 40 years’ membership. Legal commentary saw it as inevitable that once the article was invoked Britain would make for the exit, albeit with some resistance.
Now, who knows?
Skulduggery looks ever more possible since the botched election, with European politicians having already indicated political will to reverse or halt our departure. This follows after a year of attempts to scupper the vote, the businesswoman Gina Miller’s legal battle to force a parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50 being the most blatant sabotage. Expect more of this as we go on.
The upheaval in British constitutional affairs has allowed sophists to make any argument they like about who should be in charge, or indeed where political authority comes from at all. Despite a general lack of respect for politicians – trusted by only 15% of Brits to tell the truth – many remoaners still argue that only MPs are qualified to judge whether or not we remain in the EU.
The debate over hard or soft Brexit – in reality real versus phoney – is similarly spurious. After May’s election flop, Alastair Campbell, former New Labour spin doctor and editor-at-large at The New European, told the BBC that the electorate had rejected May’s interpretation of Brexit, despite the commitment of Labour’s leadership to a similar programme, including leaving the single market.
Over the weekend, the former prime minister Tony Blair argued that public opinion is turning against Britain leaving the EU, adding that it was “necessary” for it not to happen. In fact, a YouGov survey in May revealed the opposite, that two-thirds now believe the British government has a duty to leave.
Losing a vote is no reason to abandon a political position. But the hard remoaner line is a deeply corrupt one, even if you believe that Britain will be injured by withdrawing from the bloc.
There are many questions a voter is not qualified to answer, but whom he wants to be governed by is not among them. Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems acknowledged as much when they backed referendums in 2005 on the European Constitution, which would have clarified the powers of the bloc had it not been rejected by France and the Netherlands in national polls.
The Lisbon Treaty which emerged out of that debris was then pushed through the EU and meekly accepted by Tory leader David Cameron, who had promised a referendum on the matter when campaigning to become prime minister. Onetime Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg also called for a “real” referendum around the time, saying: “Labour don’t want the people to have their say.”
There are many theories on why people voted to leave the EU, if rather fewer on why clever people voted remain. What cannot be in doubt was that every vote cast represented consent or rejection of government from Brussels. Representative democracy depends on that consent, and in this case it has been decisively revoked.