There’s a hoo-ha in the soft-Brexit dovecote over the EU referendum being merely “advisory”. As we report today, Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Kenneth Clarke have seized on a six-year-old Government statement to say – in Morgan’s words – “Parliament has to be responsible for deciding whether or not to take action in response to that result.”
It is of course true that referendums in Britain are advisory, or “consultative”, as Harold Wilson called it when he held the first national one in 1975. In our uncodified constitution, it is not possible to limit the sovereignty of Parliament.
The position is clouded by some people describing the 2011 referendum on the Alternative Vote as legally binding. What they mean is that the Act to bring in AV was already law, and provided that, if the people voted Yes, “the Minister must make an order bringing into force ... the alternative vote provisions” set out in the Act. However, Parliament could have changed its mind and repealed that clause.
The same applies to the EU referendum. It is binding on the Government, in the sense that the Government promised, in its leaflet to all households: “This is your decision; the Government will implement what you decide.” But as a matter of constitutional principle it cannot be binding on Parliament.
However, the formal legal position is irrelevant and it is unwise of Morgan, Grieve and Clarke to have been drawn into commenting on it. The idea that Parliament would say to the British people, “Your opinion is very interesting but we have decided to ignore it,” has only to be imagined to be dismissed.
What experts have said about Brexit
What experts have said about Brexit
1/11 Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
The Chancellor claims London can still be a world financial hub despite Brexit “One of Britain’s great strengths is the ability to offer and aggregate all of the services the global financial services industry needs” “This has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and I will do everything I can to ensure the City of London retains its position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”
2/11 Yanis Varoufakis
Greece's former finance minister compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can't really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It's like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones' castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear”
3/11 Michael O’Leary
Ryanair boss says UK will be ‘screwed’ by EU in Brexit trade deals: “I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that's what happens in trade talks,” he said. “They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade”
4/11 Tim Martin
JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong: “We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea"
5/11 Mark Carney
Governor of Bank of England is 'serene' about Bank of England's Brexit stance: “I am absolutely serene about the … judgments made both by the MPC and the FPC”
6/11 Christine Lagarde
IMF chief urges quick Brexit to reduce economic uncertainty: “We want to see clarity sooner rather than later because we think that a lack of clarity feeds uncertainty, which itself undermines investment appetites and decision making”
7/11 Inga Beale
Lloyd’s chief executive says Brexit is a major issue: "Clearly the UK's referendum on its EU membership is a major issue for us to deal with and we are now focusing our attention on having in place the plans that will ensure Lloyd's continues trading across Europe”
8/11 Colm Kelleher
President of US bank Morgan Stanley says City of London ‘will suffer’ as result of the EU referendum: “I do believe, and I said prior to the referendum, that the City of London will suffer as result of Brexit. The issue is how much”
9/11 Richard Branson
Virgin founder believes we've lost a THIRD of our value because of Brexit and cancelled a deal worth 3,000 jobs: We're not any worse than anybody else, but I suspect we've lost a third of our value which is dreadful for people in the workplace.' He continued: "We were about to do a very big deal, we cancelled that deal, that would have involved 3,000 jobs, and that’s happening all over the country"
10/11 Barack Obama
US President believes Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU: "It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU. We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth"
11/11 Kristin Forbes
American economist and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England argues that the economy had been “less stormy than many expected” following the shock referendum result: “For now…the economy is experiencing some chop, but no tsunami. The adverse winds could quickly pick up – and merit a stronger policy response. But recently they have shifted to a more favourable direction”
To suggest such a thing – and that is precisely what Morgan has suggested (“whether or not to take action”) – is worse than a democratic outrage, it is a tactical error. It makes the Remainers, now rebranded as soft-Brexiteers, seem arrogant, out of touch and undemocratic.
The soft-Brexiteers have been making headway in pressing the argument for Parliament to scrutinise the Government’s plans for implementing the decision of the people in the referendum. The first skirmish is over the Government’s right to trigger Article 50 of the EU Treaty, which starts the two-year process by which a member state leaves the EU. The Government says that treaties are its responsibility, so it does not need parliamentary approval for it.
Whether or not the Government wins the case at the High Court – which will now go to the Supreme Court – against those insisting that Article 50 needs an Act of Parliament, the case for Parliament to be involved in the Brexit negotiations as much as possible has been made.
The one thing that could undermine that consensus would be if Morgan, Grieve and Clarke gave the impression that, far from wanting to scrutinise the terms of Brexit, their aim is to scupper it.Reuse content