Stop complaining about the legal challenge to Brexit – this is your beloved democracy in action

If the Brexit plebiscite was the purest expression of the democratic ideal, then the legal process through which it will be achieved is necessary and priceless

Hannah Fearn
Thursday 03 November 2016 15:14
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Brexiteers who harrumphed about power supposedly being taken away from British courts and MPs should be delighted by this ruling
Brexiteers who harrumphed about power supposedly being taken away from British courts and MPs should be delighted by this ruling

Those who characterise the 48 per cent who voted to Remain in the EU referendum as “Remoaners” don’t like what they’re hearing today. After the High Court agreed that Theresa May would need the approval of Parliament to trigger Article 50 and start the process to leave the EU – ensuring that MPs will have a chance to vote on Brexit – the ruling was immediately attacked by Brexiteers as a betrayal of the British electorate.

Ukip MP Douglas Carswell said the ruling was an example of “shocking judicial activism – these judges are politicians without accountability”. Ukip leadership hopeful Suzanne Evans also described the judges as “activists”, as if they were dreadlocked students staging a sit-in rather than professional interpreters of law at the peak of their careers. “Time we had the right to sack them,” she fumed.

Even Nick Clegg, one of the most ardent Remainers and an active campaigner to stop Brexit from going ahead, expressed his concern about the meddling of lawyers in our democratic process. “In an intelligent political world the Government would have made this decision, not a court,” he wrote.

'If you think you voted for Brexit in possession of truth, honesty and fact then you're a banana'

The great irony is that the Brexiteers, and all those who bemoan the involvement of the judiciary as antithetical to the principles of British democracy, are arguing directly against their own position. If the Brexit plebiscite was the purest expression of the democratic ideal, then the legal process through which it will be achieved is the necessary and priceless machinery of that democracy. This is not the pointless tinkering of metropolitan bureaucrats, it is another victory for democracy and the parliamentary process.

It is this infrastructure – not just the elected MPs and the nominated lords who sit in parliament, but the role of the judiciary, the police and other institutions (arguably including the monarchy) too – that has protected our democracy. It is what makes parliamentary democracy the most stable and successful form of government, and the most fair. We have entered wars in an attempt to encourage its spread to other nations. And now, its biggest advocates would like to deny it.

Those who campaigned to leave the EU focused heavily on their concerns that important decisions were being taken out of the hands of our own MPs and British courts. Now power to make and refine this era-defining political decision rests firmly in their hands, and they appear not to like that either.

The High Court has ruled that, as is our historic tradition, the view of Parliament should take precedence over the wishes of the Cabinet Government. As the sharp-eyed will have already noticed, that judgment does not mean that a vote to approve the issuing of Article 50 will either happen or indeed hold any force if it does; Theresa May and her Government have already begun a process of appeal. Even if a vote did take place, it’s more than likely that Theresa May will win an overwhelming endorsement for her plans, as MPs struggle to reconcile their own views on Brexit with those of their electorates and the desire to be seen to respect the views of the majority as expressed in the EU referendum.

However long it takes, and however many court judgments are required to scrutinise the actions of government on behalf of the people, the resulting process of removing Britain from the European Union (or not, if circumstances significantly change) will be a democratic and a legitimate one. Isn’t that exactly what the Brexiteers were fighting for in the first place?

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