When Lord Neuberger recited the Supreme Court’s judgment that it might be rather nice if the Mutha of Parliaments had a cosy little chat about Brexit (I paraphrase minimally), my mind flashed back to the mesmerising 2014 World Cup semi-final in Belo Horizonte between Brazil and Germany.
After Brazil contrived to trail 0-5 before half an hour had elapsed, the Germans showed more mercy than one anticipates from them in future trade negotiations. Rather than deepen the hosts’ humiliation by scoring a dozen, they added only two more.
In the last minute, they even consented to Oscar making it 1-7, with what the laws of football cliche dictate must be known as a consolation goal. But the monastic hush in the stadium implied that no Brazilian present, or anywhere else other than a crack den, was taking solace.
Even diehard Remainers should feel the same way about the 8-3 result in the Supreme Court fixture catchily entitled: “R (on the application of Miller and another) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Appellant)”.
Looking for silver linings, MPs and peers will have a chance to look busy and have their twopenn’orth. We all need to feel useful and relevant. It’s good for morale. It is also lovely that the activation of Article 50 by parliamentary will, and not a royal prerogative dating back to an age when the sovereign had tyrannical power, will momentarily create the facade that this is a vibrant democracy.
But to The Smiths’ time-honoured question: “What difference does it make?” The answer is the one Morrissey gave in the song. It makes none. Or so little as to be meaningless. It might have been otherwise had the Supremes voted to give the regional parliaments their say. But they didn’t, and Theresa May cannily pre-empted the judicial decision to allow Parliament a say when she appeared to offer both Houses a vote on Brexit terms in her grand speech a week ago.
The die was cast when the In camp defended our membership of the EU like Brazil defended against Germany. No shape, no discipline and cataclysmically clueless, with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn competing for the David Luiz, who went so AWOL that he might have been mistaken for a German sleeper under not especially deep cover.
When the Commons votes on this legislation, the score will be as lopsided as the one in that game. God spare Ken Clarke’s bones for standing firm. But adding the only Tory in the No lobby to SNP and Lib Dem MPs, a large tranche of Labour refuseniks and Caroline Lucas barely gets the opposition to 150. Even at its most truculent, the House of Lords would struggle to ignore a Commons majority of approximately 500.
Even if it found a way to delay the activation of Article 50, the sporting analogy would be the tennis player who is trailing 1-6, 2-6, 0-4 who summons the trainer to play for time. The most either House could realistically hope to achieve are concessions to soften Brexit at the margins. But even the most trifling of those would provoke an avalanche of the political and media bullying visible today.
As with the earlier High Court judgment it ratified, the Supreme Court’s decision invokes such synthesised hysteria from the sledgehammer right that you don’t quite know whether to laugh, cry, or ring the New Zealand embassy to ask after its immigration points system.
The Daily Mail reprised its “enemy of the people” line with a pleasantry about an “elite” – yeah, but there are only 11 Supremes – defying the popular will. To his credit, Douglas Carswell raised a chuckle. “All the lawyers in London cannot subvert the referendum,” he tweeted. “Clear way ahead now: vote in Parliament. Replace Commons or Lords if they veto.” Wow. Way to endorse your support for parliamentary sovereignty, Dougie. And he’s supposed to be the thoughtful, clever one in Ukip.
Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith, who stopped being funny long ago, went full Trump by expressing disappointment that the Justices “decided to tell Parliament how to run its business … They’ve actually told Parliament not just that they should do something but what they should do.” If that really needs dismantling, so be it. They did no such thing. Eight of them decided, by legal reasoning so simple and clearly explained that even Duncan Smith ought to be able to follow, that the removal of our rights as British citizens is Parliament’s business. The right, for example, to save time in a medical emergency by taking the overnight ferry to Calais.
While IDS dons that threadbare dunce’s cap again, we should doff our hats to the Supremes for ignoring all the crude intimidation from the Trumpian right, and especially to the heroic Gina Miller for bringing the case. She could have done no more.
The other mandatory cliche about the consolation goal is that it “confers a little respectability on the scoreline.” Perhaps this one will do that by ensuring that the most momentous decision in peacetime history receives the minimal respect of brief parliamentary debate. But anyone leaping off the sofa and punching the air is making a visa application to a dystopian parallel universe of willful self-delusion where all the facts are alternative. If you want to join Iain Duncan Smith there, the best of British to you with that.
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