Having spent the last few years demanding that Britain must leave Europe because it compromises the sovereignty of the Great British Parliament, the Daily Mail is now furious that a judge who’s an openly gay former Olympic fencer has ruled that the British Parliament must really be sovereign after all. For the Mail, the most salient aspect of the judge’s decision isn’t the fact that he’s a judge. It’s not the fact that he’s spent years practising law. It’s not the fact that he sits in the High Court. It’s the fact that he’s openly gay. Perhaps the Mail wouldn’t have a problem if he was a sad and lonely closet case, hiding away without any friends and trying to pretend he was something he wasn’t. Which is pretty much what Britain will be like after leaving the EU. Friendless, isolated, and trying to pretend it’s really a great and influential power alongside the USA.
Some more reasonable voices have expressed concern that the decision of the people in a referendum might be overturned by a court decision and members of Parliament. There is a serious debate to be had about where sovereignty lies in the UK and how it should be manifest. Time for a written constitution, anyone? But this current situation has arisen because the EU referendum was not legally binding and that's the Tories fault. And if it’s not legally binding, can the office of the Prime Minister undo statutary law without debating the matter in parliament? The High Court has said no. If the government had wanted to make the EU referendum legally binding, there was nothing to stop it doing so when the Referendum Bill was going through the Commons in the first place. All through the EU referendum the Brexiteers cried that they wanted British sovereignty: they wanted the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament, and now the High Court has delivered just that to them they’re bleating that that’s not the way they wanted it. Naturally the most unappealing government in recent history is going to appeal.
David Davies, the Tory Secretary of State for Frothing About Europe, is very angry about all this. Although, let's be honest, it’s difficult to tell when he’s really very angry about something specific since being frothy mouthed is his baseline status. Wee Davie is furious because he thought that Brexit means Brexit means Laws Do Not Apply. Brexit means Brexit means Davie and his pals were supposed to be allowed to define what Brexit means Brexit means all by themselves. Now he’s very upset because the courts have just told him that what Brexit means Brexit means that it needs to be debated, discussed, and voted upon by members of parliament. That’s the same parliament that Wee Davie was determined to secure sovereignty for last week, just in case anyone has forgotten. Because he certainly has.
The UK Government is making an appeal to the Supreme Court and the case will probably be heard next month. However, given the strength of the original ruling against the government, there can be no guarantee that Theresa May will get her way. She’s still insisting that she’s going to push the big red Brexit button in March next year, but a defeat in the Supreme Court could seriously derail her timetable. It means that Parliament might get a debate and a vote, and Theresa May will have to reveal to the country the broad details of her plan. That’s the plan that she says she’s keeping secret so as not to give away her negotiating tactics, but which everyone else strongly suspects doesn’t actually exist.
Of course, the real reason that the PM and her merry band of Europhobes don’t want a vote in Parliament on Brexit is because that would expose the intellectual bankruptcy of their government. There is no plan. All there is is the fond wish that somehow the EU27 will roll over and allow the UK to pick and choose those parts of the EU that it wants to retain after leaving the organisation. The truth is that Brexit means Brexit means what the EU wants it to mean, not Theresa May. And the EU27 are not in the mood to do Britain any favours. Why should they? Would you?
Brexit will still go ahead, but the High Court's ruling means that Theresa May and the right wing of the Tory party are not going to get everything entirely their own way. There’s now a better chance than there was that we could have the so-called soft Brexit, with the UK leaving the EU but retaining access to the single market and the common customs area, keeping freedom of movement and preserving many of the rights we have as European citizens. To me, that’s a good thing.