Before I start on the topic, I’d like to point out that I am not here to say whether I am in favour or against Brexit or siding with or against the “metropolitan elite”. As a gay, socialist foreigner who lived and worked in the UK for almost a decade as a language teacher, I belong to this elite that tends to favour remaining in the EU but as a continental working towards a more socialist and fairer Europe, I do see London as the biggest threat to our democracy, the rights and livelihood of everyday people for it has established itself as the spokesperson for the almighty business and neo-capitalism. So I am both, I guess.
Now the news is that, in the midst of uncertainties, the High Court of England and its three judges with lovely wigs have decided that the parliament has the final say on Brexit. Fair enough to remind everybody that democracy is best spoken by the elected assembly.
As an historian, I know all too well the referenda are tools of the popular, authoritarian executive facing with difficulties in pushing their agenda through a diverse elected legislative chamber and therefore grant the good people with a direct voice in the name of democracy. France has had its share of them: Napoleon III used it to become emperor and put an end to the Second Republic, De Gaulle used his prestige and popularity to overthrow the parliament-centred Fourth Republic and install the monarchy-like presidential Fifth Republic instead.
What surprises me is the “Victory!” cry from the Remainers as if everything was finally sorted out and was where it should have been to begin with, i.e. the way they want it to be. The High Court just said they think the parliament must have the final say on the trigger of Article 50. Why are the Remainers convinced it will stop Brexit?
Of course, I am not stupid and I am aware that it’s because they know the parliament would block Brexit. They are certain a majority of MPs regardless of party affiliation are against it and that’s exactly why that woman legally challenged the value of the referendum to begin with.
She basically pulled a Donald Trump. Even if her intentions are deemed more positive. She did not challenge the government or Cameron on the legal weight of his promise and actual proceedings of the referendum when it happened. Although she had months to do it. Months to show and prove that it would be irrelevant in any and every way, that the Commons would have the final say whatever. But because there was a chance things would go her way, she did not. She waited for the results of a perfectly legal, well-conducted democratic process to displease her to finally mount a legal challenge.
The problem is that far from preventing anything, it has instead triggered an absolute political nightmare. I am not talking about political minefield but proper battleground. Yes, MPs are a majority to believe remaining is the right solution but does that mean they are going to vote according to what they believe to be good or what their constituents believe to be good? The High Court decision does not dictate how the Commons should vote, nor does it dismiss the results. It’s saying that the democratic process has spoken and it’s up to the Commons, the legislative branch, and not the government, the executive, to act upon it. It’s not saving the UK of Brexit rather is purely testing its relationship between the people and the elite. The results in the long term may get way uglier than Brexit.
As an MP, you are elected by a people majority to then serve every single person regardless of differences of any kind, so I reckon, and most people who believe in democracy will agree, that the right to do is to check what the outcome of the referendum was in your constituency and vote as such. In that case, the legal challenge is ridiculous because the result would be the same. 52% of the English people voted “Out”, if the MPs are indeed doing their job as expected by proper and respectful democratic process, it should 52% “Out” in the parliament as well, for they are supposed to be the voice of their constituents.
Therefore, the challenge that “selfless, philanthropist” paid for out of her own money (the media seem to think it’s important to point that out) would be remembered as nothing but time wasted, money wasted, more dithering, more restlessness from all sides and more divisions within the country when the effort should be to stand strong and united, not resentfully fighting against something only after it happened.
Or, as Remainers obviously expect, the MPs will disregard the actual voice of their own constituents and vote according to their own agenda, beliefs and fears. Then that legal challenge will be remembered as the moment the parliament, the political and financial elite (the one who can afford to mount such a challenge without going bankrupt) officially and openly became completely detached from its own electorate, from the people who entrusted them to speak in their name and keep their promises to represent them.
That legal challenge is a Pandora’s Box putting MPs in a difficult position: either following the voice of the ones who voted for them or going against it at the risk of losing them altogether. To the far right, most likely.
So they could gamble and argue that many voted “Out” out of anger and spite and actually wanted “In”. They could argue that many did not cast a vote in the first place. They could argue that the current economic uncertainties and bad news have turned the tables. They could gamble and convince themselves that these aforementioned people are now hoping for the Commons to clean up the mess the people have made.
However this is all hypotheses, for the MPs also know that the one and only certainty is all this is that 52% of the people directly said “Out”. 52% from all parts of the political spectrum, all wealth, genders, places and races. 52% who will not take betrayal lightly after they were offered a chance to speak their mind. Some say they could call for a fresh general election to find out but unless they ask the question again, or remodel the whole of English politics into two new parties “In” vs “Out”, or the Labour and the Lib Dem party manage to multiply fish, I don’t see how it’s going to change any outcome.
Referenda are a tricky political move, challenging them is worst.