Brendan O’Neill

Lawyers are leading the coup against democracy

Lawyers are leading the coup against democracy
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A coup is underway. In Britain, in the 21st century, unelected forces have come together to try to thwart the will of the people. It’s a polite coup. Its weapons are legal challenges rather than guns, and it’s being led by businesspeople and retired politicians rather than moustachioed military men hungry for power. It’s a coup in which tea is far more likely to be spilt than blood, as middle-class agitators plot over a cuppa how they might overturn the say-so of the silly little people. But it’s an attempted coup nonetheless, and anyone who cares one jot about democracy should take it very seriously.

Today it is revealed that law firm Mishcon de Reya is taking legal action to try to block the triggering of Article 50 without a parliamentary act. At the behest of various unnamed business leaders — sinister, much? — Mishcon de Reya says it has informed government lawyers that the result of the referendum is ‘not legally binding’ and has warned them that ‘invok[ing] Article 50 without the approval of parliament is unlawful’. In short, if you do what the people want without first consulting parliament — where, of course, 80 percent of MPs are anti-Brexit — we’ll take legal measures to stop you. Heed the demos rather than us, and you’re in trouble.

Let’s speak plainly: this is an attempt by sections of the capitalist class to use the instrument of the law to slow and possibly slay the stated will of the British people. It’s a stab by the rich and powerful to prevent the swift enactment of the majority’s democratic desires. When that kind of thing happens in Latin America, when paunchy well-off Brazilian blokes lean on the political system because it isn’t doing what they want, we balk; we complain that their democracies are immature. Yet something very similar is now happening here. It’s more polite, yes; more British; but it’s similar.

This outrageous threat of legal action if the government does what 17.5m of its citizens asked it to do has no doubt been boosted by the anti-democratic blather of various bigwigs in politics and business. Tony Blair has said we shouldn’t rush to Brexit, because what if ‘major parts of business and the financial sector [say] this is not a good deal for us’? David Lammy says cool-headed MPs should shoot down the ‘madness’ of the people’s vote. Richard Branson is using his considerable clout to agitate for a second referendum. From business and politics they come, demanding the stymying of our will, the taming of our democratic wishes.

Normally, you’d expect lefties to take to the streets to yell their heads off over fatcats and legal eagles seeking to shush the public’s views. But weirdly, lefties are up to their guts in this polite coup. On Saturday, London hosted the most anti-democratic march I’ve ever witnessed. It was called ‘A March for Europe’, but it was really a march against democracy, a middle-class scream of rage at the masses and the ‘deception’ they’ve apparently fallen for.

People waved placards saying ‘Don’t trigger Article 50’ and calling on MPs to listen to experts and ‘vote down Brexit’. They should elevate ‘the national interest’ over the public vote, the assembled said. It was the carnival wing of the polite coup, the left throwing its lot in with those powerful people who want to block or slow Brexit, and in the process reconstituting itself as a movement against the people rather than for them. A movement that started life insisting working people should have a say in politics now calls on the powerful to ignore what working people have said about politics. The EU staggers on, but the left just died.

We should be up in arms. The people have spoken, and yet lawyers and bosses and liberal lefties think they can gag them. A massive majority demanded Brexit, and tiny groups of the influential are trying to block it. Get angry about this. It might be a polite coup, but it’s a foul one, and it threatens to batter not just Brexit but the whole idea of democracy.