Alex Massie Alex Massie

The unhinged backlash to the High Court’s Brexit ruling

As a general rule, any day the government loses in court is a good day. So yesterday was an especially fine day. A delicious one, too, obviously, in as much as the fist-clenched, foot-stamping, whining of so many Brexiteers was so overblown and ludicrous it toppled into hilarity. People who shouted for months about the urgent need to restore parliamentary sovereignty now reacted in horror to the restoration of parliamentary sovereignty. ‘That’s not what we meant’, they spluttered. We meant governmental supremacy only when it suits us.

Well, tough. A certain amount of squealing was only to be expected since, if Nigel Farage has taught us anything, it is that the Brexit-minded really don’t like it up ’em. But, still. The reaction to yesterday’s High Court decision throwing responsibility for triggering Article 50 to parliament has been, well, unhinged.

Brexit will happen because the people have voted for Britain to leave the European Union. Recognising this, plenty of MPs who themselves voted ‘Remain’ will authorise the beginning of the process by which the UK removes itself from the EU. Because, far from disrespecting the instructions delivered by the electorate, most MPs (like most people who voted to Remain) accept this is what the people want and, having expressed that view, they deserve to get it.

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There’s every difference between that and granting the government increased powers of executive fiat, however. All the court has done is remind the government that the legislature has rights too. And, as a matter of law not politics, their argument seems persuasive. So we may savour the irony of people who would ordinarily mark their compass by Dicey howling against a judgement entirely in accordance with standard Diceyan theory. Oh well.

But – and sensible, moderate, ‘Leavers’ will have to forgive me here – a hefty chunk of the ‘Leave’ movement has no time for such constitutional niceties.

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