The Tories seem to disapprove of parliamentary sovereignty. Theresa May and her government are appealing against a court ruling that ruled in favour of parliament having a say in forming political laws and negotiations concerned with Brexit. Before the referendum Brexiteers claimed leaving the EU would help us regain our parliamentary sovereignty. Nigel Farage stated, “I believe in Britain…a proud, patriotic country that…makes its own laws in our own sovereign parliament”. Aaron Banks, the co-founder of Leave.eu, an anti-immigrant campaign group, proclaimed, “If parliament is sovereign we can either do a brilliant job or an awful depending on who we elect. It’s called democracy.” These advocates of Brexit claim we left the EU to escape political tyranny and give power back to Britain. However, when a British judge ruled in favour of parliamentary sovereignty – that parliament should have a say on the terms of a British exit from the EU – Farage, Banks, and Davies acted outraged. It’s odd… I thought they admired parliamentary sovereignty.
Ironically they’re speaking out against the very British parliamentary sovereignty that they were keen to fight for in the run up to the referendum. Some argue these leading Brexiteers only declared their support for parliamentary sovereignty to win over voters to the radical right of Brexit. These are the facts: there were two options on the ballot paper. There was ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’. There was not ‘Leave because we want to curb immigration’ as the current government claims, nor ‘Remain because we adore Brussels’. The choice was to remain in the EU or to leave it. As the vote to support Article 50 on 7th December showed, almost all MPs agree that we should leave the EU. Even though the government’s top lawyer, James Eadie QC, called the vote “highly significant”, all it made clear was that parliament accepts the result of the referendum, not that they accept the rejection of parliament’s involvement in Brexit negotiations. Shouldn’t parliament (representatives of the people elected by the people) decide on the terms of Brexit rather than an elite posse of Tories? Some might perceive the government’s Court Appeal against the original decision as an attack on British parliamentary democracy. By implication this would be an attack on the ordinary person’s vote as well.
In addition there’s been another affair suggesting a Tory dislike for parliamentary sovereignty. At least one Senior Conservative called for UK-US trade negotiations to be aided by a man never elected by the British people as a member of parliament to represent their views: Nigel Farage. Sir Gerald Howarth, the former Minister for International Security Strategy, told the BBC “if Nigel Farage is well-connected with Donald Trump, and it would appear that he is, then we should certainly be talking to him.” Farage might be popular with his own party and take support from the same kind of people as Trump, but that gives him no right to represent the views of the British people. Of course Farage has no problem with it. He shares a similar vision to Trump, but whereas Trump will be one of the most powerful people in the free world, Farage has no political power and, like UKIP, may be doomed to irrelevancy once we leave the EU. The fact that some senior Tory members have suggested his co-operation as a possibility suggests a move against the will of the British people. (How many times has that phrase been trotted out in recent weeks?) Yet we did not vote Farage into parliament, so why should he represent us? Donald Trump might think he should be made ambassador but by the way, Donald Trump doesn’t speak for the British public nor does he have any power to fire or nominate British ambassadors to the US.
Perhaps the reason there isn’t mass protest against the current government is that British people don’t believe the Tories mean what they say. After all, they might take inspiration from Donald Trump who has not only backtracked on eradicating Obamacare, but in terms of Hilary Clinton he now reckons he won’t try to “lock her up”. It seems Mr Trump sees himself as a bit of a joker. Just as some might argue that Trump’s election campaign was rife with meaningless rhetoric designed to garner support from radical right-wingers, some might think that the government’s appeal of the original Brexit court ruling is simply meaningless Tory rhetoric aimed at garnering support from right wing radicals, or UKIP.
Maybe no one can come to terms with the fact that the ruling government has made two attacks on British democracy in the space of a few weeks. Or perhaps, having freed ourselves from the tyranny of Europe, we don’t want to label ourselves as an oppressed people.
Thankfully, as Lord Neuberger pointed out in the Supreme Court, they are not trying to “overturn the result of the EU referendum”. Instead they are ruling on who can take part in “the process by which that result can lawfully be brought into effect”. The government’s Appeal of the original decision shows intent to rule without involving parliament and the views of the British public in the process. The Supreme Court will not overturn the original decision that favoured parliamentary democracy. Yet, if it does, we will have no need for parliamentary elections as we will have no need for MPs. Rather, we will elect a ruler who will do what he or she sees fit with no regard to the views of ordinary British people. This would be the point at which there were mass protests in favour of parliamentary democracy.