If the American novelist Paul Auster can observe the unedifying savagery of this year’s US Presidential Election and come to the conclusion that his country is at its most divided since the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, what, I wonder, would his summary be of the disunited kingdom across the Atlantic? Events on June 23 merely confirmed divisions many had long been aware of, but this week’s High Court ruling, caused by a legal challenge to the Government’s right to press ahead with Brexit negotiations without the participation of Parliament, has provoked a fresh wave of vitriolic accusations and counter-accusations from the irreconcilable opposites for whom the decision of a referendum wasn’t the end of a long-running saga. Tony Blair was condemned for his ‘Presidential’ approach to running the country, excluding most of the Cabinet from key decisions, never mind Parliament; yet, the fact that Theresa May has been prevented from doing likewise on this particular issue, that she has been forced to resort to democracy rather than dictatorship, has been received with unprecedented outrage.
The Daily Mail puts a trio of senior judges – including the Lord Chief Justice – on its front cover and the headline screams ‘Enemies of the People’; to hammer home their qualifications, the guilty men are named and shamed as a ‘gay fencer’, a ‘Europhile’, and the most damning of all, ‘Worked with Tony Blair’. Cue requisite readership mouth-frothing. The Telegraph headline declares ‘The judges versus the people’, whilst fellow Brexit cheerleaders the Express and the Sun make the same point in their own distinctive ways. Tied-in nicely with the FIFA poppy row, this latest treasonous act that is no doubt an insult to all our brave boys who laid down their lives for Fleet Street enables the Express to adopt a Churchillian battle cry in its editorial. And, along with the judges, we even have a proper villainess to boo and hiss. Her name is Gina Miller
Gina Miller is a 51-year-old Investment Manager who launched her challenge to Theresa May’s Brexit strategy with the aid of a few friends as rich as her and the crowd-funded ‘People’s Challenge Group’. She denies it was her intention to overturn the will of the British people to leave the EU, but so toxic are relations between the Remainers and the Leavers that she has already received the predictable rash of online death-threats, something that the media plastering her over the front pages and painting her as the Cruella de Ville of the anti-Brexiteers obviously cannot be blamed for. So far, the extent of protests in the wake of Brexit has been petulant foot-stamping on the part of students who couldn’t even be arsed to vote and socially-conscious Luvvies whose infinite wisdom on such matters naturally gifts them with the authority to lecture the poorly-educated masses residing beyond Watford Gap. This is something far more substantial, however, and again makes a mockery of the simplistic manner in which Brexit was sold to the public by its salesmen and women.
It took more than a decade of on/off negotiations before Ted Heath signed on the Common Market dotted line in 1972, so anybody who was expecting an overnight exit from the European Union once the votes in the Referendum were counted clearly wasn’t paying attention. The prolonged process of extricating the UK from almost 45 years of European commitments was destined to be an interminably tedious one, and now the High Court ruling proclaiming the Government cannot get on with it without the approval and say-so of Parliament suggests we’re in for a far longer ride to ‘freedom’ than even those who anticipated a sloth-like departure could have imagined.
The Royal Prerogative cannot be invoked when it comes to legislation relating to Britain’s membership of the EU – that was the decision reached in the High Court by men whose job it is to study the small print of the statute book; Theresa May cannot press on with Brexit negotiations without putting her plans and proposals to Parliament; and Parliament must vote on those plans and proposals before Article 50 can be triggered. When one studies the stated preferences of MPs on the eve of the Referendum, the cries of foul play emanating from the Brexit side are understandable: 185 Tories said they would vote Remain, whereas 138 declared they would vote Leave; with Labour, it was 218 to 10; every Lib Dem and every SNP MP said they would opt for Remain. Even before the Government submits its intentions to a Commons heavily in favour of Remain, it will appeal to the Supreme Court, and the two combined mean more and more months will be sacrificed before any action can be taken.
On one hand, this judgement could be viewed as the return of the much-discussed ‘Parliamentary Sovereignty’ that Brussels had apparently robbed us of, relieving a coterie of Cabinet Ministers of the exclusive rights to decide and giving all our elected representatives a part to play; on the other, it could be viewed as a wealthy and privileged elite with vested interests in the status quo using their clout to prevent an outcome voted for by the people. Whichever viewpoint one adopts, this is a situation that has thrown up some unlikely heroes and villains – with, in many cases, left and right swapping sides as social media updates provide the latest info on who to cheer and who to jeer.
The traditional ‘falling on one’s sword’ gesture has been employed yet again by an attention-starved backbencher in the aftermath of the ruling, the honour this time belonging to Tory MP Stephen Phillips. He apparently already has a career as a barrister, so won’t be spotted at his local food-bank in the near future; but his resignation is the second in a fortnight from a party whose government is in possession of a fairly slender majority, pointing once again to Conservative cracks that haven’t been healed by the Referendum result.
This week’s drama has rekindled talk of an early General Election – possibly next spring; this is something Theresa May has constantly downplayed ever since Dave vacated Downing Street, despite the likelihood of a landslide with such a weak and underwhelming Opposition. The Fixed Term Parliament Act instigated by her predecessor reduces a Prime Minister’s power to call an Election when it suits them, but circumstances are fairly unique right now, and if the Government loses its appeal against the High Court ruling, the PM may have no option but to go to the country in what will be inevitably labelled ‘The Brexit Election’. This won’t be over even if Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott duet on the hustings in 2017.
© The Editor