British Laws for British People

One of the Brexiters’ original demands was that Britain should be subject to British (or English) laws alone, and to no-one else’s: that is, not to the EU’s. The decision of the three High Court judges last week, that Article 50 (disentangling Britain from the EU) could only be activated with the consent of Parliament, was based on a British constitutional law which goes back in its present form at least a hundred years. So strictly speaking the Brexiters should be in favour of it.

The illogicality of their position, calling the judges ‘enemies of the people’, no less, because they were enforcing the people’s own laws, was revealed powerfully in this exchange between an LBC radio presenter and a phone caller a couple of days ago: http://www.lbc.co.uk/radio/presenters/james-obrien/brexit-leave-voter-british-law-caller/. (I wish we had more media interrogators like James O’Brien.) It also really does bring to mind 1930s Germany, as illustrated by this comparison, posted on Facebook this morning: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154711219648928&set=a.10151856083843928.1073741828.599548927&type=3&theater.

The fundamental point is, of course, that Britain is a Parliamentary democracy, not a plebiscitary one. Plebiscites, or referenda, are advisory only. Whether Parliament takes their advice or not is up to MPs. There are of course problems with Parliament, seen as representing the democracy, which I’ve commented on before: https://bernardjporter.com/?s=first+past+the+post. But there are also excellent reasons for giving it the final say, rather than a single vote taken in confusing circumstances amongst an electorate temporarily angry over many other things apart from the question on the ballot paper: see https://bernardjporter.com/?s=about+the+EU.

The main one, to my mind, is that the Parliamentary process allows time for the scrutiny of laws and treaties: in three readings in the House of Commons, and then by the Lords. Isn’t that a safer procedure, for any kind of legislation? Otherwise you might get all kinds of ‘heat-of-the-moment’ measures passed. Any important decision – in private as well as public life – requires second, and then third, thoughts. Then, if the ‘public will’ as expressed in a plebiscite is still thought to be decisive, Parliament can still legislate that way. I guess – though we can’t of course predict confidently, especially these days – that that’s what will happen. Parliament will eventually bow to what appears to be the ‘people’s will’.

If Brexiters still don’t like that, they can try to push a new constitutional law through Parliament, to surrender its powers to referenda. In that case, however, they’ll need to be aware that they are abandoning the centuries-old British system of law that they say they’re anxious to re-affirm. They can’t have it both ways.

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One Response to British Laws for British People

  1. Pingback: Representative Democracy | Porter’s Pensées

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