“British court deciding British stuff. Good.” So tweeted the Rev’d Giles Fraser, following the ruling of the Supreme Court that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty may only be triggered by Act of Parliament and not by the Government under prerogative powers.
Only then can the process of leaving the European Union lawfully commence.
“This is what I wanted when I voted Leave,” he continued. “Can’t see any room for Brexiters carping on about it.”
I prefer “Brexiteers” – it’s a more “buccaneer, pioneer, musketeer” kind of word, as Michael Gove observed. But that neologistical quibble aside, I’m in complete agreement with Giles on this.
When he and I teamed up to form “Christians for Britain” under the doughty chairmanship of the Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe, our objective was simple: the restoration of the people’s sovereignty and the renewal of democratic accountability.
This was, for us, commensurate with our national Christian heritage; part of our inalienable rights as freeborn Englishmen and women.
It was invidious to us that an entire corpus of overarching EU law was being promulgated by remote and unaccountable bureaucrats, and that global financial and trade agreements were being negotiated which were becoming immutable and inviolable.
It was the idolatry of a self-propagating, ever-circulating elite, if not the deification of Mammon and Globalisation: “In the beginning was the Market; all things were made by it, and without it was not anything made that was made…”
Giles and I were (and are) a world apart on many aspects of political policy, but on this matter of philosophy we are united: it is for the elected governments of democratic nations to enact laws, and it is for their peoples to judge them at the ballot box and, if desired, to sack their law-makers in order to effect change.
By such a process of accountability, correction and rebuke, governments may nudged toward righteousness. In the anti-democratic supranational structures of the European Union, this is not possible. Any time the peoples of Europe have expressed a will which was contrary to the Treaty of Rome precept of “ever closer union”, the inconvenient result was duly set aside by the ruling elite, and the recalcitrant electorates were asked again (and again, in some cases) until they gave the “correct” answer.
The Commission’s “infallibility” has been evidenced in various referendums of France, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Greece. Until Brexit, the whole EU project seemed to proceed on a fixed trajectory.
But I take the view that Gina Miller has done Brexit and Brexiteers an enormous favour. She says she is concerned with due process and the rule of law, which I rather doubt. But whether she is or not, I have to ask what is to be gained by Brexiteers insisting on the Royal Prerogative to invoke Article 50 if it means that our secession from the EU will forever be cast into legal doubt?
The EU Referendum was about taking back control: giving power back to the people, thereby restoring a democratic check on executive and parliamentary power. That is a wholly biblical principle of governance, though I perfectly accept its limitations.
Members of Parliament are meant to be the guardians of sovereignty and democracy, not the owners of them.
This philosophy, coupled with the Protestant emphasis on the individual’s personal relationship with God and the right to read and interpret Scripture for oneself, heralded the decline of government by elite autocrats and an increased emphasis on the dignity and responsibility of the individual; the “priesthood of all believers”.
In a democracy, our responsibility towards governments permits an input to those governments. The UK Supreme Court, though not quite supreme (still being subject to “foreign” courts of Europe), is one of our national institutions of self-governance in the dispensation of justice. The Justices of the Supreme Court have determined that the Government must seek the approval of elected members of Parliament, and thereby the sovereignty of Parliament is upheld and asserted. Its judgment is not violating “the will of the people”, as some assert, not least because 48 per cent of people didn’t vote for Brexit. It has simply clarified the law with regard to the process by which we leave, and that reasonably entertains the voices of nuance and non-conformism.
The event of Brexit hasn’t been halted: the process of Brexiting has been subject to heightened scrutiny. It is the sovereign, democratic way.
Parliament, of course, voted by a majority to devolve the question of UK membership of the EU to the people. Whether our elected representatives will vote in accordance with the will of the majority remains to be seen. What is in no doubt, however, is that should they fail to do so – after what will undoubtedly be lengthy and fevered debate – the people might just be inclined to assert their sovereignty at the ballot box. It is the stuff of which revolutions are made.