The referendum is over: Let’s act like it is

Tom Welsh
Follow Tom
Ministers have vowed to fight Article 50 court ruling (Source: Getty)

Brexit is about to be betrayed. Wealthy financiers have coopted unelected judges into a war on democracy, seeking to undermine the will of the people by fair means or foul. Yesterday’s High Court ruling that Parliament must decide on the triggering of Article 50 is an insult to the 17.4m who voted for Brexit, and the people’s anger will be terrible.

Stop. This narrative of treachery is wrong. Most Remain-supporting MPs, the Prime Minister chief among them, have come round to the idea that we’re leaving. Even if the government loses its appeal, out of fear for their seats (401 of 632 English,Welsh and Scottish constituencies backed Brexit) or genuine commitment to putting the referendum result into effect, MPs will vote to invoke Article 50 and the Brexit process will begin. Unelected Lords should think very carefully before holding up any Brexit legislation.

Read more: British companies in danger of losing 'passporting' rights after Brexit

The bigger issue is the damage being done by those on both sides who refuse to accept the referendum is over. A noisy band of Remain refuseniks do want to overturn the result. But their hysterical response has destroyed any influence they might have had. Equally, Brexiteers who see fifth columnists around every corner are poisoning a debate that ought to be about what Britain’s priorities should be as we extricate ourselves from the EU, not the prior loyalties of those coming up with the ideas.

The government’s secrecy hasn’t helped. It may not want to give a running commentary, but when Nissan apparently has greater insight into its Brexit strategy than the public, no wonder an atmosphere of suspicion has emerged.

Read more: Government denies "chequebook" was used to keep Nissan in the UK

Parliamentary sovereignty was a key driver of the Brexit vote, and there is nothing wrong with MPs debating both when and how we leave the EU. It might plug a democratic deficit surrounding the form of Brexit we pursue – what our red lines should be, to what extent immigration controls should take priority over privileged Single Market access. In this sense, the ruling is a chance to properly analyse these trade-offs in public, instead of the government reading people’s opinions from contradictory polling.

But to truly make a success of Brexit, we must get over the divisions that characterised the referendum campaign and show that we can be a serious, independent country.

Related articles