Tuesday 24 January 2017 11:32 am

The Supreme Court Article 50 decision should help Brexit rather than hinder it

As I've said in these pages before, the fact that our Parliament is required to have a debate about Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union before the British government exercises our right under it to begin the process of leaving the EU is not a great surprise; nor do I think that the Supreme Court judgment confirming this changes much in terms of the Brexit process, even in the short term.

Indeed, given the earlier High Court decision on this question and the political landscape she faces, even prior to this unsuccessful appeal being heard, Theresa May had effectively conceded that Parliament would debate the issue anyway.

There is a potential problem for the hopes of Brexiteers here, but only if our MPs actually seek to stymie the Brexit vote rather than – much more likely – merely express trenchant views about it. The possibility of the House of Commons ignoring the result of a national referendum – which, as you will recall from the government leaflet mailed to your and every other home, was binding – is an ugly one.

That would create a terrible crisis; one that said that Parliament is willing to grant plebiscites only if the people vote as Parliament wishes, and that one can defy a popular referendum if wealthy and powerful enough to litigate against a result one doesn’t like.

Read more: Article 50 verdict unlikely to derail May's Brexit timeline

But that won't happen. Parliament will vote to trigger Article 50 – whether out of respect for the electorate’s vote, or because of the whip system, or because many MPs sitting on seats with large majorities which voted to Leave decide to uphold the Brexit decision or at least abstain out of fear of their own electorates.

To be sure, that debate will feature high-flown rhetoric in which glowing tributes will be paid to the democratic principle of the House having its say (as both Houses already did when overwhelmingly voting through the referendum legislation). But the substance of it will not affect the path of Brexit.

In fact, the Supreme Court's decision means that Parliament will have to pass an Act which will act as the domestic legal basis for an Article 50 Brexit. As the absence of such an Act in our Parliament might have led to a challenge to Brexit later down the line, it is for the best that we have this Act and the outcome of the Supreme Court hearing therefore likely helps Brexit in the long term rather than hinders it.

Read more: Attorney General "disappointed" with Supreme Court's Article 50 verdict

The only possibility that arose during the Supreme Court case that offered a real threat to the May government's plans was that consultation with or decision-making by the devolved administrations might be required, and that option was (pun intended) scotched by the Court – in that regard too one might conclude that the result was pretty favourable for the government.

Perhaps simply as a manifestation of wishful thinking among those opposed to executing Brexit, there has also been some speculation that a posse could ride to to the rescue of that undemocratic outcome in (suitably enough) the House of Lords. But Lord Deben (John Gummer as was) has indicated that the government's will shall not be opposed in the Upper House – and indeed, how terrible and how undemocratic it would be if, after a much demanded vote in the Commons, the government's agenda were stymied there.

We must bear in mind that, whatever their rhetoric about Brexit, those on the opposition benches do not wish to force an election on it. For in such an election the government would go to the people on a platform of upholding the result of the referendum, against a Labour Party still led by Jeremy Corbyn. While nothing is certain in life, that seems a recipe for electoral disaster for the left and an increased majority for the Tories.

So we’ll have a debate, followed by a Parliamentary vote, followed by “as you were”. We’re still on course for Article 50 to be triggered in March.