It is unfortunate that I need to open up with these caveats, but here we go. I did not vote brexit because I am a racist. I did not vote brexit because I am anti-foreigner. I did not vote brexit because I particularly want to see a reduction in immigration to this country. I lead a church in a multicultural area of the UK, with substantial numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers from both within and without the EU. Not only am I glad to have them, I would be delighted to welcome more.
You can read my reasons for voting leave here and here. Needless to say, the reasoning stands in the tradition of socialist thinking that was propagated by the likes of Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Dennis Skinner and (whisper it) even Jeremy Corbyn. I like to think you, dear reader, would be sensible enough to distinguish racism from a vote to leave the EU.
It also bears saying (though, again, it’s sad it needs saying), I am not particularly into bandying around pejorative terms like ‘remoaner’ and ‘remainiac’. Such things hardly scream reasoned discussion, intelligent debate or desire to convince others of the merits of one’s position. Equally, I remember well the sort of vitriol directed at brexiteers such as me in the run-up to the referendum as well as its aftermath. It is tiresome to hear all brexiteers tarred with the brush of mudslinging when (a) it is some and (b) that is a fairly well worn two-way street.
Nonetheless, today, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament must vote on triggering Article 50. The government are now preparing a bill on which parliament will vote to trigger our exit from the EU. I can neither understand why the government felt it right to challenge the case nor why some brexiteers are unhappy about it. This is precisely what people like me voted for.
Let’s just consider what has taken place. A British court has voted on a British constitutional issue and has defended the principle that British parliament ought to be sovereign over British law. Isn’t this precisely what we wanted? It is certainly what I wanted. It is entirely appropriate for parliament to vote to trigger Article 50. The brexit vote, at least in part, was about our elected representatives having the right to enact and repeal British law. It was fundamentally a vote in favour of the sovereignty of parliament (irrespective of which particular issues you especially wanted them to exercise their sovereignty over).
Similarly, just as it is entirely right for parliament to vote on triggering Article 50, it would be entirely wrong for them to block it. Parliament already voted on the decision to leave the EU – they voted to allow the British public to make the decision directly. It is also disingenuous of those arguing for a second referendum on triggering Article 50 given that there is only one way to leave the EU after all. A vote to leave is a vote to trigger Article 50. Is it right that parliament vote to trigger Article 50? Absolutely. Is it right for them to now block it? In no world.
Owen Smith, for example, has made his view known that he will defy both his party leader, as well as the will of the people, by voting to block Article 50. He has argued this is reasonable on the grounds that ‘I cannot, in all conscience, stand by and wave through a course of action that I believe will make our people poorer and our politics meaner’. Whilst that sounds terribly principled, it rather ignores the glaring hypocrisy of asking the people a question, promising to enact their decision and then ignoring it and doing whatever you want anyway. Nor does it hold much water when a man who openly worked against his party leadership, and launched a failed leadership coup thus crushing his own political career before it got going, states he is prepared to block Article 50 ‘whatever the impact on my career’.
What this boils down to is that Smith does not respect democracy. The will of the people is irrelevant when faced with Smith’s superior views. One cannot help but think if you suspect the people are idiots, and hold them in such contempt, it probably isn’t a good idea to abdicate your responsibility to vote in line with what your perception of the national interest and offer them a referendum. Unless, of course, you think yourself such a superior thinker even the idiot plebs would obviously just agree with whatever you’ve told them to think. But politicians would’t think that would they? I am not interested in calling him, as he suggests, the ‘remoaner-in-chief’. I am far more concerned with the fact that he thinks so little of the people, indeed so little of democracy, that he is willing to openly disregard the very views he elicited from them. That is surely the very definition of contempt.
It is quite right that parliament should vote on the triggering of Article 50. It is a constitutional imperative. In fact, it is precisely what we voted for. We voted for British courts to uphold British law as made in the British parliament. Nonetheless, that same British parliament asked the people a direct question and promised to enact it. Just as it is democratically and constitutionally vital for them to vote to trigger Article 50, it is just as important that they actually trigger it. Parliament determined that the people would decide our future in the EU. The people voted for parliamentary sovereignty. If parliament won’t trigger Article 50 – and, for the avoidance of doubt, despite the likes of Owen Smith, I am confident they will – they are undermining the very sovereignty we voted for. Parliament decided, in their sovereignty, that we, the people, will decide. To block the triggering of Article 50 not only undermines the will of the people, but undermines the very parliamentary sovereignty that we voted for by refusing to enact the decision they decided in their sovereignty was for us to make.