MPs’ vote may reveal our representatives’ true colors

Posted By: November 04, 2016

Brian Feeney. Irish News (Belfast). Friday, November 4, 2016

A lot of the rejoicing about yesterday’s High Court judgment is a bit premature. First, the British government is going to appeal on December 7-8. It could go the other way. Second, even if the Supreme Court upholds the High Court’s decision, it doesn’t mean Brexit won’t happen. It will happen but not according to Theresa May’s timetable.

What is important is that,  if the decision is upheld , MPs will insist on voting— not just on the timing of triggering Article 50— but also on its terms, / which really will throw May’s plans into disarray.

Downing Street has let it be known the prime minister intends to stick to her stated deadline of the end of March, but there is another fly in the ointment.

If the Supreme Court rejects yesterday’s judgment,  there could be an appeal to the European Court of Justice which would have at least two results. It would drive the Brexiteers in the Conservative Party and Ukip to paroxysms of fury. Oh the irony that the hated ECJ would have the final say on British parliamentary sovereignty over royal prerogative,  when the Brexiteers wanted to leave the EU to make British courts sovereign. Secondly it would take ages for the ECJ to come to a decision after March anyway. In any event an appeal to the ECJ looks inevitable.

At this point,  it seems the odds are in favor of the Supreme Court upholding the decision.

The Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, Sir Terence Etherton, Master of the Rolls,  and Lord Justice Sales, Britain’s leading public law judge, were the three senior judges handing down the judgment yesterday.

All eleven Supreme Court judges will probably sit in December but will they go against the Lord Chief Justice and those two colleagues and on what grounds? Some legal eagles have declared the judgment ‘appeal proof’.

The judgment was clear and unequivocal. The royal prerogative cannot be used when domestic legislation is being changed. Only parliament can do that. It is a fundamental principle of the British constitution. Triggering Article 50 would affect domestic legislation, therefore, parliament must be consulted.

So far all the indications are that a large majority of MPs would vote in favor of operating Article 50 because they would not wish to go against the electorate. For example, 70 per cent of Labour constituencies in England and Wales voted Leave. Defying their voters would risk a swing to Ukip in their own constituencies.

On the other hand, what is critical are the terms MPs insist on, because influencing the terms and conditions of Brexit, after discovering what they are, is their real goal.

We know DUP MPs will slavishly vote for Article 50 despite somewhere like East Derry voting Remain. What will Sylvia Hermon do given her North Down constituency voted Remain? So far Arlene Foster, not the brightest spark in the dark, has simply parroted the Tory line that the judgment is ‘disappointing’.What advice/instruction will she[Foster]give her MPs, not only on voting for Brexit but what line will they take on the terms of departure and amendments to a bill triggering Article 50? Does she favor remaining in the single market to help cross-border trade or will she support May in hard Brexit despite that being profoundly damaging to the interests of people here?

We don’t know because since Theresa May hasn’t told her what to say, she doesn’t know either. What we do know is that if the Supreme Court saves the day and upholds yesterday’s judgment MPs will overwhelmingly insist on a soft Brexit which will be good for Ireland.

It will be fascinating to watch the DUP reveal its true colors as blinkered Little Englanders voting against the interests of their constituents.