On 3 November 2016, a chill came over the millions of UK citizens who had voted to leave the EU in June’s referendum. Having believed that the decision to leave was theirs to make, it felt as though the forces of the establishment were mobilising to deny them what they had voted for. Three judges in the High Court had just handed down a ruling that stopped the Government implementing the referendum result without an Act of Parliament.
The referendum was barely mentioned in the judgment.
Watching Gina Miller touring the TV studios in the aftermath of her victory only compounded the sense of powerlessness felt by millions who had dared to dream that their votes might actually count for something.
Whatever the protestations of Miller and the other claimants who brought it, for many, it was impossible not to view their legal challenge on the Article 50 issue as anything but a cynical attempt to frustrate the result of the referendum. By giving the decision back to Parliament, with its massive pro-EU majority, it seemed that the Court had set up a formidable roadblock to escaping the EU. Worse, the Government itself had only a slim majority in the Commons. So if only a few of its own MPs rebelled, the risk was that the referendum result would be overturned.
When the case came to be heard in the Supreme Court in December, observing the obvious hostility of many of the judges to the Government’s arguments, it was little surprise that by a large majority, come judgment day in January, they upheld the earlier High Court ruling and dismissed the Government’s appeal.
So began the second battle for Brexit.
Remoaners outfoxed in Parliament
As it turned out, the Leavers need not have worried. Showing a dexterity and guile so lacking in the previous administration, Theresa May and her lieutenants skilfully evaded their enemies in Parliament. They comprehensively outmanoeuvred the anti-Brexit forces at every turn. The Bill to trigger Article 50 was tightly drafted and all attempts to amend it, in both the Commons and in the Lords were ultimately defeated.
Today’s votes in the Commons and Lords marked the successful conclusion of the second battle for Brexit. The hopes of the Remoaners that the Gina Miller case would lead to Brexit being blocked or watered down by Parliament have been dashed.
At some point over the next few weeks, notice will be delivered under Article 50 and the UK can finally start the long overdue process of extricating itself from the tentacles of the EU and into a brighter, more democratic future.
The right stuff?
Whether our political leaders are up to the job of steering the country to a successful Brexit remains open to question. Yesterday’s contradictory statements on television by Boris Johnson and Liam Fox about the consequences of a “no deal” exit do not exactly inspire confidence. The ridiculous manouverings of the SNP are another unwelcome distraction.
It is to be hoped that Theresa May and Co are up to the task ahead. We shall be watching.