Listen to the word of G'OD while the unholy trinity bicker. Brexit the constitutional position

29 Aug 2016 at 08:47

It is a very good idea if you are a politician to listen to GOD. I don’t mean in the Blair/Bush gift of tongues sense or the Amish Tories snake handling cult. I am talking about former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell. He gave a structured and thoughtful interview to the TIMES the other day which is both pragmatic and realistic. It’s about whether May can trigger Article 50 without recourse to Parliament. His answer was probably, but warned that it was politically unwise. Yesterday I warned that there would be a constitutional crisis if May used a prerogative order to steam roller it through. There were screams of outrage and abuse from the usual suspects. Let me explain the constitutional and political options. They are pretty bloody obvious but there are a lot of people who really want shut their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears and sing la la la.

Firstly, May is no fool. She will not make any public utterances on how to trigger article 50 until the courts have ruled. And she will not make a public decision on when it will be triggered until cabinet has agreed a position on how to interpret the referendum. And that cannot be reached until the unholy trinity (Johnson, Davis, Fox) know what they want and if they can get it. At the moment they can’t agree on the basics such as staffing. Or quite how much they dislike each other. Then there is the Treasury. It is a na├»vety to the point of drivelling say that they must be aloof from the discussions. Their duty is to protect and grow the economy which has to include financial services. The City is under serious threat from France and Germany.

The truth of the matter is that after decades of preparation the Brexiteers haven’t a clue what to do. The purists say that there is a great big red button which must be pushed NOW and all will be well. But this is blind happy clappy faith and not based on a shred of evidence. They don’t trust May and soon they will accuse Boris of going native, which he has with great aplomb. And anyway it was for GOVERNMENT to have a contingency plan. Really? When they warned that it would be a quagmire of shifting quick sands, impenetrable fog and nigh impossible to get a deal which was not damaging for the UK? In true Trumpian style they smell betrayal and establishment sell out at every word uttered from government. Their hatred of all things Brussels overrides any practical common sense. And compromise is a dirty word.

The constitutional position is easier than most people think. Parliament is sovereign. MPs are not delegates, they are representatives of their constituents. The people are only sovereign at elections. They elect their representatives to make decisions using their judgement and consciences. If the people don’t approve they hook them out. So although Parliament can ignore an advisory referendum which is not binding, but they would be unwise to do so.
So May can trigger the point of no return by prerogative order. In other words using the power of the Queen. She would have to sign it and she would be brought into a deeply unpleasant political row which could threaten the continuation of the monarchy. Of course, it is only convention that the Queen allows the government to use her prerogative powers. Technically she could refuse. But then she is brought into another political row. Best left well alone. I suspect that May will give Parlaiment a simple vote to trigger article 50. It will be government policy and heavily whipped. But will she get it though? It could be argued that this is a vote of confidence in the government. Failure could trigger an election. Tricky one.

It is impossible for Parliament to be bypassed over Brexit. They will have to vote on the abolition of the European Communities Act. They would have to vote on which Brussels regulations to bin or keep. They would have to vote on flotillas of orders, treaties and the very shape of any deal that may or may not be achieved. It is going to devour Parliamentary time for years.

GOD’s question is a good one. What if there is clear evidence that Brexit going to be an economic disaster a couple of years down the line? Should not the people have the right to have some say either in an election or a referendum? Of course. But now is not the time.

And do not underestimate the overweening vanity and ambition of Fromage. He will call the government to account. He will return. He will promise that only he can lead us into the promised land. At the moment UKIP is rudderless and pointless. The only way to breathe back life into it is to play the betrayal card. And then Tory backbenchers will do what they are best at. Panic.