Well. That happened.
Obviously, while everyone is falling over themselves to say this is not an attempt to block the UK leaving the EU (not least the lawyers themselves) the entire point of the court case was to ensure that Parliamentary approval must be achieved before the Article 50 process begins – therefore, if Parliament withholds said approval, then Article 50 cannot be triggered:
Parliament specifically legislated to hold an advisory, non-binding referendum, so it is now important that the government puts its plans before parliament so that MPs can scrutinise these plans before the decision on triggering article 50 and beginning the Brexit process.
– David Lammy, MP for Tottenham
In theory, this means Parliament can choose to delay or postpone the process indefinitely… though in doing so, it will provoke outrage among the Leave-voting populace. With local elections coming up next year, anything which could be seen as obstructive to a Leave vote would bolster anti-EU parties, and put the UK Government’s majority in serious jeopardy for the next General Election.
This, among other things, is why I don’t think this court ruling will stop the UK leaving the EU. As a Scottish Nationalist, I don’t believe in Parliamentary Sovereignty – but until Scotland is independent, we’re stuck with it. I, thus, don’t like the implications of a lot of the chatter going about, of the UK Parliament’s Sovereignty being some sort of tempering agent to the “tyranny” of populism.
Luckily, we Scots don’t have to worry about that when it comes to (most of) our MPs.
We can almost certainly expect the SNP to vote against any Article 50 motion, because they have voted against the EU referendum at every turn.
They voted against every reading since the 2015 General Election:
European Union Referendum Bill — Decline Second Reading
59 for, 339 against
For: 54(+2) SNP, 3 Plaid, 2 SDLP
Against: 322(+2) Conservative, 6 DUP, 4 Lib Dem, 3 Labour, 2 UUP, 1 Independent, 1 UKIP
European Union Referendum Bill — Second Reading
544 for, 53 against
For: 320(+2) Conservative, 206 Labour, 7 Lib Dem, 6 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Green, 1 Independent, 1 UKIP
Against: 53(+2) SNP
European Union Referendum Bill — Third Reading
316 for, 53 against
For: 285(+2) Conservative, 20 Labour, 7 DUP, 1 Green, 1 Independent, 2 UUP
Against: 52(+2) SNP, 1 Labour
They voted for a requirement for a White Paper detailing the terms of negotiations and consequences for the United Kingdom in the event it left the EU at least ten weeks before the referendum:
European Union Referendum Bill — Clause 1 — Publication of Renegotiation Terms and Consequences of Leaving EU
237 for, 308 against
For: 166(+2) Labour, 55 SNP, 8 DUP, 3 Plaid, 3 SDLP, 1 Green, 1 Independent
Against: 306(+2) Conservative, 2 UUP
They voted against denying 16 and 17-year-olds the opportunity to vote, as recommended by the House of Lords and as is common practise in Scottish elections and referendums:
European Union Referendum Bill — Clause 2 — Entitlement to Vote in the Referendum
265 for, 310 against
For: 198(+2) Labour, 55 SNP, 3 Plaid, 2 Lib Dem, 2 SDLP, 1 Conservative, 1 UUP
Against: 305(+2) Conservative, 3 DUP, 1 UKIP
European Union Referendum Bill — Allowing Those Aged 16 and 17 to Vote in the Referendum
249 for, 319 against
For: 181(+2) Labour, 55 SNP, 3 Lib Dem, 3 Plaid, 3 SDLP, 2 Conservative, 1 Green, 1 Independent
Against: 310(+2) Conservative, 7 DUP, 2 UUP
European Union Referendum Bill — Clause 2 — Entitlement to Vote in the Referendum — Those Aged Sixteen and Seventeen
303 for, 253 against
For: 297(+2) Conservative, 4 DUP, 1 Lab, 1 UKIP
Against: 187(+2) Labour, 48 SNP, 6 Lib Dem, 2 Plaid, 2 SDLP, 2 UUP, 1 Green, 1 Independent
They voted against denying EU citizens resident in the UK the opportunity to vote:
European Union Referendum Bill — Clause 2 — Entitlement of EU Citizens to Vote in Referendum on the UK’s Membership of the EU
67 for, 509 against
For: 53(+2) SNP, 6 Labour, 3 Plaid, 2 Lib Dem, 2 SDLP, 1 Green
Against: 310(+2) Conservative, 192 Labour, 5 DUP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
Both: 4 Labour
European Union Referendum Bill — Referendum Vote for EU Nationals Resident in the UK
64 for, 494 against
For: 53(+2) SNP, 3 Lib Dem, 3 Plaid, 3 SDLP, 1 Green, 1 Labour
Against: 310(+2) Conservative, 173 Labour, 8 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Independent
They voted against letting the UK government make amendments to the purdah campaign period (one of the opposition parties’ rare successes):
European Union Referendum Bill — Government Influence in Referendum Campaign
285 for, 312 against
For: 277(+1) Conservative, 5 Lib Dem, 2 UUP
Against: 205(+2) Labour, 37 Conservative, 8 DUP, 54 SNP, 3 Plaid, 3 SDLP, 1 Green, 1 UKIP
They voted against holding the referendum at or around the same time as the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and English Local elections:
European Union Referendum Bill — Clause 4 — Holding Referendum on UK Remaining A Member of the EU on Same Day as Other Polls
267 for, 308 against
For: 203(+2) Labour, 55 SNP, 3 Plaid, 2 Lib Dem, 2 SDLP, 1 Conservative, 1 UKIP
Against: 307(+2) Conservative, 1 UUP
European Union Referendum Bill — Clause 1 — Separation of Referendum on the UK’s Membership of the EU from Other Elections
60 for, 308 against
For: 53(+2) SNP, 3 Plaid, 3 SDLP, 1 Green
Against: 310(+2) Conservative, 9 Labour, 8 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Independent
Both: 4 Labour
Opposition Day – EU Referendum Bill
70 for, 286 against
For: 48 SNP, 5(+2) DUP, 5 Labour, 3 Conservative, 3 Plaid Cymru, 1 Lib Dem, 1 SDLP, 2 UUP
Against: 285(+2) Conservative, 1 Independent
Referendum on the UK’s Membership of the European Union — Dates
471 for, 55 against
For: 283(+2) Conservative, 181 Labour, 6 Lib Dem, 1 UKIP
Against: 47(+2) SNP, 2 Labour, 2 Independent, 1 DUP, 1 Plaid Cymru, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP
Both: 4 Labour
They even voted against a timetable for the EU referendum motions:
European Union Referendum Bill — Programme
517 for, 59 against
For: 300(+1) Conservative, 204 Labour, 6 DUP, 4 Lib Dem, 2 UUP
Against: 49(+2) SNP, 3 Labour, 3 Plaid, 3 SDLP, 1 Green
At no point have the SNP ever voted in a way that gave any sort of consent or validation of the European Union Referendum as it was delivered. The Scottish Government have repeatedly insisted that the UK Government treat Scotland as equal partners, and since this is the first referendum in the UK’s history where there is not a four nation consensus, it is indefensible for two Remain-voting nations to be denied their democratic choice. Given that not only a majority of Scots voted to Remain in the EU, but that every single local authority in Scotland voted to Remain – all but two above 55%, and thus a greater and more complete margin than the official result of the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, Mr Darling – it is entirely appropriate that the SNP continue in this fashion in any future motions.
The SNP have it easy, then: there is absolutely no reason for them to ratify this gerrymandered mess of a referendum. The other Scottish MPs might be in a more difficult position, but that’s their problem: Mundell can do what his bosses tell him, Murray can abstain, and Carmichael can join his party’s charge for a second EU referendum (but not a second Scottish Independence referendum, because that would be silly, right?)
The MPs of Northern Ireland, Wales, and England, though? They have the greatest challenge of their parliamentary lives.
We don’t need to cover old ground in regards to the deficit between First Past the Post and vote representation: the current UK government has a majority of seats despite winning barely over a third of the popular vote. The result of the EU referendum across all the UK & Gibraltar was 51.9% – but if we did the referendum the way the UK does elections (i.e. votes by counting area rather than individual votes) then the 270 Leave constituencies would take 67.6% of the “macrovote” compared to the 129 Remain voting ones.
This is, of course, complicated, when translated to UK Parliament constituencies: there are 650 of those, not 398 (plus Gibraltar). When one considers the position of MPs prior to the referendum, one can see why people are worried about a conflict of interest:
About 480 MPs supported Remain, and only 159 voted Leave: 11 were undecided, or did not disclose their voting intention. Following the referendum, the majority of UK Government MPs are committed to respecting the result of their referendum – which, again, they chose, they defined, and they organised. They have absolutely no excuse to go back on this, especially after they ignored attempts to extend the franchise, lengthen the campaign period, ensure cross-nation consensus, and use the opportunity to produce a White Paper in the event of a Leave vote – all of which could well have changed the result significantly. As such, it’s likely that the majority of those MPs will vote for Article 50.
However, there are a significant number of MPs across all parties who disagree, to the point where they may very well want to use this as a method to halt the UK leaving altogether – even if they have voted for the EU bill, and thus, are bound to respect the result. This means there are going to be hundreds of constituencies whose population and MPs are at odds:
The challenge to EU-supporting MPs in leave-voting constituencies of England & Wales is this:
- do you stick to your principles and vote against Article 50 on the grounds that you believe it is better to do so for your constituents, even if it means voting against the expressed democratic will of your constituents – an act which will surely result in your de-selection from the party or the wrath of your constituents at the next election;
- or do you acknowledge the expressed democratic will of the people you were elected to represent, even if you believe it to be utterly ruinous and against those same peoples’ interests?
Some Remain MPs will vote for Article 50 because of the UK-wide vote, even if their own constituency voted Remain. Others will vote for naked self-interest, fearful that they could lose their job in defying the people.
As Nomura says:
More importantly we would point out that for (the Other Party) they have a much larger leave result than remain too so whilst they may try to soften the negotiating stance of the government in parliament via any vote it is hard to see that they don’t eventually vote it through (no matter how vague the aims of negotiation are).
So whilst there will undoubtedly be a lot of political noise within the chamber, whether a vote on Article 50 is triggered in parliament or not should not materially change the end game, the UK is heading towards a Hard Brexit.
I absolutely concur with the SNP’s decision to vote against anything that ignores the clear mandate of the Scottish People, which was so sacred and demanding of respect in 2014, yet in 2016 is reduced to a mere supplement of the mandate of the English People. For the MPs of England and Wales, I don’t know what the answer is. Instinctively, I feel that it is their democratic duty to take the second choice, even if it breaks their hearts – as a supporter of Scottish Independence, believe me, I know what it feels like when you have to abide by a popular decision you feel to be wrong.
The people of England & Wales voted to leave the EU. Even if I disagree with their decision, and even if I think the franchise was fixed to prevent those most affected by the vote from taking part, I feel it is also wrong to challenge such a profound expression of popular feeling without at least rectifying it with a second, more inclusive referendum. That’s why I support Scottish Independence, after all: it extends to the will of other nations, too. If England & Wales are having second thoughts, then it is up to them to elect parties on an EUref2 ticket, not to expect their elected representatives to make their decisions for them.
We’ll know soon enough what happens when Popular Sovereignty and Parliamentary Sovereignty meet.