Saturday, 5 November 2016

One Law in Belfast, Another in Westminster?

In the aftermath of Thursday's High Court decision, that the Government had not made a water-tight case for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without a Parliamentary debate, I'd like to ask a question.

How come the Government failed so dismally in London, in spite of the efforts of Attorney General Jeremy Wright, when a similar attempt to scupper the Brexit process in Belfast was thrown out by a High Court judge?

The challenge was made by politicians from Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party and the Green Party. They said the UK government could not trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. The Brexit decision should be examined and voted on by parliament or, failing that, by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Central to their argument was that the peace process in Northern Ireland would be put at risk by pulling out of the European Union. In the June referendum a majority of voters in Northern Ireland had voted to remain in the EU.

According the BBC in Belfast, the judge ruled that prerogative power could still be used, arguing that triggering Article 50 is merely the start of a legislative process in which acts of parliament will be necessary. "While the wind of change may be about to blow, the precise direction in which it will blows cannot be determined," he said.

Unlike his three counterparts in the High Court in London, he concluded that discussing the use of prerogative power to enact the EU referendum result was not suitable for judicial review  It had also been argued that the Good Friday Agreement gave the power of sovereignty to the people of Northern Ireland and that the Westminster government could not therefore make the region leave the EU.

But the judge rejected that argument as well, saying he could not see anything in the agreement or the relevant legislation that confirmed that view.

It's a strange equation to contemplate. England voted in favour of Brexit but can't have it unless Parliament says so whereas Northern Ireland, which voted against Brexit, can irrespective of both the Westminster Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.  

You may say that a bear of astonishingly little brain, such as I, should not paddle in the deep and treacherous waters of constitutional and legal matters, especially where differences between Belfast and Westminster are concerned. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that none of the media reports, indeed none of the bloggers I have read since Thursday, have seen any merit in taking up this dichotomy.

Is that strange too, or merely an oversight by commentators and pundits? Some are busy exonerating themselves for not anticipating the High Court reversal; others are saying the decision is in reality good news for Brexit because British sovereignty has been endorsed. Only Peter Hitchens appears to be saying that both sides are talking bollocks.

The judicial review was without doubt an attempt to block the process of Brexit by putting the referendum result ino the hands of the Parliament. Everyone knows that in both the House of Commons Commons and the House of Lords there is a majority against Britain leaving the EU. That's why the three High Court judges' decision delighted the Remainers and outraged some of the Brexiteers.

Parliament is paramount for democracy, we are told. Is it? Wasn't this the same institution that voted for the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, on the dubious evidence of a flawed intelligence report? Wasn't this the same hallowed institution many of whose members were caught fleecing British tax-payers six or seven years ago? Isn't this the same institution thought to be implicated in covering up or hindering investigations into a paedophile ring of the geat but not so good?

Oliver Cromwell was so disgusted by the carry-on in the House of Commons after the Civil War that  on April 20, 1653, he led an armed force into the Commons Chamber (as Charles I had done in January 1642) and forcibly dissolved the Rump, declaring: " You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... In the name of God, go!" 

Who hasn't felt like that in the past few years?  It was Parliament where the vote in favour of the 1972 European Communities Act was gerrymandered by the the major party whips. Why would any self-respecting sceptic believe that this institution, which so readily gave away British sovereignty to Brussels, is the best place to protect and defend it now?

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