Parliament, Article 50, and the Leave Paradox

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4th July 2016

The news that there may be a legal case about whether any Article 50(1) decision has to be by Act of Parliament perhaps creates a paradox for the Leave side.

The paradox can be characterised as follows:

Leave Supporter: “We want our own Parliament to be sovereign on matters to do with the EU!”

Response: “Like on whether to Leave then?”

Leave Supporter: “No.”

Those who campaigned Leave so as to uphold Parliamentary Sovereignty are now unhappy at prospect of Parliament being sovereign about whether to Leave.

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17 thoughts on “Parliament, Article 50, and the Leave Paradox”

  1. There is no such paradox. Parliament is still sovereign and can take the decision not to act upon the result of the referendum. However, Parliament is still answerable to the electorate and the representatives would have to deal with any consequences at the ballot box.

    The point that seems to be missed here is the point that Parliament does not exercise sovereignty on its own behalf, but on behalf of the electorate.

    1. Concur. There is no paradox – i.e. no mutual exclusivity between the democratic obligation of a government to enact the electorate’s instruction arising from a legal referendum and the sovereignty of Parliament for other matters. Of course, the specifics of the actual brexit process and end-state warrant consideration by Parliament, and potentially a GE to obtain the appropriate mandate.

  2. This is setting up a false contradiction. The leavers can consistently state that there is a hierarchy of democracy whereby a public referendum should be enacted by the government; all non-referendum decisions should be decided by parliament; EU shouldn’t be involved at all. There is no contradiction in that.

    1. Yes for binding referendums, but for non binding?

      Otherwise, can you explain to me the difference between a binding and a non binding referendum?

      1. A binding referendum is one that they win, a non-binding referendum is one that they lose, according to Farage a couple of days before the vote.

  3. A stupid hindsight question:
    What would be the result had the voting been 41% leave 39% remain 20% deliberately spoiled?

  4. I’ve already had my MP say he will not accept the sovereign right of Parliament to decide on whether the referendum result should be accepted or not.

    1. …I’ve already had my MP say he will not accept the sovereign right of Parliament …

      As your representative he can say anything he likes, including proposing to abandon all laws and replacing Parliament with a basket of fruit, if he wants. And as a voter, you have the right to remove him if you don’t think his views represent your own…

  5. This is, writ large, one of my previous major queries with regards to that particular aspect of ‘Leave’ campaign rhetoric.

    “I want to give more power to our elected British government to make decisions, not those bureaucrats in Brussels!”
    “But our elected British government is largely advocating for us to stay in Europe…?”
    “Power to make decisions except for ones I disagree with!”

    Further, in my anecdotal observation, a great number of the people who claimed they wanted to reserve more power for our government were people who have never, to my knowledge, expressed approval of any of the decisions our government has made!

    1. How about “I want to force our elected British government to make decisions, not simply defer to those bureaucrats in Brussels!”

      Then, when we do not approve of decisions our government makes, we can simply vote them out. Which we can’t do with Brussels…

  6. No contradiction, it is the will of the people that is sovereign, not Parliament.

    Parliament may be the standard instrument by which this exercised, however we have the direct expression of the popular will in the referendum.

    As an aside if accepting the argument that it is not “enough” people accepting the change as % of population for acceptance of a constitutional change, then (by referenda) the European Comunities Act 1974, and Welsh devolution are invalid. If by General Election, then the same criteria would invalidate Maastricht, and Lisbon also.

  7. I thought that it was the will of the people that was sovereign, as expressed in Parliament.

    And I thought that Parliament had decided that the will of the people on this specific issue should be determined by means of a referendum.

    So it logically follows that Parliament has decided that we should leave the EU. They may reverse this decision of course, or refuse to implement it – these are issues of practical politics. But in terms of deciding, Parliament decided to decide by having a referendum.

    That seems to be Parliament making a sovereign decision to me.

  8. Supreme political authority in the UK rests with Parliament. Regarding the referendum, its result does not definitively represent the will of the people because: (i) not everyone voted, (ii) not everyone was allowed to vote and, (iii) not everyone who will be affected had the capacity to vote. In deciding on how to proceed, members of Parliament will take into account the interests of all those who did not vote as well as interests of those who did. They will also take into account the interests of future generations.

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