It is being said that the government can trigger Brexit under article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, merely by sending a note to Brussels. This is wrong. Article 50 says: “Any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.” The UK’s most fundamental constitutional requirement is that there must first be the approval of its parliament.
Britain, absurdly, is the only significant country (other than Saudi Arabia) without a written constitution. We have what are termed “constitutional conventions”, along with a lot of history and traditions. Nothing in these precedents allots any place to the results of referendums or requires our sovereign parliament to take a blind bit of notice of them.
It was parliament that voted to enter the European Economic Community in 1972, and only three years later was a referendum held to settle the split in Harold Wilson’s Labour party over the value of membership. Had a narrow majority of the public voted out in 1975, Wilson would still have had to persuade parliament to vote accordingly – and it is far from certain that he would have succeeded.
Our democracy does not allow, much less require, decision-making by referendum. That role belongs to the representatives of the people and not to the people themselves. Democracy has never meant the tyranny of the simple majority, much less the tyranny of the mob (otherwise, we might still have capital punishment). Democracy entails an elected government, subject to certain checks and balances such as the common law and the courts, and an executive ultimately responsible to parliament, whose members are entitled to vote according to conscience and common sense.
I commend this paper to you - Your Will Be Done - a treatise on your role in your democracy.
Reader Newbposter dropped me a copy and has referred to this little book in several comments on this website. It's a brilliant reminder of why we invented our parliaments and what they were established to do. Compare and contrast that with the grotesque monsters our governments have morphed into.
I will post more on "Your Will Be Done" - it really does deserve our attention.
*Thanks to reader Steve for correcting my unreliable memory of George Orwell's first name.