Liberal Democrat and some other MPs are planning to vote against the Bill to authorise the Article 50 notification if it does not provide for a referendum on the terms. I understand the sentiment but doubt that they are right to vote against the Bill. The starting point is that June provided a valid democratic mandate to plan and negotiate Brexit but could not provide a mandate for actual Brexit since there was no plan.
So the referendum provides the political (but not legal) authority for the Government to invoke Article 50. It would be anti-democratic for MPs to prevent the Government carrying out the mandate that it has.
The problem of course is that Theresa May persistently overstates her mandate. She claims that it justifies actual Brexit. How could it when Leave had no plan? No-one knew what they would get from a Leave vote.
Clearly the Liberal Democrats and dissenting Labour MPs are right to seek to amend the Bill to provide for a referendum on the terms. I hope that the Scottish Nationalist and other MPs will join them in that call for more democracy.
However even if they are unsuccessful in that attempt they should not block the Article 50 notification. The Government has a mandate for that as the EU have said they will not negotiate until Article 50 has been invoked.
Moreover, there will be another opportunity to provide for the referendum when the “Great Repeal Bill” is presented in about June 2017. If that Bill does not provide for a referendum, then MPs should vote against it. The justification for voting against that Bill is that the Government would be exceeding its mandate.
Where would we be if the Article 50 notification had gone in and Parliament refused to repeal the European Communities Act (ECA)? In a real mess. As I see it:
# unless the Article 50 notification was withdrawn, we would leave the EU;
# however, the continued existence of the ECA would mean that EU law would continue to apply (as the act applies certain treaties without asking whether we are signed up to them).
If there is a majority to block the “Great Repeal Bill” there would also be a majority to force the government to withdraw the Article 50 notification.
More widely, there would be a constitutional crisis, vote of no confidence, general election.
I hope that by the time the “Great Repeal Bill” is passing through Parliament the Labour Party and other MPs will have come round to supporting the referendum on the terms.
But Labour’s policy of not opposing the Article 50 notification is the right one. The Liberal Democrats should follow it.
By Michael Romberg
Michael runs the Facebook page: Campaign for the Real Referendum – on the Terms of Brexit