From the New York Sun
By STEPHEN MacLEAN
Americans tired of presidential end runs around Congress will sympathize with the Supreme Court ruling out of London that Her Majesty’s Government cannot act alone but must pass legislation in Parliament before triggering Brexit negotiations to leave the European Union.
Following this summer’s referendum vote, Prime Minister May promised to initiate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin procedural talks for EU withdrawal. Opponents challenged the government before the High Court in early November, arguing that the executive, by acting unilaterally, was usurping parliamentary sovereignty.
The Government countered that, through executive power based on the royal prerogative and buttressed by the majority vote, its Brexit plans were constitutional. The High Court thought otherwise and ruled against the Government, which in turn appealed to the Supreme Court.
Complications ensued when the constituents countries of the United Kingdom joined in the mid-December hearings, contending that Whitehall diktat threatened the equal prerogatives of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which should have the right to consult on and veto future Brexit developments.
The Supreme Court ruling today swept their objections aside but insisted that “an Act of Parliament is required to authorise ministers to give notice of the decision of the UK to withdraw from the European Union”; that “relations with the EU and other foreign affairs matters are reserved to UK Government and Parliament, not to the devolved institutions” in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland; and that they lack “a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU.”
Brexit minister David Davis appeared before the House of Commons to announce the Government’s acceptance of the Supreme Court’s decision and its intention to introduce legislation immediately to begin the formal exit process. “We will once again be a full independent, sovereign country, free to make our own decisions,” he assures.
British patriots weaned on English constitutionalist A.V. Dicey may silently applaud these court decisions. A former Conservative attorney general, Dominic Grieve, said in a statement to the BBC: “All referendums are advisory unless Parliament puts particular provisions in so that the referendum result kicks in without any further work of Parliament.” The idea is that the government has to formalize the will of the people. None dare call it republican.
Critics will claim the Tory ministry scored an “own goal” against self-interest: its lack of foresight about Parliament’s role in a successful Brexit vote — and it shouldn’t be forgotten Prime Minister Cameron expected a pro forma referendum in favor of remaining within the EU — gives opponents time and opportunity to frustrate the Government timetable, by demanding a ministerial white paper outlining negotiation strategy and attempting other parliamentary obfuscatory tactics.
Meanwhile, the Brexit minister dismisses debating white paper details in open view of European bureaucrats, suggesting that success depends on British discretion in dealing with Brussels. Plus, he affirms, Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech gives sufficient insight at this early stage into the Government’s agenda.
Proponents of traditional English freedom will also be disappointed with the Government’s silence on individual liberties, such as were invoked by President Trump, who in his inaugural address promised “we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.”
“What truly matters is not which party controls our government,” Mr. Trump declared, “but whether our government is controlled by the people.” Returning powers to Westminster or the assemblies from continental Europe will not satisfy advocates of limited government and personal responsibility.
Nevertheless, there is little fear that Brexiteers will waver on EU secession, regardless of the obstacles MPs and special interests strew in their path. “There can be no going back,” Mr. Davis avows to Parliament. “The point of no return was passed on June 23 last year.”
Stephen MacLean maintains the weblog of the Disraeli-Macdonald Institute.