On Brexit, Britain must get its house in order

High Court’s intervention has only added to the uncertainty; it is now time the issue was sorted out one way or the other, once and for all

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 1:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 1:31am

Amid the twists and turns of the two localist lawmakers’ oath-taking saga, in which the National People’s Congress Standing Committee is now expected to intervene with its fifth interpretation of the Basic Law in 17 years, it is easy to think it is only Hong Kong that has these constitutional crises. Three senior judges of the High Court in London have confounded that notion by throwing a spanner in the British government’s plans for leaving the European Union.

They ruled that it did not have the power to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal notification of Britain’s intentions, but must seek parliament’s approval before starting exit talks with the EU. Even though the people have spoken in favour of Brexit in a referendum, the judges said the government had no right to use historic prerogative powers to overrule the Act of Parliament that brought about Britain’s EU membership.

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They are right to uphold the constitutional position. The ruling, however, has fuelled uncertainty, at least until the Supreme Court hears an appeal by the government next month. Some Brexit supporters are worried parliament will find a way of wriggling out of the referendum result. Already Nigel Farage, interim leader of the UK Independence Party which led the Brexit campaign, has warned of public outrage if parliament used its power to block the result or call for a new referendum. Most MPs did, after all, support remaining in the EU. And many people who voted for Brexit said they didn’t expect it to happen and only intended to register a protest against the government.

If another referendum had been held quickly the result might have been different. Now, however, with people having come to terms with Brexit and its implications and begun to think about what Britain would be like outside Europe, another referendum might get the same result. This newspaper opposed Brexit, but it is now time the issue was sorted out one way or the other, once and for all. The EU understandably wants clarity. It is in no one’s interests for it to be allowed to drag on.