Gale`s View – 16th November 2016
I do not subscribe to the xenophobia expressed by some of our tabloid newspapers and one broadsheet. Nevertheless it is surely perverse to say on the one hand that we must uphold, in the name of democracy, the independence of the judiciary while on the other hand seeking to deny to that other pillar of democracy, the press, the right to criticise High Court judges who are perceived to have sought to frustrate the will of those voting in a majority in a plebiscite - the June 23rd EU Referendum.
I am not a constitutional lawyer but I was present and voting in parliament when both Houses, Lords and Commons, debated and then passed the Referendum Act. The issues were thoroughly discussed, backed by a clear majority and then put to the people of the United Kingdom. A clear undertaking was given by a Government with an overall majority that the result of that Referendum, whatever it might be, would be respected.
Those now seeking to re-run the result claim that " less than forty per cent of the British people voted to leave the EU" . That is disingenuous in the extreme. There are many ballots held within the UK, particularly in local government elections, where the total turnout, for and against, is less than fifty per cent and to try to pretend that those who have exercised their right not to vote should somehow be counted as part of a "remain" majority is baying at the moon.
It is a matter of record that I cast my one vote for Britain to remain within the European Union. I did so because I believed that Britain would be commercially stronger and physically more secure within a reformed EU than going it alone. Only a lot of time will tell whether I and others like me were right or wrong but that is immaterial: the fact is that we lost the argument and a decision has been taken that now has to be implemented as swiftly and cleanly as possible on the best terms that we can achieve for our Country. That is the task that lies ahead of us and that is what the Prime Minister, with the full support of most of those of us who would have preferred a different outcome, is seeking to achieve.
I shall be surprised if the Supreme Court does not uphold in law the opinion expressed by legal colleagues in the High Court . Their Lordships need to remember, however, that it is a myth to suggest that "only parliament can overturn an Act of Parliament". I was in the House in the 1980s when that pass was sold and when the European Court of Justice ( from whose diktat we are now seeking to extricate ourselves) overruled a British law designed to prevent European fishing boats from registering as " British" in order to circumvent our native fishing rights. It would be a fine irony if we dumped the ECJ only to find that the will of parliament was being overridden by a domestic Supreme Court every bit as unelected and autonomous as that from whose clutches we have just removed ourselves.
The Courts must be respected, certainly, but they have a duty to reflect not just the letter but the spirit of the laws passed by parliament. That is why in the committee stages of legislation, over which I and other Members of the Speaker's Panel of Chairmen preside, such Ministerial pains are taken to place intent and clarification on the record for the benefit of those required, subsequently, to adjudicate any disputes.
I believe that the intent and the spirit behind the Referendum Act was crystal clear. We gave to the people of the United Kingdom the absolute right to determine whether we should remain a Member State of the European Union or whether we should leave. That Act of parliament received the Royal Assent. The people have spoken, our duty is to carry out their instructions and the Prime Minister has the right to invoke the Royal Prerogative to activate Article 50. Later, parliament will need to discuss the terms and conditions that we have negotiated and upon which we propose to leave the EU but that is for another day. Only the terminally naive would seek to tie the Government's hands and to expose our negotiating position before talks have even started.