I can add nothing to what A. C. Grayling has written so trenchantly on this subject. (To dwell on it too much provokes the same reaction as inadvertently catching sight of the Daily Liar – sorry – Mail: it makes me feel sick.) See also The New European, in which A. C. Grayling also writes and which I warmly support.
There is sometimes a silver lining to the darkest of clouds, and a case in point in connection with Donald Trump’s election victory might well be the injection of a virus into that sometimes useful but now out-of-control mode of diplomacy, summitry. Unless deluded or required to do so by fear, what decent leader would want to spend any time in his company? In particular, female world leaders, of which 22 were listed here last year, would be bound to shudder at the prospect. Certainly, they could not risk an encounter with Mr Trump of the kind employed in the early 1960s by British prime minister Harold Macmillan and French president Charles de Gaulle – a ‘walk in the woods’. Politely avoiding summitry with the United States, they might realise that they can cut back on it in other relationships as well; in fact, that would be useful for their relations with Washington, because they could say: ‘It’s not just you we’re avoiding, Mr Trump.’ And the idea might catch on elsewhere! Thank you, Donald. Thank you, thank you.
The right-wing press in the UK, led by the Daily Mail – the newspaper that supported the Nazis in the early 1930s – is foaming at the mouth. Like the evil fictional character Dr Fu Manchu, the beer-swilling populist Nigel Farage warned that the world would hear from him again – and it has. The usual sophistry of swivel-eyed Tory members of parliament like John Redwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg has gone into high gear (the less said about Ian Duncan Smith the better). All of this means that Gina Miller, who stimulated the London High Court ruling that the executive branch of the British government cannot formally start BREXIT without Parliament’s explicit approval, must have got it right. Well done, Gina! Britain is not a ‘democracy’, mindlessly acting on the so-called ‘will of the people’ (aka the ‘will of the people with the resources to manipulate public opinion’) as expressed in slender simple majorities on matters of the gravest importance. Rather, like other mature democracies, it is a ‘liberal-democracy’; that is, a polity with a constitution that guards against the ‘tyranny of the majority’ and also wisely gives greater weight to the opinions of the … er … wise. Now, as Polly Toynbee says, it’s time for the custodians of Britain’s representative (not direct) democracy to stand up and be counted. If they remain confused on the point, let them re-read Burke’s famous address to the electors of Bristol in 1774.
There have been many media assessments of the significance of the appointment of Mr B. Johnson as Britain’s new foreign secretary but this, I believe, is the best. In the coming weeks I shall be re-thinking a few parts of the chapter on foreign ministries in my textbook.
The distinguished Cambridge international and constitutional lawyer, Philip Allott, has here added his authority to the growing pressure on the British government and Parliament to feel less cornered by the Brexit vote. Reminding his readers that the exercise of legal powers by all public authorities has limits because they affect the legal situation of anyone to whom they apply, and that the rule of law is a fundamental principle of a liberal-democracy, he argues that a government decision to leave the EU could well be judged illegal and any attempt to activate this by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty therefore invalid. This is because ‘UK withdrawal from the EU would affect the legal situation of every person in the UK, and the legal situation of many other people elsewhere.’ And these consequences – for many highly damaging, he implies – would follow a decision based on (1) a referendum designed not to promote the public interest but only ‘the particular interest of a political party’ (a reference to David Cameron’s desire chiefly to use it to resolve the long and bitter division in the Tory Party over Europe); and on (2) only ‘a bare majority’ of those taking part in it, despite the vast importance of the issue at stake – hence a decision that was ‘arbitrary and unreasonable and disproportionate, in the legal sense of those words.’ The last point is reinforced by the denial of a vote in the referendum both to the millions of Britons living abroad for more than 15 years and to foreign nationals permanently resident in the UK, some for decades. (One of the best liked and community-minded members of my own neighbourhood is the Danish widow of an Englishman who was unable to vote in the referendum because for personal reasons she had not taken out British citizenship, and yet has been permanently resident in the UK for 55 years.) The possibility of a successful judicial review of the Brexit decision is another reason for the EU to ease its pressure on the British government quickly to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Hurray for Professor Allott, I say.
For other legal views, see BBC News, ‘Can the Law stop Brexit?’ 30 June 2016