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