Thursday, November 03, 2016

History of brexit and referenda

I mostly think Brexit and Europe are problems for Britain, and the British can do as they please as far as I'm concerned.  But today's decision by a British court (subject to appeal, for sure) that Britain cannot trigger Article 50 and annul its treaty commitment to Europe without parliamentary sanction seems to me a sound lesson for all parliamentary democracies.

It is too bad, perhaps, that it took a court ruling, instead of a declaration by a majority of parliamentarians to establish parliamentary sovereignty, but simply having it established once again is surely a good thing.  There is sometimes a strain of parliamentary authoritarianism that holds that a prime minister can do anything after securing an electoral majority, and that prerogative powers cover virtually all their actions (see here, eg). But in the end confidence must be tested and confirmed whenever it is the will of the House to do so.

It's another lesson, I hope, in the folly of referendums. Perhaps a parliamentary reassertion of control over Britain's treaty relations with Europe  will help reestablish the principle, here as there, that there are almost no circumstances in which a referendum is the right process to adopt, as a practical matter (they don't reveal the popular will effectively) and as one of principle (we have representative institutions, not plebiscitary ones).
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