Liam Fox (Telegraph Article): Parliament has abandoned all moral claim to the role as sovereign over Brexit

Dr Liam Fox MP (Telegraph Article): Parliament has abandoned all moral claim to the role as sovereign over Brexit

Writing in today's Telegraph ( on 25th September 2019, Dr Fox wrote:

The debate in recent weeks, including today’s Supreme Court judgment, has centred around where power and authority lie in the 21st-century United Kingdom.

It is clear from the judgment that it lies in a sovereign parliament, particularly in the elected House of Commons, which represents the democratically expressed will of the British people.

That is as it should be. You do not have to be a republican to believe that there can be no powers exercised by a monarch unless specifically conferred by Parliament itself.

This important principle, however, may be the limit of where there is political consensus following the Supreme Court’s unanimous judgment.

For it does nothing to solve the essential dilemma in which we find ourselves over the current state of the Brexit debate. Essentially, we have a clash of two competing legitimacies resulting from the decision to call a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

In essence, the sovereign Parliament, whose democratic legitimacy is being celebrated today, decided that it could not or would not make a decision on membership of the European Union and that it should be contracted out to the British people in a referendum.

This was an exercise in direct democracy, licensed by Parliament and with a guarantee that Parliament would abide by the result of the vote.

Parliament voted to hold the referendum, voted to enact article 50 of the Lisbon treaty subsequent to the referendum and over 80 per cent of MPs at the 2017 election were returned with the promise, once again, to carry out the instruction given to Parliament by voters at that referendum.

That much is clear, unequivocal and unarguable. What has followed, however, has been backtracking by a substantial proportion of the elected parliament and those who have never come to terms with the result of the people’s verdict in the referendum.

In other words, those in Parliament who lost the argument on European membership with the people are now turning to the concept of representative democracy to reverse the decision.

There can be no doubt of the legal position that Parliament is able to enact any legislation it wishes and that it therefore has legal legitimacy to do so.

The question is whether, in this instance, it has the moral legitimacy to do so given that it explicitly contracted out the decision on EU membership and promised to abide by the result of the direct democratic process of the referendum which Parliament itself initiated.

There is huge interest across the democratic world in how the United Kingdom reconciles these competing elements. At stake is nothing less than faith in our democratic system itself.

Why, voters will legitimately ask, should anyone ever vote in a referendum again if the result can subsequently be overturned by a Parliament that doesn’t agree with it. Isn’t that exactly the behaviour of the European Union that the British people voted to leave.

Is that not the arrogance which led to the fragmentation of the political process in places like France when the political establishment ignored the rejection of the European constitution in their own referendum?

Those who do not understand the anger of voters over this issue need to get out of the Westminster bubble and speak to more people beyond the M25. There are things to celebrate and other things to concern us as a result of the recent proceedings.

The right of a free and sovereign people to elect their own representatives to make their laws has been upheld and the legal system of the United Kingdom including the separate English and Scottish courts under the Supreme Court has shown to be free and effective.

This is a blow for those who claim that only separatism and the breakup of the United Kingdom can achieve this. Yet it leaves unanswered the question as to whether a sovereign parliament can give away the powers of the British people without their specific assent, a question which has been at the heart of the European debate in Britain in recent decades.

If Parliament only borrows the powers from the people from one election to the other, and thereby does not own them, does it have any right to give them away to any foreign authority? There are other disturbing elements about this recent debate.

Many of those who claim to be championing democracy are in fact at the heart of a huge and well funded campaign, inside and outside Parliament, to try to reverse or block the democratic decision of the British people to leave the European Union.

In a true Orwellian twist the anti-democrats dress themselves up as a democrats.

They must be reminded that Democracy can only function when those who lose accept the result as well as those who win. If we wish to retain the public’s faith in our democratic system, that system must have moral as well as legal authority.

That means that either Parliament gets serious about implementing the result of the referendum without the party political games that have bedevilled the past three years or it decides to have a proper people’s vote and allow a general election to create a new House of Commons.

It is the moment of truth for Jeremy Corbyn. Having twice failed to support Boris Johnson’s vote for an election in the Commons, he now stands to appear both a hypocrite and a loser if he ducks the challenge again.

This is a momentous moment in our history we must not allow partisan views on the European debate to obscure our need to celebrate and bolster British democracy both in the eyes of the British people and the rest of the world.

Dr Liam Fox MP is Conservative MP for North Somerset and a former International Trade Secretary