Peter Black writes about a challenge to the June 2016 EU referendum, pointing out that though the legal case, based on the falsehoods used by Leave.EU and other "out" campaigners, may fail, the political verdict may well swing the other way.
I have argued for some time against imposing another referendum, as called for by Tim Farron, on the basis that we live in a representative democracy and that if the majority view in the Commons (reportedly three-quarters in favour of remaining in the EU) is at odds with a referendum, then the next step should be a test of parliament in a general election. Mrs May, with her proposal to go ahead with revocation of Article 50 without so much as an affirmative resolution in the House, appears to believe in that pro-EU majority. Personally I am not so sure, judging by the number of Labour MPs queuing up to say how much they respect the outcome of the referendum, but Mrs May, if the Supreme Court's judgment confirms that of the High Court, might not wish to take any chances and herself contrive a dissolution of parliament.
If there is a genuine groundswell from the electorate in favour of another referendum, that would be another matter. Prices are bound to go up during the winter, because of the fall of sterling against the dollar. We are not out of the EU, have not even started negotiations to leave, but we are in a "phoney war" period in which the international markets have taken a preliminary view of our finances post-Brexit. Sterling's recent blip, buoyed by a combination of the prospect of a Trump presidency, a calming statement by the governor of the Bank of England and the High Court decision, took it only marginally about $1.25, still ten per cent down on last year. So there may be enough people as winter draws on feeling cheated by the Leave prospectus, faced with increased gas, electricity and petrol bills, and no sign of the promised increase in the overall NHS budget, who will make their demands for another EU referendum.
Note that it would be a third referendum, not a second as minister David Davis said in his Commons statement on Monday:
There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union and it is the duty of the Government to make sure that we do just that.
In questions on that same statement, Dr Julian Lewis said:
If the result had gone the other way, leavers like me would have unequivocally accepted it
I beg to differ. History shows that people who felt his way did not accept the verdict of the first EU referendum in 1975. Why should people like me who feel that both the Union and the UK are stronger for our presence within it cease to make the case, or censor ourselves when evidence against the Leave prospectus mounts up? Both sides should resign themselves to a re-examination of our place in Europe at least once in every generation.
Throughout his statement Mr Davis emphasised that this government is responsible for putting in motion the machinery for leaving the Union. At the outset, he said:
A referendum has no legal force in the UK. Constitutionally, referendums can only advise. It was a Conservative government decision to act on a narrow majority verdict. It follows that, because no government can bind its successors, a change of this government can change its EU policy.