The House of Commons, the lower house of the British Parliament, has now finally voted through the bill Theresa May’s government presented in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the British government needs parliamentary approval before it can invoke Article 50, which formally starts the process for Britain to leave the European Union.
The government’s margin of victory was a decisive 494 to 122, with all but 59 Labour MPs following the lead given by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by voting for the bill.
Though the bill will now go to the House of Lords, the size of the government’s victory in the House of Commons makes it unlikely that the government will suffer serious setbacks there. The high probability is that Theresa May will therefore be able to invoke Article 50 by the end of March, as she has said she wants to.
The government’s victory in the House of Commons has provoked a plaintive editorial in the fervidly pro-EU Guardian, which contains this interesting comment
Last month, Gina Miller stood outside the supreme court and celebrated the judges’ confirmation that parliament must sit behind the wheel in the Brexit process, not the prime minister invoking the medieval royal prerogative. A little more than two weeks later, the House of Commons has decided that Theresa May is the driver after all. Ms Miller fought long and hard, and at great personal cost, to ensure that the Commons could assert its lawful sovereignty over the Brexit process. On that morning in January she invited them to use “their invaluable experience and expertise” to set Britain’s course. But as the European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill comfortably passed its third reading in the Commons she was entitled to ask herself whether her efforts have really been worth it after all.
It is tempting to say that MPs have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. That is because in many respects they have. Faced with a bill that sets in motion the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, which is as profoundly mistaken a decision as any that the UK parliament has taken in the postwar era, MPs have essentially said that last year’s referendum is sovereign and that they are powerless to put their foot on the brake or choose a different route.
This comment suggests that the court case brought by Gina Miller and others to the High Court and the Supreme Court really was intended to block Brexit, as many all along suspected. The assumption appears to have been that because most MPs were known before the Brexit referendum to have opposed Brexit, they would vote down any bill that paved the way for Brexit if given the chance to do so.
If that really was the purpose of the case then all I can say is that Gina Miller was given the wrong advice, and the Guardian and anyone else who thought it would happen that way has lost touch with political reality. As I pointed out shortly after the referendum result was announced, since the referendum result it is politically impossible to stop Brexit
If the British government or parliament or the elite in general try to set aside or ignore the vote, they would create for themselves a major crisis of legitimacy especially in England. Whilst this being the United Kingdom we are unlikely to see riots and tanks in the streets – as some are already warning – it would create a huge sense of grievance, which would very quickly crystallise into a major political movement that in England outside London could easily sweep all before it. Once the hysteria in Westminster has died down – which it will – that fact will become obvious and politicians being in their mass the political animals that they are – intent first and foremost on their own survival – they will quickly adjust to the fact and will recognise that their only prospect for future political success is if they accept the result and guide Britain towards Brexit.
That is what I wrote on 4th July 2016, ten days after the Brexit referendum results were announced, and so it has proved.