UK Court Ruling on Brexit Emboldens Right-wing of the Tory Party
Parliament must be consulted before the government can trigger an exit from the European Union, and Jeremy Corbyn has come under a lot of pressure to oppose attempts to negotiate quickly, says economist John Weeks
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
The U.K. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Brexit case in which it ruled that Parliament must be consulted before the government can trigger a British exit from the European Union. Let’s listen to what the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, had to say on the matter.
LORD NEUBERGER: The issue in these proceedings have nothing to do with whether the U.K. should exit from the E.U. or the terms or timetable for that exit. The main issue is whether the government can trigger Article 50 without the prior authority of an act of Parliament. Therefore, when the U.K. withdraws from the E.U. Treaties, a source of U.K. law will be cut off. Further, certain rights enjoyed by U.K. citizens will be changed. Therefore, the government cannot trigger Article 50 without Parliament authorizing that course.
SHARMINI PERIES: So the court ruled that, in order to trigger Article 50 of the treaty on the European Union, Parliament must first pass a law granting the government the power to do so.
On to talk about this decision, from London, is economist John Weeks. He is a Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of London and is the author of “Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policies”. Thanks for joining us, John.
JOHN WEEKS: Thank you for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: So John, what does this decision in the court really mean for the Brexit?
JOHN WEEKS: Well, I think that most people anticipated this. Formally, their decision is that when the government negotiates the terms by which Britain will leave the European Union, it must put those terms for a vote of Parliament. Previously, the government of Theresa May, a Conservative Government, had said that it was not obligated to have its agreement approved by Parliament and it was not obligated to have Parliament approve its decision to begin the negotiating process.
I don’t want to go too much into the rather arcane rules of the European Union, but there’s something called Article 50 which states a government’s intention to leave the European Union. And once you say, formally, “We’re going to leave,” then you’re supposed to tidy up all the details and be out within two years. In fact, in practice, that’s not true. But most people think it is true and so Theresa May has maintained two things: “I can decide to invoke Article 50 whenever I want to. I don’t need Parliament to approve that. And I don’t need Parliament to approve the deal that I struck.” And the Supreme Court says, “No, you do need Parliament to do it.”
But the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn has said, “This ruling establishes the sovereignty of Parliament over these processes.” And it gives the people’s representatives a chance to hold the government to account. While formally Jeremy Corbyn is correct, I think what’s going on is a much more banal and baser process than that.
The reason that Theresa May did not want these issues to go before Parliament, is she is frightened of her own party. Some people may have seen me speak about Brexit immediately after the vote last June and I pointed out, as many people have, that the only reason a vote was held is that the Tory Prime Minister, then David Cameron, thought that he would win a referendum easily and that by holding the referendum he would establish his power and be able to neutralize those people in his party who were for leaving the European Union.
So he called this monumentally important vote, this referendum, he established it, let’s say, for petty party reasons, and then it is a case, as our Gilbert and Sullivan say in The Mikado, “Let the punishment fit the crime.” ‘Cause he had to resign after he lost the referendum, but unfortunately, all the rest of us that would like to stay in the European Union are also being punished.
SHARMINI PERIES: This sovereignty of the U.K., the Parliament, its courts and so on, was one of the reasons that was used or arguments that was rendered in terms of exiting from the European Union. It’s interesting now that’s being used in order to… whether it’s going to be implemented or not. Give us a sense of what this decision will trigger in terms of parliamentary debate and discussion before the law is passed.
JOHN WEEKS: I think that this discussion will strengthen those Conservative Members of Parliament who want to leave the European Union. Now, it may also strengthen the groups in the Labour Party that want to remain in the European Union. So we have a rather complicated situation. The Labour spokesperson for what position the Labour Party takes on Brexit or the European Union is a man named Keir Starmer who happens to be my MP. And he has primarily taken a very a legal approach, he is a lawyer, and pointed out how complicated it will be to leave. He supports staying in the European Union. He is hampered by the fact that the Labour leadership has not been clear on the position that they, the leadership, is taking on European Union negotiations.
So this is a long-winded story to make a very simple point. What this court case means for the Tories, the Conservatives, is quite clear. It strengthens the right-wing of the Tory party, it strengthens that portion that wants to leave the European Union.
The impact it has in the Labour Party is not clear because it is not clear what the Labour Party’s position is on leaving the European Union. At some points Jeremy Corbyn has suggested that we ought to wash our hands of it and get out as quickly as possible. But he’s come under a lot of pressure to oppose the government in the government’s attempt to negotiate a quick, and what appears to be, a rather unfavorable leaving of the European Union.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. So, John, last week, I guess not anticipating this decision, Theresa May, who by the way, is on her way to visit the newly minted President Trump here in the United States, unraveled a plan, that is the Brexit plan. What did you make of her speech?
JOHN WEEKS: I think that the most important aspect to her speech was that she said that it was her intention to negotiate an arrangement in which Britain leaves the Common Market of the European Union. Many people, many businesses have been pressing for her to end British membership in the European Union but remain a member of the Common Market. There are other countries, not as big as Britain, but there are other countries that have that arrangement. In effect, that’s what Norway has.
What the business community was pushing for was to continue with all the trading arrangements with the European Union but pull out as a member. Now, the problem with that, for Theresa May — and let me say I don’t think she’s a very deep politician and I don’t think she’s a very insightful one, and unlike Trump, I don’t think she’s terribly clever either — so I think pretty much that her confusion is what it appears is what it appears to be, it’s confusion. But one thing is clear to her that her party will split in two if she does not end free migration from Europe into Britain.
Her interpretation, and she may be right, of why people voted to leave the European Union, is that they voted to leave because they wanted to reduce immigration from the European Union. Therefore, she must leave a single market because one of the many conditions, the most important condition perhaps, of being in the single European market, is to accept freedom of movement. You can’t have membership in the single market and get rid of freedom of movement. So that is the difficult piece.
So when she made her speech there were a lot of vague things about it, but what was clear was we’re leaving the single market. That’s why, in a way, Trump threw her a lifeline — and I’m sure he did very consciously. While he is a venal person, he is not a stupid person. He realized that he could gain a strong supporter by offering a trade deal to Britain. There was Theresa May out on a limb that she was sawing off by saying she was leaving the Common Market of the European Union and Trump says, “Well, I’m happy to cut a deal with Theresa May and we’ll do it within a year.” Whether he’ll deliver on that is another question.
I also think it serves a second interest of his, namely, in his narrow nationalism, the weaker other trading competitors are, the better. And a united European Union is a stronger negotiating opponent than a European Union that began to break up. So if Trump could pick off the countries of the European Union, one at a time — France, Germany, even the big ones — he would have stronger negotiating position and I’m sure that’s what he had in mind when he held out this deal to Theresa May.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, let’s see what happens on this side of the pond. I think it’s tomorrow that she’s visiting Washington. I thank you so much for joining us today, John.
JOHN WEEKS: Well, thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right and thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.