‘The people have spoken’. We had a referendum, the leave vote ‘won’ and the remain side ‘lost’. Democracy has been done. This is now a commonly held view when it comes to talking about the terms of Brexit and justifying a ‘hard’ Brexit. But democracy is so much more than a mark on a piece of paper once every 5 years, or in this case, once in a lifetime. We need to scrutinise the government and ensure that it carries out Brexit in the most democratic way possible.
This is not about preventing the UK from leaving the EU. We must accept the result of an open and fair referendum. However, although the UK voted 52% to leave the EU and 48% to remain, what can this tell us about people’s views on the single market, workers rights, environmental legislation, student programmes like Erasmus? The answer is very little. Now all these things are up for negotiation we need to ensure the government listens to and consults people of all ages and all walks of life. The referendum is not a mandate for anything the government wants.
The government has already signalled its intention to act unilaterally by seeking to trigger article 50 without a Parliamentary vote. The claimants of the court case, ‘The people’s challenge’, have demonstrated how we don’t have to sit back helplessly as the government acts independently. This case is not about stopping Brexit but about preventing the government from using ancient powers designed for kings and queens to make the most important decision of our generation. It’s also about allowing our representatives a chance to represent our views, the very foundation of our democracy. The people’s challenge has already defeated the government in the high court and we are now awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court. But even if we win this time, we have plenty more battles on our hands.
Another worrying prospect is the inclusion of delegated legislation powers in the Great Repeal Bill. These would allow ministers to scrap and change EU legislation transposed into UK law without consulting Parliament. This means that important rights could slip away without anyone noticing at the whim of the sitting minister. Some of these powers are necessary for practical reasons; there are thousands of minor changes, like references to EU institutions that need to be changed. But we need to be vigilant in preventing the government from stepping over the line and abusing its power.
Democracy is a process that doesn’t just stop because of single referendum. The government will be making some of the most important decisions in recent history and negotiating with some of our most precious rights. The binary question that was put to us on 23rd June could not possibly capture the breadth and nuance of views of the British Public and we should not allow the government to use it as a blank cheque. It is part of democracy that we hold them to account