Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
7 November 2016

On the Brexit court ruling, our government fuels the view that politicians act without principle

The Conservative MP and former Attorney General Dominic Grieve condemns the government’s response to the High Court judges’ Article 50 decision.

By Dominic grieve

The shameful abuse that was directed, both at the judges and the individual applicants who had been involved in the case on Article 50 in the High Court, should be a wake-up call to all in our country who believe in the Rule of Law and rational political debate.

Far from being perverse or capricious, the interpretation of our constitutional law applied by the judges to the case was reasonable and predictable. I have no criticism of the government for contesting the case and getting the law clarified or indeed appealing the decision to the Supreme Court if it wishes, but it cannot be surprised at the present outcome.

The principle enshrined in our constitution since the seventeenth century and indeed earlier, that the Royal Prerogative cannot be used by the executive to override statute law enacted by Parliament is of such a fundamental character that its disappearance here would pave the way for the possibility of executive tyranny.

Our membership of the EU is underpinned by statute law. Brexiters may dislike the fact that this ever happened, but this was sanctioned by the sovereign will of Parliament when it enacted the European Communities Act in 1972. It is for Parliament to undo it and even if the government had won the case it could not carry out its task without parliamentary support.

The strength of the anger expressed by some supporters of Brexit and whipped up by sections of the press is thus irrational save as an instrument for suppressing debate. Despite the misgivings of many MPs that Brexit will be damaging to our economic wellbeing and quality of life, very few are likely to oppose Article 50 being triggered when it is done lawfully. But Parliament is entitled to be told what the government’s negotiating intentions will, in broad terms, be before it gives its consent to an irreversible process that could see us out of the EU with no agreement at all, contrary to the government’s stated intention.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. Sign up directly at The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Sign up directly at Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

This episode illustrates the fact that the growing violence of language and paranoia that now seems to characterise so much of the discourse of supporters of Brexit has other roots. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that its prevalence is a reflection of the insecurity which is inherent when a referendum victory is in part based, to the knowledge of some of the victors, on a prospectus supported by deliberate untruths.

Content from our partners
How to empower your employees to stay cyber secure
<strong>The energy sector reform the UK needs</strong>
Why we urgently need a social care workforce plan

But equally troubling to me was the government’s response to this vitriol. Irrespective of its own view on the decision of the court, it was its positive duty to support the judiciary in its work and the right of the applicants to obtain legal redress in the Queen’s courts.

Yet one minister saw fit to criticise the applicants for bringing the claim at all, at a time when they were being subjected to death threats and the Lord Chancellor took 48 hours to issue the weakest of statements in support of judicial independence in the face of a wholly unjustified attack.

For a Conservative government that states it is rooted in traditions of respect for the Rule of Law and parliamentary democracy, this is not an acceptable position to adopt and is disappointing to many of us who give it our support. It reinforces the view that politicians act without principles and this is precisely what has already caused so much damage to the standing of our political institutions.