1,000+ Lawyers Tell Parliament that UK Cannot Leave EU Without MPs’ Consent

11.7.16

Leaders not liars: a poster on the March for Europe in London on July 2, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).“Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it,” said Theresa May, as she became the leader of the Conservative Party and the next Prime Minister, following Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the Tory leadership contest.

This is bad news for those of us who fear Theresa May’s authoritarianism, and, I must say, what seems to be her Islamophobia, but for now I want to focus not on her beliefs in detail but on her Brexit statement, as the fallout from the EU referendum 18 days ago is still the most important story in the UK, despite the mainstream media’s constant efforts not to acknowledge it as such.

May’s repeated message about Brexit is at odds with a letter delivered on Saturday to the outgoing Prime Minster David Cameron, the architect of our Brexit fiasco — just the day before he was booed at Wimbledon — signed by 1,054 lawyers, who point out that the EU referendum result is not legally binding, because it was only advisory. As they state, “The referendum did not set a threshold necessary to leave the EU, commonly adopted in polls of national importance, e.g. 60% of those voting or 40% of the electorate.”

They also point out that, “in order to trigger Article 50 [of the Lisbon Treaty, which formally starts the Brexit process], there must first be primary legislation,” adding that it is “of the utmost importance that the legislative process is informed by an objective understanding as to the benefits, costs and risks of triggering Article 50.”

Will Theresa May succeed in her ambition to be Prime Minister until 2020 without a General Election? Personally, I can’t see how that’s possible, because of “evidence that the referendum result was influenced by misrepresentations of fact and promises that could not be delivered, and also because the narrowness of the victory means that “it cannot be discounted that the misrepresentations and promises were a decisive or contributory factor in the result.”

To deal with this, the lawyers propose that “the Government establishes, as a matter of urgency, a Royal Commission or an equivalent independent body to receive evidence and report, within a short, fixed timescale, on the benefits, costs and risks of triggering Article 50 to the UK as a whole, and to all of its constituent populations.”

This seems eminently sensible to me, and I remain extremely interested in all efforts to urge MPs of all parties to demand to be involved in discussions about the potentially catastrophic damage that will be caused by our departure from the EU, and to vote accordingly.

The economic outlook for the UK has improved with the news of May’s appointment, as is to be expected, but it should not be presumed that this will be a long-term improvement, as Paul Mason has made clear in his latest column for the Guardian, “The prospect of Brexit Britain turning into a post-global disaster zone is real.” As he explains, “Theresa May’s conveniently short walk to Downing Street is designed to combat the impression that nobody is in control. But without a major change in policy, we are still rudderless on a churning financial sea.”

Mason’s article continued:

Consider the mechanics of British trade. We’ve been running a current account deficit of 7% – a historic high. That’s because we import more than we export, not just when it comes to goods but to services. For every pound spent in the UK on goods and services, 7p worth of foreign money has to arrive to make up the shortfall.

A falling pound should, under normal conditions, stimulate the flow of foreign money into Britain, because the stuff we sell is cheaper. But these are not normal times.

In order to stave off a post-Brexit recession, it’s likely that the Bank of England will have to cut interest rates to zero. Ever since 2008, the Bank has been keeping this move in reserve in case all else fails, like an ageing centre-forward thrown on in the last five minutes of extra time.But the impact of zero interest rates is to make investing in Britain less attractive. And if the big fat zero does not work, and Mark Carney has to print tens of billions of pounds to stimulate growth, then sterling will become even less attractive.

What “straight” economists worry about is stagflation. Here, the falling pound boosts the price of everything sourced globally – from a Starbucks cappuccino to a MacBook – while growth goes into reverse. What political economists worry about, however, is the absence of a plan. Or a leadership. Or whether the public has consented to be governed by an elite that no longer understands what it is doing.

Below I’m cross-posting the lawyers’ letter in full, in the hope of adding to the pressure on MPs not to abdicate their responsibility for the UK’s future. I recall, vividly, that, although a slim majority of the UK citizens who voted in referendum voted to leave the EU, three-quarters of MPs want us to stay, and should not be swayed from their beliefs.

TO THE PRIME MINISTER AND ALL MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT

9 July 2016

Dear Prime Minister and Members of Parliament

Re: Brexit

We are all individual members of the Bars of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We are writing to propose a way forward which reconciles the legal, constitutional and political issues which arise following the Brexit referendum.

The result of the referendum must be acknowledged. Our legal opinion is that the referendum is advisory.

The European Referendum Act does not make it legally binding. We believe that in order to trigger Article 50, there must first be primary legislation. It is of the utmost importance that the legislative process is informed by an objective understanding as to the benefits, costs and risks of triggering Article 50.

The reasons for this include the following: There is evidence that the referendum result was influenced by misrepresentations of fact and promises that could not be delivered.

Since the result was only narrowly in favour of Brexit, it cannot be discounted that the misrepresentations and promises were a decisive or contributory factor in the result.

The parliamentary vote must not be similarly affected. The referendum did not set a threshold necessary to leave the EU, commonly adopted in polls of national importance, e.g. 60% of those voting or 40% of the electorate.

This is presumably because the result was only advisory. The outcome of the exit process will affect a generation of people who were not old enough to vote in the referendum.

The positions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar require special consideration, since their populations did not vote to leave the EU.

The referendum did not concern the negotiating position of the UK following the triggering of Article 50, nor the possibility that no agreement could be reached within the stipulated two year period for negotiation, nor the emerging reality that the Article 50 negotiations will concern only the manner of exit from the EU and not future economic relationships.

All of these matters need to be fully explored and understood prior to the Parliamentary vote. The Parliamentary vote should take place with a greater understanding as to the economic consequences of Brexit, as businesses and investors in the UK start to react to the outcome of the referendum.

For all of these reasons, it is proposed that the Government establishes, as a matter of urgency, a Royal Commission or an equivalent independent body to receive evidence and report, within a short, fixed timescale, on the benefits, costs and risks of triggering Article 50 to the UK as a whole, and to all of its constituent populations.

The Parliamentary vote should not take place until the Commission has reported. In view of the extremely serious constitutional, economic and legal importance of the vote either way, we believe that there should be a free vote in Parliament.

Yours sincerely

PHILIP KOLVIN QC

And 1053 others

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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15 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, promoting a letter to the government by 1,054 lawyers making it clear that the UK cannot leave the EU without MPs’ approval. They also call on the government to work out objectively what is best for our relationship with the EU, given that the Leave camp had no plan, by setting up “a Royal Commission or an equivalent independent body to receive evidence and report, within a short, fixed timescale, on the benefits, costs and risks of triggering Article 50 to the UK as a whole, and to all of its constituent populations.”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    In the meantime, MPs have been told by Cabinet Office minister John Penrose that government lawyers believe triggering Article 50 “is a Royal Prerogative issue” and not a matter for Parliament, repeating what Oliver Letwin, put in charge of Brexit issues by David Cameron after the referendum, told the Foreign Affairs Committee last week.
    Constitutional lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC told the Independent, “I think Britain would be a laughing stock if this outmoded mechanism [the Royal Prerogative] were used by the Government to usurp the role of parliament in a democracy – a role that many Parliamentarians fought and died for in the civil wars of the 1640s.It’s a preposterous and undemocratic suggestion that the Prime Minister has the power to alter the fundamental basis of the British constitution without the support of MPs. It would surely be judicially reviewed because the so-called Royal Prerogative powers have been reviewable [by the courts] since the attempt to use it to block a case about GCHQ was defeated in 1984. The simple fact is we remain in the European Union until Parliament repeals that act which took us into it, namely the 1972 European Communities Act.”
    See: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/article-50-brexit-eu-referendum-urgent-question-house-of-commons-leave-europe-a7130851.html

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Tweets from Caroline Lucas, our sole Green MP, during a brief discussion of Brexit in the House of Commons:
    1) Rising pressure in HoC calling for parliamentary vote *before* #Article50 – outrageous that Govt planning to use Royal Prerogative instead https://twitter.com/CarolineLucas/status/752517042901774336
    2) Just suggested no #Article50 vote until MPs know risks of triggering @ diff times. #Brighton wants evidence based decision making – so do I. https://twitter.com/CarolineLucas/status/752520477881556992

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Philip Kolvin QC, who coordinated the letter, told the Guardian, “Parliament is sovereign and the guardian of our democracy. MPs are elected to exercise their best judgment on the basis of objective evidence, to safeguard the interests of the country and their constituents for this and future generations. At this time of profound constitutional, political and possibly social and economic crisis, we look to them to fulfil the responsibility placed upon them.”
    See: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/11/brexit-parliament-should-make-ultimate-decision-on-whether-to-leave-eu-barristers-say

  5. the talking dog says...

    Well, Andy, at least for the moment, it’s nice to know that each of our respective countries can each bear their own atavistic political dysfunction gracefully, You have Cameron and Boris and Farage and Corbyn in their respective circular firing squads, and we, of course, have now unindicted Hillary and the [pro-Brexit!] Donald. Interesting times, I’m afraid.

  6. damo says...

    If we leave andy god forbid how bad do you think it will become

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, rather horribly so, TD. I’m imagining that Trump won’t actually make it to the White House, but who knows these days? If you get Clnton, at least it will be a certain sort of continuity – another part of the elite maintaining the status quo as usual, sucking up to Wall Street, trying to disguise the endlessly plummeting living standards of more and more Americans, and the impending environmental disaster, as turbo-capitalism continues to be overfed and pampered.
    Here in the UK, I feared the referendum would go badly the moment Cameron announced it, but then a kind of default optimism largely took over; or perhaps “a default lack of existential pessimism” would be a more accurate description. By the end, I was deluding myself into thinking that the murder of Jo Cox might swing things back towards sanity, but no, here we are in an unthinkable mess, and the very nature of reality appears to have been permanently distorted. We now live in a country that looks the same as before, but that is actually made up of at least three differing perceptions – the Leavers’ Little England fantasy, in which anyone suspected of being a “foreigner” is openly told to go home and “we have got our country back,” the Remainers’ despair, as our standing and influence and economy begin what could be a cataclysmic decline, and the Lexiters’ delusion that leaving the EU will precipitate a socialist revolution. I wouldn’t wish this disaster on my greatest enemy, and yet somehow here we are, lost in La-La Land, with the media furiously trying to paper over the ever-widening cracks, many of which they actively created in the first place.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    I dread to think, Damo, but we’re not there yet. Obviously, getting a new leader in place asap rather than pretending it could take a leisurely two months was important to try and reduce the size of the cliff that the UK economy is falling from, but we have no idea what Theresa May is actually going to do with the poisoned chalice that is the referendum result. We all need to be paying very close attention, though.

  9. damo says...

    ……..dracula’s daughter has arrisen from the tomb to…….run the country

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, she’s a dangerous one, Damo. Six years as home secretary – a job that turns everyone who does it into a raving authoritarian, if they weren’t already, and now parachuted into 10 Downing Street by just 199 Tory MPs. That can’t be a good start for her credibility, surely, except with the Tories themselves, who will presumably now rally around her. She may be less deranged as PM than she was as home secretary, but it’s too early to tell, and my fear is that she’ll be just what many Tories wanted – and there will be some weird S&M cult like there was with Thatcher and all those repressed Tory males, while, fundamentally, she will do nothing for everyone else.

  11. damo says...

    You can imagine them now the average pityfull tories male,oooh,oooh,oooh,…..yes mistress………..ooooooooooh,lol

  12. damo says...

    Boris is back as foreign secretary…….that tells us everything

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    I was out most of the day, Damo – a meeting in the afternoon, and then, straight after, a band rehearsal, so I only peripherally got the news. I didn’t hear about Boris immediately, but what a farce. And the truly dreadful Liam Fox too. And Amber Rudd. Good to see the back of Osborne, of course, but Hammond doesn’t exactly look like the breath of fresh air required to get rid of austerity.
    And David Davis in charge of Brexit? Hmm, I’ve worked with David, on Shaker’s case, and he’s clearly a non-looney Leaver, but what does this mean for those of us who want Brexit watered down as much as possible? Is it already too late for that?
    I’m particularly reeling at the return of Boris, though, and the absurdity of making an old school, casually racist, self-styled joker the face of the UK abroad. Shameful.

  14. damo says...

    Parade them all through the streets to the gallows

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I think Class War will be with you on that one, Damo: http://www.classwarparty.org.uk
    Actually, right now, they’re proposing to march on Boris’s house tomorrow (Fri July 15): http://www.classwarparty.org.uk/march-boris-house-islington-8pm/
    And there’s a good photo gallery here: http://www.classwarparty.org.uk/boris-gallery/

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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