The Referendum is binding – May gets her constitutional position right
Theresa May has announced she is not going to put the triggering of Article 50 to Parliament. Ah the Remainers cry (When I say remainers in this article I am talking those who still refuse to accept the result, and there are more of them than you may think), the vote was about Parliamentary democracy and now you don’t want parliament to have a say. This is a lazy position as we actually are not a Parliamentary Democracy, but a Constitutional Monarchy. Our Democracy has many levels, but ultimately it leaves parliament sovereign over law but not the Constitution. These are matters exercised through the crown, devolved to the Prime Minister via the will of the people (Who can remove the crown at any time, although this is highly unlikely in my lifetime). When we voted to Leave the EU it was to defend all aspects of our Democracy, both in terms of law and the Constitution. Remainers attempts to pick and choose misunderstands this completely.
In Britain unlike America and many other nations, our constitution is not written and evolves via historical precedent. Because it is not written Remainers argue the Referendum is not binding, this is an abuse of the fact the Constitution is not written because they don’t like the outcome. it is looking for excuses for why they lost and a blatant attempt to reverse the outcome.Some like Tottenham MP David Lammy try and argue the tight nature of the vote also renders it invalid. again this ignores Constitutional precedent. The Welsh Assembly went through on a 50.3% yes vote, the Assembly went through and still very much exists today. Any serious analysis of how that vote leads to the evolution of Constitutional precedent renders Lammy’s argument complete nonsense.
Only once has a majority vote in a Referendum been ignored. This was the Scottish Parliament vote in 1979 where a majority voted for it but a turnout clause put into the bill meant it did not go ahead. The failure to enact this instruction has led to a sequence of events where Scottish Independence nearly happened, and may yet happen in the future. The Tories insistance on using that clause led to Tory meltdown in Scotland, leaving the SNP to oppose Labour. When the tide went out for Labour, the SNP took over, are now a third term Government in Holyrood and can command 45% for Scottish Independence. The consequences of not making good on a majority Constitutional instruction is a very dangerous thing for those concerned, with hugely unpredictable results.
Those events should serve as warning for those in the Conservative Party who may want to reverse the Referendum result. Since then lessons have been learnt and the concept of Referenda has evolved. Every Referendum since had been fought on the basis a simple majority wins, and the Constitutional instruction has been heard and acted upon, including in the very narrow Welsh scenario. Therefore if rules on a Referendum were part of a written constitution, would it be binding? Yes. Thus is a Referendum binding? Yes. Even in 1979 the actions taken were in line as everyone voting knew the turnout filter was there in advance.The result under the rules set is binding and any other position is an abuse of the unwritten Constitution. To say it isn’t tears up the unwritten Constitution and worse, hands Parliament sovereignty over the Constitution and takes it away from the Crown and ultimately the people. Therefore no, parliament has no right to a say in this matter, the instruction from the people must be implemented. And no, supporting the principal of parliamentary democracy for matters of law but not for matters of the constitution is not a contradiction. Theresa May’s call that it is a matter for Royal Prerogative and should not be put to parliament, is absolutely correct.