Any decision to serve notice of withdrawal from the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty should be made by a free vote of the House of Commons, and not by the Prime Minister or Cabinet.
This needs to be seen as part of our unwritten constitution - whatever decision the courts may make. The matter is simply too important to be left to the Executive.
There is precedent in the Commons vote on bombing in Syria, a matter which might traditionally have been dealt with under the royal prerogative, and as long ago as 1890 the consent of the commons was sought before Heligoland was ceded to Germany.
The Prime Minister is elected by only one constituency, and by his or her own party. That is not a mandate for a probably irreversible decision which will set the economic and moral path of the country for decades to come.
Many might say that the referendum result gives the Prime Minister a mandate to take the decision. That argument is flawed. Of those who voted 51.9 per cent voted to leave on a turnout of 72.2 per cent.
That means out of the total electorate only 37.5 per cent actually voted to leave, hardly a ringing endorsement on which to base such an important decision. In addition sixteen and seventeen-year-olds were denied the vote – something which had been granted to them in the Scottish referendum.
We elect our MPs to represent our interests in parliament. Although they are representatives, not delegates they would not go against the referendum vote without deep thought and good reason. But their decision needs to be made in the light of circumstances at the time the decision is made.
Already the electorate has heard there is no £350 million a week for the NHS, that no guarantees can be given about immigrant numbers. The Governor of the Bank of England has warned of economic slowdown and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has abandoned a key plank of UK government policy – to balance the budget by 2020.
The USA has said we go to the back of the queue for any trade deal and our EU partners are taking a hard line on access to the single market, contrary to the blandishments of the exit camp during the campaign.
This is our position. We have no alternative trade arrangements. We don’t know what will happen to the three million EU citizens in the UK. We don’t know what will happen to the 1.2 million UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU. Our politicians are not in a position to give assurances about their futures.
There is a need to take time, consider the options and for the Commons to reach its own decision based on members’ own judgement about what is right for the UK. Should they decide not to implement Article 50 I regret another referendum will be necessary, but perhaps that is the price of democracy.
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