Brexit is not as widely supported as the new Prime Minister assumesby Patience Wheatcroft / August 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Theresa May has declared that “We are all Brexiters now.” Oh no, we are not. I remain a Remainer and so do many of my colleagues on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords.
Across the Chamber, there is an overwhelming majority in favour of Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. The questions put to ministers in the weeks between the referendum and the summer recess made it clear that peers were not prepared to concede defeat and keep quiet about their qualms. That may lead to some challenging, and potentially dangerous, waters ahead.
Most Conservative peers recognise that to join calls for a second referendum now would be to risk derision: an unelected elite attempting to overturn a democratic decision of the electorate. It was a relatively slender majority, secured on the basis of a campaign of false promises, including that infamous extra £350m a week that would be available to the NHS if we were to leave the EU, a cynical confusion of gross and net which would bankrupt any business within months. Even so, we have to respect the result. But the referendum is only the first step in a process which has yet to be mapped out and may allow plenty of scope for the Lords to flex their pro-Europe muscles.
David Pannick QC, a cross-bench peer, is leading on the court case which could culminate in a battle between the Lords and the Commons. The case centres on the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the point at which, arguably, the country is set inexorably on the road out of the EU. The prime minister has said that she will not press that trigger before 2017, but the question is whether she can take that action alone.