On the face of it, anyone who likes our constitution and dislikes the EU should jump up and salute.
Theresa May is about to unveil her ‘Great Repeal Bill’. If enacted, it will overturn the 1972 European Communities Act, which paved the way for Britain to join the EU.
How a British PM, especially a Conservative one, could sign that treasonous document in the first place is beyond me. The Communities Act destroyed Her Majesty’s sovereignty through Parliament by stating that European laws took precedence over our own.
I suppose Edward Heath had too many distractions, of the Grosvenor House variety, to ponder the ramifications. The salient one was that, when he signed the Act, Britain effectively stopped being a sovereign nation.
The Act must be repealed. It’s the first step towards Brexit, to which Mrs May’s government seems to be committed. However, we must make sure we don’t put a foot wrong, and I’m not sure Mrs May is all that sure-footed.
Her announcement is tainted with reassurances that the Repeal Act will function thermodynamically. EU laws won’t disappear. They’ll merely become British laws.
Granted, Parliament will regain the authority eventually to ditch whichever laws it doesn’t like. Yet each such step will be put to a vote, and the government only holds a slender majority of 12.
As a matter of fact, the whole Repeal Act will require parliamentary approval in both Houses, which is far from guaranteed, especially in the Lords. What will happen in the event of a nay vote? Or a filibuster in the Lords?
The government is aware of such possibilities, which is why both Mrs May and Brexit Minister David Davis make a point of stressing that EU laws concerning ‘employment rights’ will remain in place, if under new management. This is clearly designed as a sop both to the opposition and Brussels.
Mercifully, our ‘employment rights’ aren’t as subversive as those in, say, France. That makes our labour market more flexible and therefore sexier in the eyes of foreign investors.
Hence it’s a bad idea to issue blank promises, especially if they’re accompanied by Mrs May’s plan to have workers represented on every corporate board. If she wants to hear horror stories of what that policy does on the continent, I’ll be happy to get her in touch with the French businessmen among my friends.
That the government is preoccupied with such niceties suggests not so much its preference for ‘soft’ Brexit as its commitment to soft principles. For neither Labour nor the EU needs to be mollycoddled.
Labour resistance can be downgraded overnight by calling a snap election, something Mrs May is reluctant to do for dubious reasons. The assumption seems to be that the Tories will get their landslide in 2020 anyway, so there’s no need to be distracted by elections.
I’m not going to say that this assumption is false, but it’s definitely optimistic. If the political picture remains the same four years from now, then yes, the Tories will increase their majority. But political pictures are a kaleidoscope, not crusted pigment on canvas.
Since our economy is fundamentally as unsound as that of the richer EU members, it’s not only possible but likely that before 2020 we’ll have some downturn, not to say crisis. That will create dissent within the Tory party, making a Labour victory possible. Brexit, rather than decades of promiscuous tax-and-spend, will be held up as the scapegoat to be slaughtered.
Considering the current disarray within Labour, a snap election now would deliver a majority of 50 at least, enabling the government to breathe more easily. In the face of such a Commons majority, the Lords would be hard-pressed to sabotage Brexit.
As to the EU, it’s like any other bully. Anyone who grew up in a bad part of town will know that meek compliance only emboldens thugs. If you want them to back off, a punch on the nose works much better.
As it is, some EU members, mostly but not exclusively from the low-rent part, are threatening to torpedo any Brexit deal they don’t like. The EU Charter, requiring approval by a “qualified majority” puts them in a position to do so.
In pushing Brexit through, the last thing we should be is soft-talking supplicants. If that’s what we are, Brexit will be tied up in knots for years, which may well mean for ever.
Mrs May must act hard-boiled, not half-baked. We shouldn’t ask but tell, and do so in no uncertain terms. And we should stop resorting to weak-kneed copouts of comparing ‘soft’ to ‘hard’ Brexit.
The choice isn’t between hard and soft. It’s between hard and none. Procrastinate long enough, and the grass into which Brexit will have been kicked will grow too tall to wade through.
Yes, taking an intransigent stance may make us suffer economically, as Christopher Booker pontificates with his customary know-all smugness. But should we put a price tag on our sovereignty?
I don’t know how many Battle of Britain pilots are still with us, but we should ask their views. When taking off in their Spitfires, did they contemplate the economic downside of freedom?