The time is upon us. Holy Leader Theresa May has the power to initiate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty; the official mechanism of withdrawing from the European Union. It has been said that it shall begin on the 29th of March. The mere fact that it has been Parliament that has granted the Prime Minister the power to do this is a democratic and constitutional victory for UK politics. The Government’s original intention of using Royal Prerogative to do so was a blatant misuse of power. Thanks to an 8-3 majority decision by the Supreme Court it was stipulated that it is only Parliament that had the power, and so it was.
That’s the first victory for democracy but now an even bigger challenge is at hand. The complexity of withdrawal negotiations is vast. The task ahead of the teams from the UK and the EU is hard to conceive due to the sheer amount of issues that must be addressed. Yet I fear not enough emphasis is being put on the democratic consent mechanisms of whatever result is negotiated.
The Government has assured that a Parliamentary vote on any deals will happen but it has also expressed its intention to exit the EU even if Parliament rejects the deal. Apparently ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’. This falls short of proper democracy. Yes, Parliament must have a vote but the electorate must also have a vote. The very people that gave the mandate for withdrawal must also give the mandate for the system that is to replace our membership.
Yet even here there are more technical issues. As previously stated in another piece of work, the whole method of the EU referendum was criticised in that only having one national referendum across the UK was not democratic as it gives England an unfair amount of power. It should have been four separate referendums in each nation of the UK. The same must occur if a referendum is to be had on any post EU membership deal. A key condition for this must also be that for the result to be binding then three of the four nations must agree. Arguably it could be said that the decision must be unanimous, yet three out of four does present a strong democratic statement and mandate.
Thankfully the method of the elections does not need to be questioned, as simple First Past The Post (FPTP) is sufficient as any referendum question would be a Yes/No vote. What must be questioned is the democratic mechanism of the referendum as opposed to the democratic methods of the referendum. Much is made of the varying electoral reforms that are needed across the globe but with reform in electoral method, reform and attention must be given to electoral mechanics. As previously said the mechanics of the EU referendum were wholly wrong. There was nothing wrong with its method as it was a Yes/No question.
By getting the process of Article 50 and subsequent approval for whatever deal is made correct, there is a chance for democracy and elections to make huge steps forward in progressive reform. Not only for the UK itself but for global democracy. Any nation making a progressive step forward for democracy is an achievement to be celebrated and as history has shown; where political reforms take hold in a nation, those ideals and policies spread throughout the world. It’s why we have democracy across the globe in the first place.
The final process of the Article 50 journey is the subsequent deal that is negotiated and if a proper and suitable democratic mandate is not given, then frankly, the British people have been conned. And my fear is if this happens, I’m not sure they’ll notice.