I read today that a firm of lawyers has been hired by a consortium of businessmen and academics to challenge the legal validity of the poll. They’re claiming that Britain cannot legally leave the EU without there first being a debate and vote in the House of Commons.
But is it not a fact that the politicians who sit in the House of Commons were voted into their seats by the public? And hasn’t that same public now voted to leave the EU? So who is ultimately in control of a country that calls itself a democracy, the public or the elected government?
But now let’s see it a different way. In the recent poll, approximately ⅓ of the electorate voted to remain, ⅓ voted to leave, and ⅓ didn’t vote, which means we don’t actually know what the wish of the whole electorate was. Compare this with other forms of ballot, like those for industrial action conducted by unions, where there needs to be a majority of those entitled to vote, not those who actually voted. It could be argued with hindsight that the latter system should have been used in a poll to determine whether the status quo be abandoned in favour of momentous change.
Of course, you can argue that it is the inviolable right of citizens in a democracy to abstain, and I would support that. But this wasn’t an election in which you might be asked to choose between a group of people, none of whom you support (Trump or Clinton?) This was a straightforward question: Do you want Britain to remain in the EU? Yes or no?
This strikes me as a bit of a constitutional mess, and Lady Democracy is not looking quite as straightforward as she used to.