Why Dublin is Right

You can read, here, why I believe it is the right thing for both the UK and Ireland that there be legal certainty on whether Article 50, once triggered, can be reversed. I will not repeat my reasoning but I do invite you to re-read that piece.

The greatest possible compliment has been paid to that argument by those who would leave whatever the cost to our nation: they have refused to engage with it. Instead they have attacked me. Occasional distraction though they are, I do not mind the personal attacks. They reveal more about my opponents’ paucity of thinking on the substance of my argument than they do about me. Everything I have put in the public domain about myself (and my tax practice) is true.

Alongside these personal attacks, there has been some considered focus on whether this is the right step to take or at this time. Including, in private, from Guy Verhofstadt. Let me explain why, as much as I can in this forum, it is.

The first thing to note is that the case is about obtaining legal certainty as to how Article 50 works. It is surprising to me – unprecedented so far as I can recall – that one or two lawyers should argue that this is somehow a bad thing. That we should know what the law is is a basic and fundamental principle of the rule of law. 

But even putting aside – a remarkable sentence to find myself writing – basic principles of the rule of law, obtaining legal certainty is politically desirable. 

When the Court of Justice hands down its decision about what Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty means (a question of EU law which must have the same meaning across all the EU member states and so one which can only be answered by it) the question what to do with that answer will be one for our democratically elected politicians. They will be able to act knowing what the law is. Their actions, wielding their democratic mandate, will be informed. And that is all.

Some have said that the wrong thing about this action is that it is too soon.

But that argument is the very opposite of right: if anything, it is too late. In a rational world the Prime Minister would not ask our sovereign Parliament to vote on an Article 50 Bill before it knew whether it could reverse Article 50 should the public it serves later so demand. But even with a reasonable tail-wind we can only reasonably hope to have a decision from the Court of Justice in Summer 2017. Meantime, in March next year, our Parliament will be asked to take an incredibly important step in the life of our nation without fully understanding the consequences.

But better late than never.

If the Brexiters make good on their promises to the electorate that they can have their cake and eat it; and our European neighbours do in fact fall over themselves to do trading deals with the UK; and people do not suffer in terms of jobs and living standards and the sustainability of our public finances on which our children’s futures depend; if the NHS gets the extra funding it deseparately needs and which people were induced to vote to Leave to secure; then we will Leave.

But if these assurances, examined under the bare swinging lightbulb of reality, prove to be lies; and the lives of working people living in communities too long abandoned by our governing class become harder still, it would be a desperate tragedy if we said to them, because we had not bothered to establish whether the UK had of unilateral right an alternative: “it is too late to turn back. Whatever the cost, we have now to go.”

And those who say some ‘diplomatic solution’ will be found must contemplate this.

What happens if the diplomatic skills of Boris Johnson and Liam Fox and David Davis, strained further by the disinclination of our EU partners to ignore national and collective interests and bow to UK exceptionalism, so alienate our partners that they are unable unanimously to welcome Britain back into the fold?
The people must know that they can choose – but only if they want to – again, and this time to Remain. And if we fail to work to offer them that choice then we are but paper-democrats.

No democrat can oppose delivering more power to the people; or prefer to trust to the unanimous goodwill of the remaining 27 rather than take unilateral control over the Article 50 process; or demand of the people that they make an irreversible decision based on what the estate agent has told them rather than what they see with their very own eyes.