The Court of Justice of the EU yesterday put a number of questions to the Government’s advocate about the timing of the meaningful vote. (You can read my largely verbatim albeit incomplete note of the hearing here). Obviously the CJEU wanted to ensure that the Opinion – a non-binding view from a nominated judge on the Court – and subsequent binding Judgment would come early enough still to be relevant to those decisions.
Lord Keen, for the Government, explained that the so-called meaningful vote was expected on 11 December 2018 and if it passed a number of legislative steps would follow.
For what it’s worth, if forced to guess, I would anticipate an Opinion early next week and a Judgment after the meaningful vote.
But does any of this really matter?
It seems vanishingly unlikely that Theresa May’s deal will pass Parliament at the first time of asking. Even The Sun says she will lose by around 200 votes. Indeed, the truth is that this outcome has been inevitable ever since pro-Brexit campaigners welded two groups of voters (‘nativists’ who sought the protection of a more closed economy and ‘buccaneers’ who perceived opportunities in a more open one) with contradictory objectives into a false coalition for Leave. The only surprise is that it has taken two and a half years for this contradiction to be exposed,
And a number of consequences will follow from her defeat. But, in terms of timing, the most important is that there will be plenty of time for MPs to consider and digest the consequences of an Opinion and Judgment that are likely to confirm what five QCs instructed by the Government have already said, in the Government’s application for permission to the Supreme Court (at paragraph 38), namely, that Parliament can by a majority can direct the Government to withdraw the Article 50 notice.
Indeed, for those of us who continue to believe that the country’s best interests are served by Remaining in the EU, it may well be helpful if the Judgment comes after the so-called meaningful vote. It will only be then, when the country is looking down the barrel, after a crushing rejection of a deal that took years to negotiate, that MPs are likely to begin to focus on alternatives.
It is only then that they will engage, seriously, with revocation. It will only then become apparent to them that this is a simple mechanic that they control; that delivers a stronger economy than any alternative; restores the United Kingdom to its rightful place as a rule maker rather than a rule taker; has greater democratic legitimacy than either a buccaneer or nativist’s vision of our future; and, crucially, avoids the chaos of ‘no deal’.