A lengthy and complex judgement …

Well today there was a glimmer of good news from the clusterfuck that is British politics at the moment: the High Court has found for the claimants in the Article 50 action, meaning that (pending Supreme Court appeal), Parliament’s approval is required to invoke Article 50. Cue, of course, all those who foamed at the mouth about “the sovereignty of Parliament” now foaming at the mouth because, um, Parliament has been held to be sovereign. This action was never about stopping Brexit—though I live in hope that will happen, and this is certainly an aid along the way—but about ensuring Parliamentary oversight of it.

No need to rehearse all of that here: but there is a piece of fallout from today that I think is worth noting: the statement made to the House of Commons by David Lidington, the Leader of the House, concerning the result. It is, he said, “a lengthy and complex judgement.”

I urge you to go and read this lengthy and complex judgement. It runs to 32 pages and 111 numbered paragraphs (probably about 150 in total). I read it in about ten minutes. Most of it is setting out the background and context: the findings themselves are a mere ten pages. Far from being complex, the judgement is remarkably pellucid (© Robert Jay, 2012): constitutional precedent and laws indicate that the royal prerogative (the government’s authority to take executive action) cannot overrule primary legislation regarding domestic law; that the European Communities Act 1972 is primary legislation that, by incorporating EU law within UK law, has granted UK citizens a range of rights under law; that invoking Article 50 would start an “irrevocable” process that would result in withdrawal from the EU and consequent loss of those rights (a point agreed on by the government prior to the judgement); that the government’s claim that it would replicate those rights in UK law was not germane and, anyway, there are some rights (such as appeal to the EU Court of Justice, and the right to elect MEPs) that UK domestic law could not replicate; and that the government therefore lacks the authority to invoke Article 50.

I have published case law. This is a concise and clear judgement: try wading your way through the various company law test cases in the late 1980s and the 1990s. To claim that the judgement is “lengthy and complex” is, quite simply, not true. What depresses me is how unnecessary Lidington’s lie was, and what it shows about the “post-truth” state of our politics, where a government minister can blithely misinform the House simply for the convenience of not being asked awkward questions (such as: “this is a pretty unambiguous finding, isn’t it?”) and not an eyebrow is raised.

 

An awkward conversation

“Hi, this is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Could I speak to the Foreign Secretary please?”

“Ah, yes. Ah. That would be me. Boris. Fluster, fluster, affable grunt.”

“Boris Johnson?”

“Um, yes. The very same.”

“Boris Johnson, the journalist who first came to national attention for being sacked from The Times for making up quotes?”

“Yes, well, um, fluster, fluster. These things happen. But I’m very affable, and so let’s just forget about that, shall we? Thoroughly honest chap now.”

“But weren’t you also sacked by Michael Howard for lying about one of your many affairs?”

“Um, well. You know. Matters of sex. Keep it private and all. Not in the public interest.”

“Speaking of sex, didn’t you write a poem about me having sex with a goat?”

“Well, um, you know, defence of freedom of speech and all that.”

“Well you didn’t seem so keen on freedom of speech when you discussed with your friend Darius Guppy—a convicted fraudster and self-confessed ‘potential psychopath’—having a journalist beaten up for taking too close an interest in his dodgy dealings.”

“Ah, well, bluster, bluster, that was all a very long time ago…”

“Ah.” [Long pause.] ”So, do you think that freedom of speech extends to politicians blatantly lying to their voters? Because your fellow Brexit campaigner Penny Maudant repeatedly stated on the Andrew Marr show that there was nothing the UK could do to stop us, Turkey, joining the European Union despite the fact that the Treaty of Europe clearly states that accession to the union must be approved by all member states, and you condoned this and repeated the inference that Turkey’s accession was a certainty.”

“Well, um, I’m sure there’s some explanation which, if I fluster charmingly and affably you’ll think I’ve made when I’ve actually said nothing.”

“I’m afraid I don’t see your charm, Mr Johnson, nor your aff. Perhaps it’s just an English thing. Maybe you could clarify something for me. We’re not in the commonwealth, so I was wondering, do we count as piccaninnies or not?”

“Ah, um. Well. How about if I just flick about my blond hair amusingly?”

“I think we’re probably not, because wasn’t your great grandfather Turkish?”

“Um, well, yes the old boy was now you come to mention it.”

“And didn’t you once make a documentary lauding Turkey’s desire to join the EU?”

“Well now, yes. But, you know. Things change. Um. Realpolitik and all that.”

“You mean you thought you could get to be PM if you hung all your principles, your colleagues, in fact your entire country out to dry?”

“Oh, now, I say …”

“I don’t think I want to talk to you any more, Mr Johnson. I think you’re dishonest, dishonourable, bigotted, and solely interested in your own advancement. I think you’re a really nasty piece of work, in fact. I mean, you’re not in my league, that’s true. But for a British politician, you really are a quite a shite. So. I wanted to negotiate our post-Brexit trade deal. Perhaps you could put me through to Dr Liam Fox, I understand he is the Secretary of State for International Trade.”

“Phew, yes. That’s me off the hook.”

[A pause.]

“Hello?”

“Hello, am I speaking to Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade?”

“Um, well, he’s not available at the moment. This is a highly experienced trade negotiation consultant acting for him.”

“Ah. Could I have your name please?”

“Why, yes. It’s Adam Werrity.”

“Ah. And exactly how long have you been a highly experienced trade negotiation consultant?”

“Oh, since Wednesday.”

[Click.]