I haven’t been following the debate on the EU Referendum Bill (aka the Glorious Patriotic Union Jack Eternal Triumph of Hardworking British Families Patent Referendum Lock to which only the Queen and Winston Churchill from 1940-45 will be given the key*). You might guess from the last sentence why I haven’t been.
I did read a short BBC piece on it, though, and the unreality of the whole debate struck home hard when I read this comment from Tim Fallon, president of the Liberal Democrats:
“this place [the House of Commons] is sovereign and that the public’s power over our membership of the European Union is ultimate and paramount.”
This was so bizarre that I had to go and check Hansard to make sure he wasn’t being misquoted. He wasn’t. Parliament is sovereign, but the people have ultimate and paramount power? So what if (as was the case with hanging for a while) the people want it back and Parliament doesn’t? What if Parliament approves the signing of a treaty, for instance a British-drafted treaty on human rights that every other Western democracy has signed, but the people don’t like its interpretation in a particular case? Or are we defining “ultimate and paramount power” as “being able to elect one person from half a dozen candidates on the basis of a ninety-page manifesto hardly anyone has read, once every five years”?
Now, one could be kind and dismiss this as merely the sort of gross constitutional illiteracy which should shame any person holding or seeking political office, but I think it’s more worrying than that. I think that MPs, puffed up by their own rhetoric, have started to think that they are the people.
Make that assumption and all the rhetoric falls into place. Then, there’s no contradiction in Mr Fallon’s remarks – the people are sovereign because there are only 650 of them. Judges who are preventing the law from being broken are in fact trampling on the 650-strong people’s sovereignty. And the EU, worst of all, is taking legislative power away from every single one of the 650 people in the UK.
Speaking as a non-person, I can see why it makes them angry.
[* and Ministers.]