Those of us who remain convinced that Britain’s place and future should be in the European Union with our closest friends, partners and allies have a plain duty to continue campaigning against Brexit.
That means persuading public and parliamentary opinion, even now, that the referendum’s narrow result was a terrible mistake. Following the judgement of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the best hope for averting the calamity of Brexit is for parliament to refuse permission for the government to trigger article 50 by the end of March, or indeed at all.
There is no conceivable justification for convinced Remainers in the House of Commons or the House of Lords to vote in favour of the forthcoming government Bill to authorise the A50 trigger. If they do, they will be failing to act in accordance with their best judgement of British interests, which they are elected or appointed to exercise on behalf of the British people.
Voting for, or even abstaining on, what you believe to be a disaster for the country is clearly contrary to reason. We all “respect” the referendum result, but that means only that we recognise it as a fact. “Respecting” it cannot possibly mean that we have to agree with it, when we don’t, or feel obliged to support its implementation, any more than “respecting” a Tory election victory requires a Labour opposition to pretend to agree with the Conservatives’ election manifesto or to work to give effect to their policies, regardless of the belief that they are reactionary and damaging. That belief obviously imposes a duty on those who hold it to do everything legally possible to persuade public and parliamentary opinion that those policies are wrong and should be changed or reversed. That’s what the Opposition is there to do.
Anyway, the referendum was not a “decision” by the British people, nor “an instruction” to parliament or the government, as Theresa May likes to claim. It was advisory, a snapshot of the opinions of voters in both camps seven months ago.
If it had been binding, then there is little doubt that the act setting it up would have stipulated a majority much greater than 52 per cent to justify such a political, economic, social, legal and diplomatic earthquake as Brexit would entail.
The reckless and unconstitutional promises of a few politicians to act to put the result of the referendum into effect, whichever way it went, cannot affect its status either in law or in practice.
So Labour and other MPs and peers who worked with passionate conviction for the Remain campaign, in accordance with established Labour policy (never formally reversed), have a clear obligation this week or next to vote against the promised Bill necessary to authorise the Tory government to trigger article 50, which will otherwise be the first and probably irrevocable step in Britain’s self-inflicted expulsion from our continent’s most significant economic, trade and political grouping.
Labour should of course vote “yes” to any proposed amendments to the bill designed to improve the conditions on which we leave, if Brexit cannot be stopped. But rejecting the Bill itself, with or without amendments, is essential if we are to avert calamity.
Those who know this but still vote for it, or abstain on it, will violate their consciences and their judgement and unforgivably damage our country, our interests, and Britain’s place in history. I appeal to you all to vote “no” to article 50. It may be your and our last chance to act.
Brian Barder is a former civil servant and diplomat who also served as a hospital governor and a member of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. He campaigns on civil rights issues, writes a blog and is the author of What Diplomats Do.