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Attacking High Court Judges Over Article 50 Is Misleading And Dangerous - All They Have Done Is Reaffirm Parliament's Sovereignty

03/11/2016 17:36 | Updated 04 November 2016
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The High Court decision this morning ruling that Parliament rather than the Crown has the power to trigger Article 50 has unleashed fevered politicking on all sides.

Unsurprisingly, fanatical Brexiters like Suzanne Evans of Ukip - who immediately railed against "activist judges" on Twitter - and the Daily Mail - apparently furious that one of the high court judges might be an "openly gay fencer" - went straight for the judges' jugulars.

What misleading and dangerous rubbish. This decision in fact bolsters Parliamentary sovereignty against the Executive and is right both constitutionally and morally. And since when in the UK is it appropriate to call for the resignation of judges who are doing their constitutionally appointed duty by calling their motives into question because you don't like their conclusion?

The obsession with "judicial activism" was born in the United States and manifested in right-wing campaigns against the abortion rights gained as a result of Roe v Wade. Generally speaking, judicial activism is what happens when a court rules against what you want to happen. It's the same bleat as you hear from hardened cons saying the judge had it in for them. It's a peculiar concept that has particular force in the United States because their Constitution makes the Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of the constitutionality of decisions taken by the legislature or executive. This is not true in the UK where Parliament is sovereign. It's, I'm afraid, representative of the kind of US-obsessed nonsense we see too much of, for example, in the 'alt right' narrative of betrayal. We're not America, and given what they're going through right now in their Presidential election, we should be grateful for that.

All the High Court has done today is reaffirm that Parliament is sovereign and the powers granted to the Executive - Her Majesty's Government - do not extend to making and breaking laws like some absolute monarch while Parliament is sidelined.

Treaties between nations require approval by the sovereign body - in Britain's case, Parliament. And thus, they have affirmed that to withdraw from a treaty will require Parliament to vote to do so.

I am very clear that before Parliament does so, we should require the Government to present in detail the principles against which it will conduct its negotiations. What kind of outcome do they wish to achieve? What is their vision of the most beneficial form of Brexit? Will they guarantee that the worst effects will not fall on the most vulnerable? We should not require information about the Government's negotiating tactics, which understandably they would not want to expose to general view.

This is doubly important because, as the judges note, Article 50 cannot be conditional. That is, once it is triggered, our exit from the European Union is not conditional upon certain conditions being met. Once we have triggered it, come what may, in 24 months we will be out. That is especially important for workers and businesses who enjoy certain rights as a result of European law. There is no guarantee that those laws will be incorporated into British law and we have no way of forcing the government to keep to its pledge not to water down our rights.

So a sovereign Parliament has a duty to make sure that we've got things squared, that assurances are given and that the government has set the right path for our future. Parliament should also get a vote on the outcome of negotiations too. That is precisely what sovereign Parliaments do. The Crown should abandon their fruitless attempts to arrogate sovereignty to itself and trust in good, old-fashioned, British Parliamentary sovereignty to help them get the best deal. I think it's called 'taking back control'.

Angela Eagle is the Labour MP for Wallasey

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