A national disaster and humiliation, but so far we have avoided catastrophe
14 April 2019
by Martin Howe
A message to supporters and followers of Lawyers for Britiain
Our membership of the EU has now officially been extended until 31 October 2019. In extending it, Theresa May acted without the authorisation of Parliament for any extension beyond 30 June, and in breach of her previous repeated promises. As we pointed out last week, the Prime Minister was not under any legal obligation to agree to an extension beyond 30 June, and could have walked away from the table in Brussels and delivered Brexit.
It has been clear to us for a long time that this Prime Minister has no interest in fulfilling the promises she made to the Conservative Party when she became leader in 2016, or to the country in the 2017 General Election Manifesto, of delivering Brexit and handing back control over our laws to the British people and our elected representatives. Instead, she has been intent on forcing the country into a deal which would provide only a false illusion of Brexit and would leave us permanently shackled to the EU: having to obey its rules without a vote, and with no prospect of being able to operate an independent global trade policy in the foreseeable future.
So strong is her obsession with shackling the United Kingdom permanently to this servile status that she has simply abandoned her repeated mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, and her repeated statements that the UK would leave the EU on 29 March. This is despite the fact that, as made clear by Chris Heaton-Harris (“Forget the ‘end is nigh’ scaremongering – Britain is officially ready for no-deal Brexit“) the country was actually quite sufficiently prepared to leave if she had not chosen to over-ride what was the legal default option.
So we are now in the EU for an additional 7 months beyond the now abandoned legal exit date of 29 March. This is a fiasco which has brought national and international humiliation down on Theresa May and her government. The European Parliament elections will now – absurdly – need to be held, a step which is likely to cause huge political damage to the Conservative Party in particular.
But on the positive side, we are still enormously better off than if Theresa May’s deal had been passed. If that had happened, we would still for all practical purposes be inside the EU for a minimum of 21 months, or up to 45 months – and after that would be locked indefinitely in the backstop. And we would not have had a vote.
As a member state under an Article 50 extension, we retain our full rights to vote and veto until Halloween. There is nothing in the operative part of the European Council decision which restricts our legal rights to exercise our vote or veto under the Treaties when it is in our national interest to do so.
It has now become clear to all that Theresa May has no intention of delivering Brexit while she remains Prime Minister. Instead, she is intent on shackling the country to her hugely damaging deal before she leaves office. She is prepared to destroy the Conservative Party by trying to form an alliance with the Labour Party to vote through her deal and its implementing legislation against the opposition of her own Party. It is now up to members of that Party to take the action needed to bring this situation to an end and to make a fresh start.
As a non-party/cross party group of legal experts, we shall continue over the coming months to highlight the legal issues as they evolve. If and when the government’s 175-clause Bill to implement the Withdrawal Agreement is unveiled, it will be a horror story which will make even clearer the huge and damaging loss of sovereignty that the UK will suffer if we ratify the Withdrawal Agreement.
The most important point to understand is that many politicians continue to under-estimate the binding power of international treaties, and therefore wrongly discount the hugely damaging consequences for the future of this country if we were to agree to the binding terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and its backstop Protocol. The binding power of treaties is incredibly powerful and can be permanent. Although many Spaniards hate it to this day, Gibraltar is still British over 300 years after Spain agreed to cede it in the Treaty of Utrecht.
On a personal note, may I apologise to many supporters who have given money or sent helpful messages but to whom I have been unable to respond as a result of the huge and ever increasing time pressures in the frenetic weeks up to last Friday. It has been my aim since Lawyers for Britain started to thank personally everyone who has been kind enough to make a donation and I shall do my best to catch up.
All best wishes for Easter.
Martin Howe QC
Chairman, Lawyers for Britain