Professor John Ryan is a political scientist, currently a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics. He focuses mainly on the relations between Britain and the European Union. We asked him to comment on the ruling of the British court on the prerogatives of the government about the Brexit.
Professor, what is your opinion on this ruling?
It seems quite reasonable. The government cannot rely on the royal prerogatives and decide about the most important decision in a generation in the country’s political life without the consent of Parliament. All in all, the vote on Brexit was needed for the country to regain more sovereignty, and the Parliament is one of the institutions where this sovereignty should reside. The same thing happens in other countries: Whenever the executive goes beyond its own capacities, it must be somewhat limited.
Was Theresa May wrong when she established the date March 2017 for the application of Article 50?
I would say yes, it is too early. First, because there will be elections in the Netherlands, presidential elections in France and federal elections in Germany, so during this period, the leaders of the respective countries will be involved in the election campaign, therefore, they will be focused on their problems and no matter how important the Brexit is, they will have to prioritize their domestic issues.
The prime minister should have waited until the end of 2017. Even if the opinion expressed by the High Court were confirmed, the Supreme Court would not address the issue before January. Taking into account that parliamentary debates need to take place and then legislation needs to be issued, it will be extremely unlikely, if not impossible, that this will happen by the end of March 2017.
In this referendum, all British parties were badly damaged, with the exception of the SNP, the Scottish Nationalist Party, which now can afford to announce the consultations for a new referendum on secession. But it is highly unlikely that Scotland will have the opportunity to remain in the European Union as an independent state, if not unsustainable from an economic point of view. Meanwhile, the British conservatives have another problem: The right wing of the party wants to get out of the E.U. quickly.
And with this decision I predict turmoil among conservatives for the next 18 months or perhaps even beyond.
What are the political implications of the judgment?
From a parliamentary point of view, this is certainly a victory: In both the House of Commons and in the House of Lords the majority of the votes were to Remain. But in the districts of the Lower House, 421 out of 650 voted to Leave: This is clear evidence of their will. Even the deputies who sided with Remain absolutely must take into account.
The fact is that as this process unfolds, as the judgment is confirmed and the Parliament acts, things could change disruptively: The Labour Party could gain ground and put the Tories in serious difficulties, forcing them to declare what their plans are for the exit negotiation, since until now no one has a clear idea what this plan is about.
The fact is we are in a constitutional vacuum, favored by the absence of a written constitution.
In your opinion, what are the chances that [this week’s] decision could prevent or even hinder Brexit? May early elections be called?
I do not think that there is the possibility to block the exit, considering public opinion at this time, but it can certainly slow it down. As to early elections, I would rule them out.