Bernard Thompson on “blocking” Brexit
The BBC has claimed that Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon could try to block Britain’s Brexit from the European Union.
In fact, the broadcaster’s website went so far as to say that Members of the Scottish Parliament “could veto Brexit”.
It’s an interesting choice of words for an eye-catching headline but, of course, inaccurate.
The Scottish parliament has no powers of veto over British constitutional matters and so it is curious that the BBC should overstate the ability of either Sturgeon or Holyrood to influence events.
Speaking to Gordon Brewer on Sunday Politics Scotland, Sturgeon said:
“If the Scottish parliament is judging this on the basis of what’s right for Scotland, then the option of saying we’re not going to vote for something that’s against Scotland’s interests, that’s got to be on the table. You’re not going to vote for something that is not in Scotland’s interests.”
While the article goes on to refine the difference between the Scottish parliament affirming or withholding its consent, it doesn’t touch on an altogether trickier scenario – what happens in the event of a House of Commons motion calling on the UK government to discard the results of the “advisory” referendum.
Mooted before the referendum, the idea has been put forward by Labour’s Tottenham MP David Lammy, who was quoted in the London Evening Standard on Saturday:
“We can stop this madness and bring this nightmare to an end through a vote in Parliament.
“Our sovereign Parliament needs to now vote on whether we should quit the EU.
“The referendum was an advisory, non-binding referendum. The Leave campaign’s platform has already unravelled and some people wish they hadn’t voted to leave.
“Parliament now needs to decide whether we should go forward with Brexit, and there should be a vote in Parliament next week.”
That would leave Sturgeon with a vital decision to make. Before the referendum she stated that only Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will would represent sufficient material change to trigger a second Scottish independence referendum.
That scenario has now come to pass and calls for IndyRef2 have been immediate and vociferous.
Should the House of Commons vote on the issue of whether to press ahead with Brexit or ignore the referendum, the SNP’s 54 MPs could well be vital.
Pro-Remain MPs significantly outnumber their pro-Leave counterparts but many will baulk at the idea of overturning a democratic expression of the people’s will.
In that case, Sturgeon would have to decide whether to stand by her word as First Minister of Scotland and SNP leader, to take all possible steps to keep Scotland in the EU, or go ahead with planning for IndyRef2, having weakened the democratic case for independence.
While Sturgeon and the SNP would face the same issues of democratic principle as any other leader, such a scenario would surely alienate – and even enrage – some Scots, whichever way she chooses to turn.
If she declined to instruct her MPs to overturn Brexit, she would anger a substantial proportion of Remainers and face the accusation that she consented to leaving the EU. This would undermine one of the main pillars of the case for a second referendum.
If she ordered her party’s MPs to vote to ignore the results of the EU referendum, many of those hoping for a second chance at independence – with a ScotPulse survey for the Sunday Post finding 59% support – would see that as a betrayal.
And using Westminster to defy the result of a referendum would risk validating a similar response should a future Yes vote be secured in favour of Scottish independence.
While, to many, the idea of the House of Commons rejecting the referendum result would be unthinkable, with Britain’s two largest parties in meltdown, nothing should be considered impossible.
Sturgeon has consistently said that, while she wants independence for Scotland, she does not want to achieve it through Brexit. She may not have a veto but she could be forgiven if she privately hoped that the consistency of those two positions were never to be tested.