These days nobody much bothers claiming we will derive any advantage from leaving the EU. Instead Theresa May and the Brexiters say we have to do it because it is what ‘the people’ voted for. And anyone who argues against this is an ‘enemy of the people.’ So is the ‘will of the people’ the equivalent of a decree from an absolute monarch, a dictator or an infallible Pope?
We know there is no legal requirement for the referendum result to be implemented, because Parliament voted for a non-binding referendum, and, as the Brexiters kept arguing during the campaign, Parliament is sovereign. So is there a moral responsibility to impose the result?
There are, of course, many reasons for saying the result has no legitimacy. That it was won by a systematic campaign of lies and deception, that the number who voted for Brexit was far short of a majority of the electorate, etc. etc. But, for the purpose of this argument, let us leave them aside.
Suppose that tomorrow morning, Theresa May woke up and decided the warnings of virtually every reputable economist and most other authorities were correct after all. Brexit was going to do very serious damage to our country. Would she still be obliged to impose it? No matter how serious the damage?
Because if the answer is ‘no’, it means the ‘will of the people’ is not sacrosanct. And Theresa May is asking the wrong question. It should not be ‘how do we implement the “will of the people”’, but what do we do to serve their best interests. And that is something MPs shoud be examining now and urgently, long before Article 50 is triggered.