Why millionaire plumber Charlie Mullins wants the government to put the triggering of Article 50 to a vote

Charlie Mullins, CEO, Pimlico Plumbers talks Brexit

To a graduate of the University of Common Sense like me there’s something very perverse about parliament being usurped at the exact moment in history when it’s supposed to be taking back its authority. That’s the thought that hit me at about 9:55am on Monday morning, as I sat listening to constitutional argument in Court 4 at the High Courts of Justice.

In June it was decided by referendum that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the European Union (EU). Much of the serious debate at the time revolved around the complicated issue of sovereignty, specifically recovering power from Brussels, back to the Westminster parliament.

As a former member of the ‘Remain’ campaign I must accept that the referendum was lost and despite being ‘advisory’, must be respected. But what I cannot abide is a settlement that in fact erodes the power of our parliament (as it existed in 1972), rather than establishing its supremacy.

Originally my reasons for wanting the constitutional question of who should trigger Article 50 clarified stemmed from my desire as a businessman for certainty and stability in the economy. And this is still true! For me it wasn’t about who was right or wrong, just that we took the correct constitutional path. That is why I backed Gina Miller’s legal challenge to the Government’s claim that it can take the UK out of the EU by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, without consulting parliament. 

As a result of my involvement in this legal case the Government has accused me of trying to ‘subvert democracy’ and of ‘insulting the intelligence’ of the British people. And for what? Having the good sense to ensure that this momentous political change for our nation is done in a legal and constitutional fashion? Outrageous!

Personally I think we are performing a public service by fronting up the cash to force the Government to do its own constitutional due diligence. The alternative seems unthinkable; that given the lack of clarity, they are prepared to blindly push on into the unknown, when there exists strong dissenting legal opinion that parliament, not the Government, must trigger Article 50.

For those who like a legal backbone to their court cases, it goes like this: the Government wants to use Royal Prerogative powers to trigger Article 50, but our legal opinion maintains that this is wrong. Our legal team are arguing that such powers are not supposed to be used where they would ‘frustrate or substantially undermine’ laws made by parliament. And because the European Communities Act 1972 was an act of parliament Article 50 must also be triggered by parliament.

As I’ve already said the above argument wasn’t what first moved me to get involved, but as I sat in court listening to the QCs making the case for parliament, I began to realise that this issue goes much deeper than the economy.

Why, if in1972 parliament was considered the highest ranking authority in the land – when it took us into the European Community, not the government - is it no longer top dog today, and able to reverse its previous decision? 

In any case if you ask me we’re doing the Government a favour, even if they’re not prepared to admit it. I don’t think they’re so sure about using Royal Prerogative as they make out, otherwise why haven’t they just got on with invoking Article 50, rather than postponing until the end of March 2017? The answer is that the clarity and certainty we’re seeking is good for everyone and only available in the High Court.

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