Theresa May says today in her statement announcing a leadership bid that there should be no triggering of the article 50 process until a negotiating strategy has been resolved. That must be right, but she also asserts there will be no general election before 2020.
Is Parliamentary approval for triggering Article 50 enough in the current circumstances? We have no fixed constitutional rules and our processes must therefore evolve as new circumstances arise. In this case, an almost unique flirtation with direct democracy has resulted in a seismic decision which cuts across the general election platforms of every elected party apart from the single UKIP MP. Nobody has voted for this government or this Parliament to direct negotiations with the EU in any given way. The only means of safeguarding any democratic input into the reshaping of our country is for a general election to precede the triggering of article 50. That is not to advocate rejecting or ignoring the Leave vote, but to recognise that the vote to leave tells us only that we are not to be part of the EU: it tells us nothing about what our relationship should now entail. There is no mandate for fringe figures of the Conservative party – some of whom, such as May herself – backed Remain to now assume leadership of the country and assert their own version of the consequences of Brexit. That would be no more democratic or constitutional than ignoring the Brexit vote altogether.
Section 2 of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 requires two thirds of Parliamentarians to approve a new election, though it seems that could be amended by majority. The focus of progressive agitation must now be to secure democracy through a general election or else risk the very autocracy that so many thought they were rejecting with the vote to Leave.