The doctrine of the “popular will” is one that sits uneasily with the institutions of a representative democracy. It is a conceit much beloved of dictators and authoritarians of all political colors, who standardly claim a privileged insight into the will of the people, untrammeled by institutional or legal considerations.
There is more than a hint of such attitudes in the unwillingness of Mrs. May‘s government to accept the High Court’s initial ruling last November that Parliament needed to be involved in the triggering of Article 50 and her rejection of the call by the House of Lords for a “meaningful” Parliamentary vote on the final Brexit terms.
The political basis upon which these disturbing claims are based is anyway a notably fragile one, a referendum called to settle a domestic dispute within the Conservative Party; restricted to a dubious franchise; fought on the basis of widespread misinformation and wishful thinking; and won by a narrow majority of those voting, composed of only 37% of the whole electorate.
That Mrs. May’s government, under the increasing influence of its most radical Eurosceptic wing, has faced so little resistance to or effective scrutiny of its zigzagging European policy over the past eight months raises worrying concerns about the stability of our institutions and the robustness of our political culture.