Matters of law are often best left to those who understand law, and that, whisper it quietly, usually does not mean the great and good of the Pundit Establishment, those with the sense of entitlement that comes from having their views solicited by a range of broadcasters on subjects on which they are all too often woefully unfit to pontificate. The argument around Brexit has provided a superb example of this shortcoming.
Specifically, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has provided an excellent opportunity to compare two positions: that of the Pundit Establishment, and that of the real world. On the question of whether Article 50 is reversible, it should come as no surprise that these two positions do not agree with one another: in other words, more than one of the Pundit Establishment has ended up covered in rather more than confusion.
Worse, this excursion into the realms of unreality was totally self-inflicted: respected pundits made themselves look foolish - as well as getting it wrong - by their own inability to grasp points of law and legal jurisdiction. The most notable contribution came from LBC host and pundit Iain Dale, who started well enough, telling “Article 50 is part of the Treaty of Lisbon, a legally enforceable international treaty. It's a treaty. Not a political document”.
No problem so far. But then he went all wrong, blustering “The Supreme Court has interpreted Article 50 as being irreversible. And you can't get away from that. That's not something Parliament can overturn. Learn your law”. Sadly, Dale had not learnt that law himself, and what was worse for the ranks of the Pundit Establishment, he was not alone.
Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, taking time out from commissioning more Muslim-bashing bigotry, opined “Why the surprise? The Supreme Court ruling proved that Article 50 made Brexit final - so a ‘no deal’ outcome is the default. If Parliament rejects a deal, then it votes for no-deal”. He helpfully provided a link to an article on the subject by Himself.
Such was Nelson’s confidence in his judgment - that Article 50 was irreversible - he returned to the subject later: “But Article 50 irreversibility means no-deal is the default. It’s a deal that has to be approved by the Commons”. This was, sadly for both Dale and Nelson, one of those things that looks too good to be true turning out to be indeed too good to be true. Because the Supreme Court had not ruled on the subject.
As David Allen Green had to point out, beginning his attempt to let Dale and Nelson down gently, “Have seen a couple of tweets from pundits asserting the @UKSupremeCourt decided that Article 50 was irreversible. I won't embarrass the pundits by quote tweeting them”, the Supreme Court did not rule on the reversibility or otherwise of Article 50.
You read that right. It did not rule thus because not only was it not asked to do, it could not have done: Article 50 is part of EU law, and therefore not within the jurisdiction of our Supreme Court (Allen Green’s complete Twitter thread outlining this can be seen HERE).
That has not stopped Iain Dale heartily endorsing Tory MP Nick Boles’ inference that Article 50 is irreversible. There’s someone who missed Keynes’ legendary riposte. So perhaps Dale would like to address it now: “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, Sir?” Well, Iain? No pressure, now.