If a travel agent sold you a ‘holiday of a lifetime’ and it turned out to be everything you’d been promised, you would be delighted. But if it turned out to be unpleasant, unhealthy and far more expensive than you’d been led to believe, you’d rightly be upset.
That’s why most of us double-check before making a final commitment. Even if you’ve accepted an offer in principle, it’s entirely sensible to look at the small print before you actually sign on the dotted line. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to go on the trip. On the contrary, you do. But you are within your rights to seek some reassurances and check the details before committing. How much is it really going to cost? What’s the journey time? Does the place actually exist — we don’t want to end up in a building site on barren wasteland! What can we actually do when we get there — do the amenities match the glossy brochure?
Caveat emptor — ‘let the buyer beware‘ — reminds us that it is our responsibility to ensure we know exactly what we are buying before we part with our money. If we believe the sales pitch, the hype and the spin without investigating further, then more fool us.
Before the referendum, the Leave campaign claimed that we could have £350 million every week for the NHS. Well, even the people who were photographed in front of the infamous campaign bus have admitted that there is no chance of that ever materialising. So it’s not unreasonable to exercise a little caution and ask a few more questions before we set off on what could be a dangerous one-way trip. So: Caveat brexitor.
The narrow win for the Leave campaign in June signalled a direction of travel, but little more than that. Theresa May subsequently tried to specify some sort of start date for the journey by declaring she would trigger Article 50 before the end of next March, but refuses to give any further information.
The ruling of the High Court on the case brought against the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union should be welcomed by both sides. It is one of the first steps on what will be an incredibly long and complex journey, towards a destination still largely unknown and undefined other that ‘somewhere outside’.
The ruling does not say that we cannot leave the EU. But it reminds us that the the government can’t just decide to start a process that removes existing rights of its citizens without Parliament’s involvement. It reminds us that in our parliamentary democracy our rights as citizens are protected, and have been for hundreds of years. No single politician, not even the prime minister, can change laws that affect those who voted for them without the consent of Parliament. This is a very good thing for democracy.
The House of Commons and the House of Lords exist to ask questions, to debate issues and to consider the detailed implications from all points of view. Away from the febrile atmosphere of the referendum campaign, there is time and opportunity for detailed and sober scrutiny. It does not mean, as some hysterical responses to the judgement have suggested, that the political or judicial elite have somehow subverted the will of the people (or of the 52% of the 73% of people who voted). But it does mean that the British public will have a much more honest and realistic view of what the destination will look like. If, as I believe, this turns out to be a lot less appealing than the destination we were promised, we may indeed want the opportunity to reconsider whether we want to go on the journey at all.