You have to hand it to the Tories for their choice of words. Dubbing the parliamentary bill to undo the legislation that took us into the EU the Great Repeal Bill is very clever. It links it in our minds with the Great Reform Bill of 1832, which was one of the unsteady steps towards improving our democracy. (There are still many more to take).
In reality this will be a Great Retreat Bill: the first time as far as I'm aware when Britain has taken a step back from engaging positively, even if sometimes mistakenly, in World affairs, and withdrawing into a tight little island bunker.
However, if MPs do their duty there is every chance that this fanciful bill may rebound on Mrs May (or, maybe, as a Remainer, though low key, that's really what she wants.)
We understand that around two thirds (between 400 and 420 out of the 650) of MPs, and nearly all the Lords, are actually in favour of remaining in the EU. So when the Bill comes up for approval (arcanely called a "Reading") they should vote against it. Of course, the red-top press and leading Brexiteers will howl blue murder, and the more timid MPs will splutter about obeying the "will of the people" and the views of their constituents.
Well, they should "stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood" as Shakespeare put it in another crucial context, and remember why they were elected: to use their judgement on behalf of the nation. As Tony Benn so aptly put it: "I was elected to be a signpost, not a weathervane."
MPs who need their backbones strengthening should consider the following::
- the referendum is, legally, only advisory. In Britain it is "the Crown in parliament", not the people, that are sovereign. Agreed, it is a pity that this wasn't made clear during the referendum campaign, and so a lot of people will feel duped, but it remains a fact.
- a 52%- 48% majority is insufficient for such a serious decision. From golf clubs to music societies most other organisations in civic society require a two-thirds majority, or similar, to change their constitutions. Again it is a pity that, due to the complacency of the Remainers this wasn't written into the rules for the referendum before it took place, but it is common sense.
- some would add that we should also have required a positive vote from all the component parts of the UK. In Scotland and Northern Ireland there were majorities for remaining.
- although both sides in the referendum campaign indulged in wild exaggerations, the very mendacity of the Leave campaign has now been exposed, and even admitted by its perpetrators.
- the chief "Leaver" actually said that a narrow result such as 48% -52" would be insufficient. Admittedly, that was when he though Leave was going to lose.