Opinion: Fight over Brexit ruling endangers UK democracy | Opinion | DW | 24.01.2017
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Opinion: Fight over Brexit ruling endangers UK democracy

The court's decision was clear: There can be no Brexit without Parliament's approval. But, DW's Barbara Wesel writes, the ensuing fight over the judgment also shows that the UK's democratic foundation is in danger.

Tuesday's Supreme Court decision in London should not have been necessary. How could a government be so arrogant as to attempt to engineer a nation's exit from the European Union without consulting the elected representatives of the citizenry? That would be anti-democratic - something more likely done by Russia's Vladimir Putin or Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan. UK Prime Minister Theresa May did not do herself any favors with her attempt to swiftly steer the Brexit process past all political resistance.

The fight over Tuesday's decision by the Supreme Court has shined a light on some embarrassing blind spots in perceptions of democracy in Britain. This is especially true as regards the small clique of Brexiteers who eagerly employ any means necessary to bury political opponents. Their blatant disregard for democracy's foundations and etiquette show that British conservatives are well on their way to becoming "Trumpified."

Barbara Wesel Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*

DW's Barbara Wesel

The situation has deteriorated so much that the justice minister even declined to defend High Court judges after the right-wing tabloid press labeled them "Enemies of the People" when they ruled the same in November. Meanwhile, Brexit seems to have evolved into something akin to an overarching reason of state, justifying anything and everything that the government does. And that government is on a fast track to not only ending the UK's relationship with the European Union, but also to doing serious damage to Britain's democracy.

Insufferable attacks

The most inexcusable and disgusting aspect of the entire situation has been the way in which Brexit supporters and their internet trolls have attacked co-plaintiff Gina Miller. She has done the country a great service by pushing Parliament's responsibility in this important issue. And she is paying a high price for doing so: Since the verdict was handed down, she and her family have received death threats and been drenched with verbal sewage by critics. Miller has not only been attacked politically - she has also been the victim of sexist and racist attacks of the most vile sort. And where is Prime Minister May's declaration that political arguments in Britain should be conducted with a sense of civility and not with death threats? Nowhere in sight!

The UK's Brexit group is led by Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox and, naturally, David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the European Union. They are obviously willing to use any tactic at their disposal to stifle opposition. And still it remains unclear just how Brexit is to work. Despite the fact that the advantages that Brexit is supposed to bring the United Kingdom and its businesses are still being controverted by experts, supporters are pushing forward with irrationality and a quasireligious fervor.

The Supreme Court's verdict does not change anything for the European Union, which will wait for May to receive the backing of Parliament and then trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. Westminster will now face a moment of truth: As the representatives of the people, it will be up to parliamentarians to protect citizens' interests during Brexit. Legislators will be charged with negotiating issues such as workers' rights, consumers' rights and much more. At the same time, they will have to defend Britain's democratic traditions - traditions that came under threat with the Brexit referendum and face even greater danger now from the propagandists of the "Leave" camp. 

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