They said I'd better take anything they'd got

A couple of interesting developments - one on the other side of the world and one here at home. Turns out that the UK's Parliament is still sovereign (who knew?). And I think Gareth Morgan should be given more praise than scorn for wanting to inject some thinking into New Zealand's political scene.

The decision by a British High Court bench of three judges that the UK's Conservative Government cannot unilaterally "Brexit" from the European Union, but instead must obtain Parliament's assent to doing so, has thrown a lot of cats amongst the pigeons. I rather suspect, however, that it will simply change the way in which what would have happened anyway happens. Theresa May has pinned her colours to the mast, and the Tories are stuck with her. And let's not forget that the heartland support for Brexit are the people that Labour needs to win back if it is ever to govern again. 

Reading through the actual decision, however, it comes across as a bit of no-brainer. The UK Executive (Government) took the UK into Europe using its "prerogative power" to make treaties with other countries. Parliament then passed legislation that incorporates a whole bunch of european law into UK domestic law - which would cease to have effect if and when the UK were to Brexit its way out of Europe. And because only the UK Parliament can change the UK's domestic law (as is set out in parliamentary enactments), this means that the UK Government cannot rely on its prerogative powers to "trigger Article 50" (i.e. Brexit the UK out of Europe). Parliament, as I occasionally have cause to remark, is sovereign and its laws (including a law deeming european law to have effect within the UK) cannot be displaced by anyone or anything but Parliament itself - so the decision to Brexit must come from it.

Of course, a lot of this hangs on the Court correctly finding that leaving Europe would automatically bring about a change to the UK's domestic law - a conclusion that involves some messy interpretation of the relationship between UK law and european law, which I don't really understand. But from a basic first principles basis, the outcome seems pretty unimpeachable. Indeed, parts of the judgment read like a primer for Laws 204: Public Law here at Otago - and I rather suspect those parts will figure heavily in next year's course materials.

What is more, little old New Zealand features in the Court's reasons:

First, the powerful constitutional principle that the Crown has no power to alter the law of the land by use of its prerogative powers is the product of an especially strong constitutional tradition in the United Kingdom (and the democracies which follow that tradition - see for example the New Zealand decision in Fitzgerald v Muldoon [1976] 2 NZLR 615 at 622).

So go Chief Justice Wild! Respect paid from the other side of the globe!! And if anyone has a lazy afternoon or evening to spare and wants to read an incredibly well written and interesting account of that seminal case in NZ public law, may I fully recommend Justice Stephen Kos' Otago Law Review piece from 2014. It's a cracking good read.

Turning to matters closer to home (albeit not in Dunedin, so still relatively foreign), can I just stick up here for the concept of Gareth Morgan's just announced "The Opportunities Party"? I have no idea how successful this will be - I'll simply note that aside from Bob Jones' "New Zealand Party" (which was formed and operated in a very different political climate) such outsider parties do not have a strong track record in New Zealand. And I also have no idea whether Gareth Morgan as an individual will be any good at the practice of politics, or will instead turn out to be a less creepy version of Colin Craig. 

However, what I do know is that Morgan has spent a lot of his money in recent years producing research and seeking to spark public debate on everything from the environment to the Treaty of Waitangi to rethinking tax and welfare policies. People may disagree with the conclusions reached, or have criticisms of the methodologies used, but the underlying motivation seems extremely laudable to me ... to move past gut-level ideological reflexes and status quo biases and instead look at what evidence tells us about alternatives. 

So given that there's been a fair bit of angsting of late about the emergence of "post truth politics" and the "death of expertise", anyone who is standing up and asserting that there is a place in our political discourse for informed policy and fact-based alternatives - especially someone who has put a lot of skin into that game before throwing his hat in the ring - ought to be applauded rather than ridiculed for his efforts. Whether that then means he deserves our votes remains, of course, to be determined.