Are you an American who feels worried about the state of deadlock that now reigns throughout your federal government? Here’s a suggestion that might make you feel a little better about your circumstances: just glance across the Atlantic Ocean and observe the level of paralysis that is gripping the government of Great Britain.
Why? Because the British government can’t seem to settle a fundamental issue regarding its own sovereignty. Although the United Kingdom is currently a member of the European Union, its citizens recently voted in a national referendum to secede from the continental bloc.
We thus might have expected British Prime Minister Theresa May to issue a formal statement of secession by triggering Article 50 of the Union treaty. But that has not yet occurred, and last week’s opening arguments of a Court case now raise some doubt that it will ever occur.
Why? Because there is confusion about whether the result of the national referendum is binding under British law. Based on a concept known as the royal prerogative, the Prime Minister is the chief executive of the federal government. She therefore maintains the privilege and the obligation to implement the royal family’s directives under federal law.
And Theresa May has indeed announced her intention to issue a formal statement of succession by March 2017. So why is there any confusion or gridlock regarding this intention?
Well, for starters, the British Parliament might need to ratify the result of the referendum. And even though the members of Parliament are elected by the people of Britain, they may not necessarily decide to ratify a result that generates such risk for the British economy.
In addition, the British royal family has maintained a strictly neutral position on the question of Brexit. So It is difficult to define the Prime Minister’s proposed trigger of Article 50 as a matter of royal prerogative, given that the royal family maintains no public position on the question of Britain’s status within the European Union.
And finally, the Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that controls the most seats in Parliament. So it would be awkward at best, and perhaps a conflict of interest at worst, for Theresa May to initiate succession over the protests of Parliament while leading the political party that controls that very legislature.
Of course, even if the British courts grant Parliament ratification or veto authority over the results of the Brexit referendum, there is no guarantee that the legislators will vote against secession. After all, by doing so, they would be voting against the will of the people, and against the declared intention of their own political leader.
The government of the United Kingdom is in quite a state of confusion, isn’t it? Fortunately, the British courts are expected to settle the issue with a legal judgment relatively soon. And with the American Presidential election about to occur as well, the world’s two oldest democracies may soon be able to put their greatest uncertainties to rest.