Britain may have voted 52% in favour of leaving the EU, but Brexit won’t become a reality unless voted for by members of parliament, according to lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.
The Doughty Street Chambers founder says the referendum was “purely advisory”. His sentiments have been echoed by Charles Flint QC in a letter to the Times.
“Under our constitution, speaking as a constitutional lawyer, sovereignty rests in what we call the Queen in parliament,” Mr Robertson told The Independent.
“It’s the right of MPs alone to make or break laws, and the peers to block them.
“So there’s no force whatsoever in the referendum result. It’s entirely for MPs to decide.”
The much-spoken about article 50, the mechanism by which an EU member can leave the union, says a state can only leave the EU “in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”.
“Our most fundamental constitutional requirement is that the decision must be taken by parliament. It will require a bill,” said Mr Robertson. “MPs will have to do their duty to vote according to conscience and vote for what’s best for Britain.
“It’s a matter for their consciences. They have got to behave courageously and conscientiously.
“Democracy in Britain doesn’t mean majority rule. It’s not the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of the mob… it’s the representatives of the people, not the people themselves, who vote for them,” he said.
Meanwhile, UK housebuilders have lost as much as 40% of their value since Britain voted to leave the EU, as the threat of recession erased their standing as safe haven stocks.
About £8bn (€9.5bn) has been wiped off the market capitalisation of the country’s four biggest housebuilders, Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon, Barratt, and Berkeley, since the result of Thursday’s referendum.
“You’ve gone from certainty and clarity and confidence to a complete lack of,” said Shore Capital analyst Robin Hardy.
Those housebuilders have over the last five years reported steady profit growth and rewarded investors with higher payouts after recovering from the 2008 financial crash. They had said there was more growth to come.
But uncertainty about the outcome had already started to send shudders through the sector ahead of the vote, with Berkeley warning earlier in June that there had been a 20% drop in reservations of new homes.
Top economists say a recession is now on the cards, prompting fears of higher unemployment, falling consumer confidence and as a result, lower housing demand and a question mark over housebuilders’ future profitability.
“You’re going to have masses of different opinions about what’s going to happen to transaction levels, what’s going to happen to pricing, what’s going to happen to costs, what’s going to happen to mortgage lending, what’s going to happen to policy,” said Mr Hardy.
Canaccord analyst Aynsley Lammin said there was a risk to his consensus forecasts for the housebuilders, but noted that the sector was in a strong position to withstand any downturn.
“They haven’t got a huge amount of debt, most of them have got net cash and they’ve been very disciplined, so I think there’s some valuation support at some point,” he said.
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