Sub Editor of Naked Politics
In the final week of America’s typically braggadocious “most important vote in the universe ever”, in which they look forward to replacing the coolest president in living memory with either a racist sexual predator or a corrupt imperialist sociopath, the result of our own little plebiscite is under threat of being subverted by career politicians that refuse to accept the will of the people. Western democracy is on the ropes, as a groundswell of discontent is directed towards the political elite. The mounting paranoia amongst Brexiteers is that the EU is akin to the Hotel California; we can check out but never leave!
A High Court ruling on Thursday established that a parliamentary vote must take place before the government will be permitted to carry out the instruction that we, the people, issued five months ago. Despite a clear commitment in the pre-referendum literature that “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide” it seems that they failed to make sure that they actually had the power to do so. That £9.3m promise was defended on the basis that it was a formal government statement rather than a campaigning tool. It’s nice to know that we were lied to in an official capacity rather than just on the side of a bus!
Theresa May will appeal the decision in the Supreme Court, hoping that they recognise that leaving the EU is an international matter and therefore reserved for the government rather than Parliament. A precedent that has applied for every treaty that has involved “more Europe” so failing to apply the same on the way out seems inconsistent to say the least.
Jeremy Corbyn has followed Nicola Sturgeon and Tim Farron in announcing that their parties will seek to hold the government to ransom by refusing to vote in favour of triggering article 50, until they agree to weaken our negotiating position, by declaring their hand before discussions even commence. An embarrassingly vacuous stipulation given the temerity with which the intelligence of 17.4 million independence-craving Britons was questioned in the aftermath of the vote. Perhaps if such a clear advantage can be surrendered, the eventual deal will be disappointing enough for remain campaigners to crow “I told you so”; but does this vindication-seeking motivation really justify their attempts to sabotage British interests?
Many of them represent constituencies that voted to remain, which arguably warrants their approach. Or at least, it would do, if they weren’t being so intellectually dishonest. Championing the same Parliamentary sovereignty that they were happy to surrender before the vote, they disingenuously begin every sentence by claiming to “respect the result”, then follow up with thinly veiled calls for a faux Brexit that retains our membership of the EU in all but name. The proposed “soft Brexit” constitutes remaining constrained by the Single Market, having no control over our borders, signing up to rules that we would no longer have a say in and presumably still making some form of financial contribution. A worst of all worlds outcome that achieves nothing other than an effective reversal of the referendum result.
They arrogantly dismiss leave voters’ opinions because, “they didn’t know what they were voting for”. A particularly condescending stance considering that Cameron, Osbourne, Clegg, both Johnsons, Stuart, Leadsom, Gove, Farage…etc. were all unequivocal that a vote to leave the EU was a vote to leave the Single Market and “take back control” of our sovereignty and therefore immigration policy. Unless 52% of the country slipped into a coma for the first three weeks of June, it seems a little far-fetched to suggest that they were all uninformed on the matter.
Even more insulting, are those that make the same arguments while professing to represent their pro-Brexit constituents. Ed Miliband, for example, is the MP for Doncaster North, where more than two thirds voted ‘leave’ yet he is among the group that seeks to undermine the Brexit process. Like many politicians in stronghold constituencies, he was parachuted in despite having little or no connection to the area. These electoral deserts require no attention to be retained by incumbent parties and the residents within them justifiably feel that they have been abandoned by “the establishment”. Their distrust should surprise no one; nor should the frustration that some express, as the first meaningful vote that they have ever cast, could potentially be thwarted.
Is there really any danger of article 50 not being triggered though? Twice as many constituencies came out in favour of ‘leave’ than ‘remain’, so a significant number of remain-leaning MPs would need to summon the bravery to betray their own electors. The government must know that. So, what is stopping them from posing the question to parliament? And here’s the rub. The real issue is not those that have voters to answer to, but those that do not. Ironically, our attempts to escape from one set of unelected bureaucrats could be both delayed and weakened by another of the home-grown variety; the House of Lords. Jacob Rees-Mogg has suggested that May could “do a Lloyd George” by stuffing the Lords with a thousand new Brexit-supporting peers. Perhaps the impending constitutional crisis can be averted by the Supreme Court next month; but as my faith in Western democracy wanes, I’ll not be holding my breath!