Co-Editor of Naked Politics
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, it won’t have escaped your attention that those troublesome Tories are trying to pull a fast one. They’ve dispensed with their old paternalistic ways and are now hell-bent on giving people exactly what they voted for…The Bastards! – as John Major is fond of saying.
Not to worry, EU-fans. The dream of distancing yourself from power by ceding sovereignty to a supranational federation may not be over. Much like the EU, our own democratic system contains features that enable our exulted leaders to completely ignore ridiculous ‘populist’ ideals like carrying out ‘the will of the people’. While it is true that a few MPs in marginal constituencies must go through the indignity of pretending that their constituents’ opinions matter a jot, our lesser-of-two-evils electoral system ensures that many are in ‘safe seats’, so needn’t bother. In addition to that fail-safe, whenever us pesky plebs compel lawmakers to vote in accordance with our views rather than prioritising their own interests, they can always fall back on the unelected revising chamber to amend the salient details – ‘Thank the Lords’ they don’t have to pander to anything so frivolous as public opinion!
Unfortunately for the MPs that are still hoping to hoodwink the electorate by delivering BRINO (Brexit in name only) while pretending to “respect the referendum result”, the Lords can’t let them off the hook entirely. Their power is limited to suggesting amendments, leaving MPs with the responsibility of making the final decision under the scrutiny of their electors.
Of the fifteen proposed legislative changes, most are insubstantial, but a few have serious implications. Among the most noteworthy is a clause insisting that remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) should be adopted as a negotiating aim. This is unlikely to gain enough support from Labour MPs though, as it would mean retaining ‘free movement of people’, which is a red line for many Brexit-backing Labour voters. Another concerns the Irish border and precludes any change to the arrangements. The government want to limit that to physical infrastructure; a more reasonable position that is likely to receive broad support.
Two potentially significant amendments do have a chance of being accepted though…
Amendment One prevents the government from leaving the EU before presenting plans to keep us in a customs union. Despite that removing our ability to ‘take back control’ of our international trading relationships – a central tenet of the Leave vote – Labour MPs across both Remain and Leave-backing constituencies are likely to support this. Fearing a revolt from their most ardently Europhile backbenchers, Ministers are urging all Conservative MPs to vote on the amendments “in a way that reflects both the referendum result and the manifesto that they stood on just last year”.
Perhaps the most important proposal though is Amendment 19, which aims to enhance the ‘meaningful vote’ that MPs will cast once the final deal is agreed. It would tie the government into following “any direction” that is approved by a Commons resolution, throwing open the possibility of another plebiscite or simply overturning the result of the first. The government is understandably resistant, but will they be able to garner enough support from MPs? Having squandered her majority, Theresa may but Theresa may not.
These proposals form part of a concerted effort to thwart Brexit by severely weakening our negotiating position and engendering a worst-of-all-worlds outcome that would be rejected in a “people’s vote” – a euphemism for re-running the referendum that is about as well-disguised as Superman in a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and a Fedora hat.
Unelected Peers clearly hold the electorate in contempt and regret David Cameron’s decision to open Pandora’s box by calling a referendum in the first place. The dissenting hoi polloi should only be roused every five years, with their choices strictly limited to a take-it-or-leave-it package deal; vote red for free hugs and economic collapse, vote blue for a cold robotic PM being constantly undermined by a clown-like foreign secretary. If the great unwashed feel disenfranchised by that; good! They should get back to watching Love Island and looking forward to the World Cup. Politics was never supposed to be this interactive. But now we’ve had a taste for it, and experience such a wide array of choices in every other aspect of our lives, can they ever put that genie back in the bottle? I sincerely hope not!