We're being asked to pre-commit to a pig-in-a-poke Brexit. Here's how we can retain a free handby Jolyon Maugham / February 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The marriage metaphor is apt. We have not yet taken even the first formal step. But already the decision to begin divorce proceedings with the European Union is clogged with past resentments, fears for the future, and the steady ambivalence that characterised the marriage. It was a finely balanced decision in June—and it remains a finely balanced decision now. The polls on support for “Leave” and “Remain” have barely shifted. But there is now pretty broad agreement that the time has come to trigger the separation.
So how do we make progress? The Remainers of 2016, and I am one, must start by putting aside expedient analyses of what the result of the referendum meant. It is true that it did not bind our parliament in law. But to make this point in isolation is to sidestep the democratic imperative of the result. We voted on whether to leave, and we collectively voted to leave. The fact this did not technically bind parliament does not imply that parliament can properly ignore it. And it is for this reason that I believe our parliament was in principle right to vote to trigger Article 50. And why, to answer a rather sharp question put to me by Al Jazeera, if I’d been an MP in a strongly “Remain” constituency, I hope I would nevertheless have had the courage to vote to do the same.
But putting aside expediency is something both sides need to do. The referendum left questions unanswered—and it simply denies reality to pretend otherwise. The ballot paper asked one question. No small print. And in asserting the right to read into the result what Brexit means, the government is the pallbearer claiming Grandpa would have wanted him to have the mahogany tallboy. The answering of the questions about precisely what the “Leave” vote means—profoundly important questions—is for our parliament. It is MPs who have a roving mandate from the people to answer them. Not a government whose manifesto was silent on them, being written before these questions pressed home.