The contract between ordinary citizens and their representatives is in danger of deterioratingby Thomas Maidment / January 14, 2019 / Leave a comment
For the political junkies among us, our desire to absorb all-things current affairs extends well beyond newspaper articles and the 10 o’clock news. So, when James Graham’s drama Brexit: The Uncivil War was broadcast on Channel 4, many of us watched attentively. Despite the occasional inaccuracy and the odd poor portrayal, the programme got the fundamentals correct: reasserting the importance of that infamous Brexit mantra “Take Back Control.”
Whilst this slogan was originally deployed with the understanding that it was championing the return of power from the European Union to the United Kingdom, the implications of the withdrawal process have allowed this phrase to become polysemic, and increasingly pertinent.
With the House of Commons recently passing the Europhile and former attorney-general Dominic Grieve’s amendment—demanding Theresa May returns to the Commons within three working days with a Plan B, should her deal fail to pass—power is gradually shifting away from the prime minister, and towards the legislative; parliament is effectively “taking back control.”
The significance of this is twofold. MPs will have to decide which option it is they want to pursue, which may take some time—whether this be the Norway-Plus option, the vociferously-voiced yet ambiguous ‘Labour’ Brexit, or a second referendum. It has also heightened the possibility of no Brexit, frustrating the wishes of millions of voters and rendering no-deal an impossibility.
For Dominic Grieve and other Remain-inclined Conservative MPs, by further tying the Government’s hands over Brexit in order to avoid a crisis of no-deal, they may be leading the country into a different crisis. In this respect, there are two different aspects worth considering.
The first surrounds the nature of the parliamentary sovereignty that Remain-inclined Conservative rebels wish to implement. With ‘sovereignty’ used as an important buzzword throughout the referendum campaign, the Tory rebels attempting to twist this into a demonstration of how they are, in fact, exercising and demonstrating that sovereignty, are misconstruing its very basis.
The strong-armed parliamentary sovereignty they are attempting to enforce—giving parliament total control over the Brexit procedure and using that as leverage to overrule the referendum result—is a deliberate attempt to weaponise sovereignty against the ordinary people from whom it derives. In doing so, the contract between ordinary citizens and their representatives, and indeed, the moral legitimacy of parliament, is in danger of deteriorating.
If we take into consideration the views of all the Remain-inclined MPs, most are open about their desire to have a second referendum and stop Brexit once and for all. As a result, it does not require intellectual gymnastics in order to see that those who have backed this amendment are potentially laying the foundations for parliament to halt Brexit or call a second vote; a constitutional and democratic crisis if ever there were one.
Secondly, and perhaps more of a pressing concern, is the question surrounding parliament’s limitations. By further tying the Government’s hands over Brexit in order to try and avoid no-deal, the Conservative rebels have put too much faith in a parliament that does not know its mind. Aware of numerous potential options, the Commons is simultaneously spoilt for choice but seemingly incapable of setting the course for the UK’s final destination.
As of yet, no course of action appears to command a potential majority, with parliament only able to broadly agree on one issue: that no-deal is a disastrous option. Motivated by fears of this scenario, yet wary of the potential backlash from putting the brakes on Brexit, MPs are proving just as fallible as ordinary citizens. Dominic Grieve’s amendment may have tried to speed up the process and guide the direction, but in reality it may only further polarise parliamentary factions and exacerbate the issue of a parliament in deadlock.
Starting in a position of parliamentary instability is no way to negotiate with 27 EU member states. If Theresa May’s deal fails to pass the Commons on Tuesday, as many suspect it will, having a parliament that allows its 650 individual MPs, irrespective of their talent and skill, to set the tone from which international treaties will be drafted is no way to reach a satisfactory Brexit deal.
In order to respect the result of the referendum, and uphold our country’s democratic principles, a Brexit deal must be struck; the question remains as to the best way to form one. The Tory rebels who backed the Grieve amendment gave the PM little time to renegotiate because they have already lost faith in negotiating with the EU. Instead, their main concern is thwarting the Brexit process. With a trade bill going to the House of Lords this week, the Government may have to explore possibilities of a new customs arrangement.
Perhaps, with time, there is the promise that parliament may back a new deal along these lines. But one thing is for certain. There is no majority for either extreme. In the end, it is likely that the outcome will not be too dissimilar from May’s current deal, and all Grieve’s amendment could result in is a significant waste of time.