Parliament is as deadlocked as it was a month ago. Theresa May’s Brexit deal continues to satisfy neither Remainers nor Leavers and is widely expected to be defeated when MPs vote next week. It may prove difficult for May to continue as prime minister, but it is difficult to see any viable alternative. Whatever happens, MPs are unlikely to agree a way forward anytime soon.
Those who want Brexit at any cost, even if that entails no deal, are in the minority—as was made clear in the vote yesterday evening. Those who want to hand the decision back to the people in a second referendum have been gaining support. But another bitterly divisive campaign—one which might result in a majority voting for May’s deal or, worse, no deal—is surely not what most MPs want. And even in the Labour Party there is hesitation about a general election, the preferred solution of the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a long-term Brexiteer, which in any case would not resolve the deadlock.
Yet, in this impasse, a clear majority in parliament agrees on this proposition—the voters reached the wrong decision in the 2016 referendum. When MPs voted two years ago to give the prime minister the power to trigger Article 50 (the process to start the UK’s withdrawal from the EU), most of them did so only because they felt bound by the referendum result. They thought the result was wrong. Most current MPs still do. But they voted to implement it anyway.
Not all MPs felt their hands were tied: 114 voted against invoking Article 50, albeit only after the Supreme Court required parliament to decide. Kenneth Clarke, the only Conservative MP to vote against, paraphrased Edmund Burke’s oft-cited remark to justify his decision: “if I no longer give you the benefit of my judgment and simply follow your orders, I am not serving you; I am betraying you.” But now Clark says he will vote for May’s deal, a “dog’s breakfast” which he expects to be defeated, after which he believes Article 50 should be revoked to delay Brexit. This question of outright Article 50 revocation deserves our attention.
If MPs believe Brexit is bad for our common good, they have a duty to oppose it. Opposing Brexit entails no affront to democracy and is not the same as opposing “the will of the people,” which is a myth. Our constitution has…