Parliament cannot allow May’s false choice on Brexit to become the defaultby Helen Mountfield / February 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
The clock is ticking down to hard Brexit, and no one knows what is to become of us. There is no parliamentary majority for Theresa May’s deal; and still—it seems—no clear majority for a People’s Vote. Yet all but the European Research Group know that a no-deal exit from the EU would be a disaster: for jobs, growth, trade, social cohesion, peace in Ireland, and our place in the world.
The prime minister must put her latest proposal to the Commons on 26th February. Although she has (apparently) decided to permit no formal meaningful vote until 12th March, just 17 days before our intended departure from the EU, the debate on 27th February will be a pivotal moment for parliament to assert its proper role.
In 2015, MPs were ambivalent about their function in a representative democracy. Both parties supported legislation to allow an advisory referendum on leaving the EU, without clearly articulating what would be done if the advice was to leave. Although the referendum was constitutionally advisory, it was given considerable political force. Since the vote, parliament has treated itself as being required by the referendum’s marginal and equivocal advice, to leave the EU, in the name of “respecting” the result, but still with no consensus as to how this should be done or on what terms.
Having confused our structure of representative democracy with the language of direct democracy, many agonised MPs, who know full well how hard their constituents will be hit by Brexit, especially hard Brexit, are treating themselves as somehow “bound” to follow “the will of the people” off the edge of a cliff. So they passed legislation which commits us to leaving the EU on 29th March this year, with or without a deal, unless something turns up. Anything else, I have been told by hand-wringing Labour and Tory MPs, would damage faith in democracy.
But it is too late for that. Faith in democracy is already in jeopardy. The most damaging form of Brexit would place it in grave danger. If our elected representatives do not very soon get a grip, it is not hyperbolic to say that people will die because MPs could not decide. Consider for example the potential shortages of medicine that could result from congestion at ports in the event of no-deal; or the risk of the renewal of…