Bring direct and parliamentary democracy back togetherby Andrew Adonis / September 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
Britain faces its most severe constitutional crisis since 1688. But while the Glorious Revolution established the primacy of parliament, the Brexit Revolution threatens to subsume it under populism.
This populist revolution has a constitutional cause. It is the detachment of referendums from parliamentary democracy.
In the same way that parliament transferred the selection of party leaders to activists without realising the impact this would have, so too it ceded policy determination over Brexit to direct democracy, again without realising the implications in the event that a referendum went against considered parliamentary opinion.
It was misjudged to hold referendum on Brexit without considering what would happen in this event, and without any plan either for Brexit itself or for how it would be taken forward if it won.
Rather like the evolving “activist supremacy” rules for selecting party leaders, the 2016 Brexit referendum was a mutation on a referendum system which started in Britain in the 1970s.
The first three referendums in the 1970s were to confirm proposals already agreed by parliament—membership of the European Community, and devolution to Scotland and Wales. EC membership was supported two-to-one in a 1975 referendum; devolution was rejected in Scotland and Wales. In the case of Scottish devolution, there was a majority among those voting (51.6 per cent to 48.4 per cent), but the “Yes” vote failed to meet a threshold imposed by parliament of 40 per cent of the entire electorate. Had the same threshold requirement been in place for the 2016 Brexit referendum, Leave would not have “won,” because the 52 per cent Leave vote represented only 37 per cent of the electorate.
No referendum was held under Thatcher or Major. The Blair government held no UK-wide referendum, but enacted some key decisions on establishing devolved institutions (the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly, the Northern Ireland assembly, the Greater London authority and mayor and a regional assembly for the north east) contingent on endorsement by referendum. In all these cases except the north eastern assembly, this endorsement was forthcoming.
The north eastern assembly was the project of deputy prime minister John Prescott, not a first-order project of Tony Blair and his government…