The PM is wrong to suggest it’s her deal or no dealby Hugo Dixon / November 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
The prime minister has said time and again that there will not be another referendum on Brexit. It’s part of her ploy to herd MPs into backing her miserable deal by closing off any alternative other than crashing out of the EU with no deal at all.
But don’t believe her. We live in a parliamentary democracy. This means that, if MPs want something enough, including a People’s Vote on her deal, they will get it.
But on Brexit, parliament can’t now force the government to do something that it doesn’t want to do? Isn’t that what the Chief Clerk of the House of Commons, David Natzler, told MPs last month? Some people certainly think so. For example, last week Nick Robinson, the BBC presenter, interpreted the chief clerk’s comments as meaning: “you can vote for what you like but it will not force the government to give the country another referendum.”
Natzler’s testimony was actually more nuanced. He said that any motion passed by MPs would have “considerable political effect” and asked: “how could a government survive without doing what the House wanted it to do?” Prime ministers can easily change their tune if they lose MPs’ support. Think of how David Cameron abandoned his attempt to bomb Syria when the Commons voted against the idea.
The fact that the current prime minister keeps on saying that she won’t have another referendum doesn’t count for a lot either. After all, she kept on saying that she wouldn’t have another election—and then suddenly she called one last year. And she kept on saying we would quit the customs union but her deal would keep us in it for as the foreseeable future.
It’s true that Natzler said parliamentary resolutions “only have statutory effect if the statute has been passed that gives them effect.” Doesn’t that mean that, even if MPs voted for a People’s Vote, the government wouldn’t be legally compelled to hold one?
Not quite. May could certainly dig her heels in and tells MPs she’s not budging. She could gamble that they wouldn’t have the nerve to sack her. But even if they didn’t replace her with somebody else, they could still pass legislation to force her to do their will. They could instruct her…