Another few weeks have gone by in this Brexit hell since I last wrote on the subject, and recent events, I think, represent an inevitability. The Prime Minister, the moment he made the pledge to deliver Brexit ‘do or die’, put himself at odds with Parliament. This battle was always going to come to pass, regardless of how close he was to making a so-called ‘deal’, or whether he had prorogued Parliament or not. First, MPs – after the government lost their slender majority – passed a bill to force the Prime Minister to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50 and then those who backed the bill, including the father of the House Ken Clarke, had the whip removed.
This was a remarkable event, but one only has to take a cursory glance at the legislation passed by the opposition and Tory rebels to understand why this was a fitting punishment.
This outrageous EU Withdrawal Bill (a very unfitting name) not only forces the Prime Minister to ask for an extension but also to accept any terms the EU put to him. This makes him (an, so, Britain) a pawn of twenty-seven other foreign nations. Such MPs received legal advice from the EU Council to ensure that their ploy would work, acting with Brussels to obstruct our exit which has been given three mandates thus far: 2016, 2017 and 2019.
To feel sympathy for these MPs, or to call them ‘moderate’, is laughable. There is nothing moderate about what the two Houses passed, and the Prime Minister is well within his rights to fight it in any way he can in order to preserve the fundamental right of the government to conduct its business on its terms. This is a power given to the government by the people and not Parliament.
As for those members of the Cabinet who have resigned in protest, they knew what they had signed up for; to have accepted their positions knowing they were opposed to the government’s flagship policy was frankly disingenuous. The Conservative Party does not need people who act in such a manner.
There is no doubt that these stunning events represent a wider constitutional story that unfolds before us with each passing day. To draw from the ideas of historian David Starkey, the foundations of the system was already rotten, and the referendum result was the final axe to the wooden stilts that had been holding up the status quo of functional politics.
Starkey puts it down to the universal neoliberalism, and elitism, that emerged from New Labour, whose ideas were adopted succinctly by the Conservative Party and then the civil service. These ideas threw out nationhood, tradition and constitutional precedent and Brexit was the opportunity for this elitism to take its most pure form. Parliament gave power to the people to decide and Parliament has now chewed up that promise and spat it out.
The only man trying to cling onto democracy is the Prime Minister and now he only holds 288 seats. In normal circumstances, Parliament would recognise this cannot go on; that they have crippled the government in such a way and that they cannot conduct their business, thus leading to other issues being side-lined and the country itself being damaged. Instead our MPs cling onto the power they have grappled – part in thanks to the unconstitutional actions of the clownish Speaker John Bercow – and refuse the people a say. What could get more elite than that?
It is clear to me that an election is the only way to grapple power back from Parliament and restore decency. Only with a functioning executive can the nation begin to heal from the constitutional hell that has been inflicted upon it. The damage may already be too late to wholly reverse, but with an election we have the chance to elect a new Parliament and pick up the pieces.
The leader of the opposition has, until now, agreed with the view that the people need an election but with Labour’s appalling poll numbers, he and the others have buckled. Perhaps it is because they know the people would punish them for their wilful actions to thwart the referendum result. We can only pray that our elitist Parliament will see sense but, for obvious reasons, I doubt that will happen any time soon.
By denying the people a say, MPs are not only tearing up precedent and democracy, they are permanently damaging the trust the people have in their own institutions and they are doing so with no care for how this will impact Britain in the distant future. I fear that they may even be legitimising calls for a codified constitution, something any traditional British Parliamentarian would recoil at. Of course, this needn’t by a crisis if our representatives did what they were asked to do and withdraw from the European Union. Perhaps, at this stage, that’s wishful thinking.
Photo by (Mick Baker)rooster on Flickr.