UK Parliament/parliamentary copyright.
Victories do not come more Pyrrhic. “Rejoice! Rejoice!” is the official guideline: the Prime Minister has survived; she has seen off all those Brexit-wrecking House of Lords amendments. How did she do that? By conceding their essence in behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing with the enemies of Brexit.
So, how did she avoid defeat? By giving the Remainers everything they wanted without making them go through the process of rebellion, risking obloquy and deselection by angry constituency associations. “A pleasure to do business with you, ma’am.” “Don’t mention it.”
Don’t mention it, especially, to the duped electorate, the 17.4 million voters who instructed the Government to take us out of the European Union. Out means out. Out of the Customs Union, out of the Single Market, out of the toils of the European Court of Justice. Out of all Brussels’ works and pomps. Now whatever dynamic there was to that movement has been reversed.
With yesterday’s sell-out Parliament has taken control of the Brexit negotiations. That is against all constitutional and legal precedent. Treaty making is a function of the Executive: it has never been performed by the legislature. Parliament has no competence in treaty making, but in a constitutional coup d’état the two Houses of Parliament have seized control of an Executive function.
They may come to regret that subversion of the constitutional equilibrium because in changing the rules they lay themselves open to others – e.g. the 17.4 million disfranchised Leave voters – accepting the challenge of a free-for-all and, equally radically, quashing their usurped authority.
Stripped of obfuscation, what has happened? The people of Britain have voted to leave the European Union and Parliament has moved to block that sovereign will. The prejudice of around 320 Entitled Ones on the green benches outweighs the wishes of the British nation. We shall see about that.
It is time to end this comedy. Neither the House of Lords nor the House of Commons remotely represents the will of the electorate. They have to go. It is no longer simply a question of replacing the current membership of the House of Commons, it is a question of remodelling Parliament to make it properly representative.
The old Sir Tufton Bufton claptrap [“I am a representative, not a delegate”] has outlived tolerance. Multiple referenda are needed to curb MPs’ arrogant indifference to the public will, with enhanced powers of recall of recalcitrants. When Phillip Lee [who?] resigned he significantly invoked Parliament’s triumph over the people in abolishing capital punishment although the majority of people wanted to retain it.
That was when it started – the divorce between governors and governed – in 1965, when MPs discovered that a cross-party consensus could exclude the will of the electorate from governance indefinitely.
The cumulative destruction of Brexit which came to a climax yesterday means there is no conceivable incentive for Michel Barnier and the rest of the Brussels hoods to concede anything at all to Britain, confronted by a UK government bound hand and foot by Parliament.
This outcome was always inevitable. From the moment Theresa May insanely committed herself to taking the Article 50 path to Brexit, Britain had fallen into the bear trap laid by Lord Kerr. Those of us who warned of the consequences at the time were dismissed as “unrealistic”. Well, how realistic do the prospects for Brexit seem now?
We should have sent a polite letter to Brussels on 24 June 2016, advising of our intention formally and unilaterally to depart from the European Union in about three months’ time, to opt for WTO trade rules, but also expressing our willingness to engage in any trade negotiations the EU might request. By now, the worst would have been over and we should have been a sovereign nation employing our national genius to build a new prosperity.
Instead, thanks to a Conservative government that gives cretinism a bad name, we are a global laughing stock, seen as the epitome of impotence. We need to do several things, very fast. We need to put Parliament – both Houses – on notice that it faces the serious prospect of institutional dissolution; to insist on full Brexit, plus a hard border with Ireland; and to set in motion a drive for more referenda in future, so that they become the normal method of resolving major issues of public policy. It works in Hungary.
A transformation is needed, since the way we have been governed over the past half century is no longer sustainable. Both the legacy parties, Conservative and Labour, are exhausted, discredited and extravagantly out of touch with public opinion. It is time to consign them to that cliché destination, the dustbin of history.