Pity the many decent, honest politicians seeking the Common Good, who, because of the BREXIT debacle, will fall under a blanket condemnation of the “political elite”. We now know where their colleagues’ choice of personal ambition before national interest has taken us. A combination of magical thinking and lying has produced the most threatening political crisis in living memory: government and opposition hopelessly reduced to warring factions or a calculating inertia. The current conflict and confusion, political irresponsibility and incompetence, are a clear and present danger to democracy.
Once you start lying, falsifying and spinning, it is extremely difficult to stop. The latest lie derives from the previous falsification or spin. Take for example the claim that in our representative democracy, referendums are legally binding rather than advisory. The sovereignty of Parliament is the lynch pin of our form of democracy, so referendums cannot be definitively decisive; we are not a small Swiss canton governed as a direct democracy. One false statement leads to another. You end up hinting there will be riots in the street if there is a second referendum.
David Cameron on losing the 2016 referendum was not legally obliged to introduce legislation to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty leading to the UK’s future withdrawal from the European Union. He scuttled away leaving the task to Theresa May. She was temporarily delayed by the Supreme Court ruling that it required an Act of Parliament to empower her to start the process of withdrawal. So it was Parliament which, in March 2017, responding to the majoritarian 17.4 million who voted to leave, and not to the 16.1 million who wanted to remain, authorized the government to trigger Article 50. And it has to be Parliament who revokes their former decision – or, on the other hand, ratifies the lengthy Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on our future relationship with the EU. However in their present state of mind, Parliament is barely up to revoking the menu in the Members Dining Room.
Division plus deadlock is not an ideal context for a - second - referendum. The inflamed language of Tory speeches indicates a further attempt to confuse and misdirect the public. A second referendum, we are repeatedly told, would be a “betrayal” of the public. The people have spoken. Well, 17.4 million have spoken and 16.1 million have also spoken …and said the opposite. Thanks to a blizzard of misinformation at the time of the June 2016 referendum nobody had much idea where BREXIT was heading or what the consequences of leaving the European Union might be. Two years went by before the government thought it worthwhile to acknowledge the views of the 48% who voted to remain. Theresa May is now presenting her marathon negotiation with EU principles and house rules, her – preliminary - deal, as an attempt to heal UK divisions, and respond to some of the Remainers’ needs. But the agreement she brought home does not work as a compromise between factions in the Tory Party, the Opposition, the Lib. Dems, SNP, or DUP with whom she has also been negotiating. Hence the current deadlock.
In these dire Vegan times I must watch my language. But our carnivorous British and European ancestors might have described the choice of BREXIT in June 2016 as buying “a pig in a poke” i.e. unseen (a poke according to Mr. Google is a bag, from the old French poque). This caveat emptor about not buying big items until you can see the goods has remained common sense for some five hundred years. Having been sold a pig in a poke over two years ago, the British public has the democratic right to evaluate what they have subsequently found in the poke. So who is betraying whom here?
The overwrought reaction of Brexiteers to the simple proposition of a second vote is telling. From the mightily ambitious Jeremy Hunt, looking relatively good as Foreign Minister after Boris Johnson, we get warnings of civil unrest if there were to be another referendum. Why do they want to frighten the electorate out of an informed democratic choice now that we have a better understanding of what the different options entail?
Just imagine it. A disproportionate number of elderly and old people voted Leave and younger people voted overwhelmingly Remain. So will we see Zimmer frames clashing with police shields, mobility vehicles running down Remainers, pensioners manning barricades in seaside towns, bowls clubs storming Wormwood scrubs? But, as the ERG would be the first to admit, we are not French. Mayhem as the British response to being asked to advise our representatives in Parliament about whether we want them to ratify Theresa May’s agreement with Brussels or call it a day and seek to remain in the EU? I don’t think so. I would foresee cancelling some police leave in case of Right-Wing extremist violence. Though they don’t need No-BREXIT as an excuse.
Theresa May has a way out though she will probably soldier on pursuing Project Fantasy, seeking further EU concessions, and be humiliated. It is high time she delivered the speech I wrote for her, on 22 September 2018, free of charge, still available but sadly neglected, BREXIT: The End Game (www.ianlinden.com/blogs.html ). She will now need an extension beyond the end of March 2019 for her next move. Unfortunately, affairs are so disorderly there are no suitable chess metaphors left.
And spare a thought for those MPs who also want to do the right thing for their country and constituents but struggle to understand what that might be. Project Reality would be a start: seeking the people’s advice through a people’s vote, asking them to choose between the EU-Theresa May Withdrawal Agreement or remaining in the European Union, recognizing we are reduced to choosing the least bad of the ways forward.