Monday, 10 October 2016
Democracy is dead if parliament meddles with Brexit
Yesterday's debate in the commons was instructive. I heard only one mention of non-tariff barriers. What matters is the way it was said. The mention of the issue was a passing reference to acknowledge its existence but we saw no further discussion. To our MPs the term "non-tariff barriers" means "all that other stuff". And that is cause to worry.
Readers of this blog need no introduction to what "all that other stuff" entails. We are talking about multiple cooperation programmes and entire sectors of integrated governance which, by a long way, dwarfs the issue of tariffs. If we are breaking away from the EU then we not only need a plan for a corporate de-merger of the institutions and agencies, we also need replacement institutions and governance frameworks - for which there is no plan at all.
That should be a major cause for concern since even if we remained in the EEA we would still find a whole tranche of "other stuff" to address. What seems to be the case is that MPs believe single market membership means that we do not open these issues up for consideration. To an extent they are right in that if we are going in for an item by item negotiation then we will be here forever. That is not the complete picture though, and is no excuse for not knowing what is inside each Pandora's box - which MPs clearly do not.
What we see is a fumbling band of incompetents grasping at the issues with no real understanding of the terminology. That much could be forgiven at the beginning of this process but we are now rapidly approaching the point of no return and it would appear that MPs have made little or no effort to get a grip of the substantive issues. They are severely out of their depth. They don't know - and they don't want to know.
What this tells us is that the MPs who have been telling us that the EU is vital to our influence and prosperity have little idea what the EU is, how the systems work or the depth of integration. They are not up to the task of holding it to account. All they know is that retaining the single market lets them off the hook. That is no basis to give them a say in the Brexit process. They have forfeited that right by way of their own voluntary disengagement.
What motivates them is that they have some idea that leaving the single market is complex and will mean taking a a hit to the economy. Fair enough. They do not know where or how, and they are looking in the wrong places for information. That to them though is a secondary concern. The attempt by parliament to have their say is not an honest one.
They may mouth the platitudes of respecting the vote but I do not for a moment believe that the Labour centrists intend to respect the vote nor can we expect honourable behaviour from the SNP who have thus far used any EU debate as a platform for childish virtue signalling. Were it a case of parliament seeking to act as a corrective to the government I would have some sympathy - but these are not people intent on doing as the public have instructed. They want the power to block Brexit.
In this, it is not the sovereignty of parliament that must be respected. It is the sovereignty of the people. It is the moral duty of Mrs May to uphold the referendum verdict and safeguard the sanctity of that vote. Parliament cannot be trusted. Parliament does not represent the people - and if they have so little regard for parliamentary sovereignty that they would hand powers to the EU without question then there is no reason to take them seriously. So it is now a matter of trusting Mrs May. I can live with that.
The type of Brexit we get is all but decided. The battle over hard Brexit was the Tory leadership race. May vs Leadsom. The hard Brexiteers backed the wrong horse and Leadsom has been silent ever since. The Brexiteers have been on a tight leash with every unguarded assertion being countermanded by May. Mrs May has her own ideas of what Brexit will look like and they differ from her lunatic fringe. That's good enough for me.
In this she has made her promise to the public that Brexit means Brexit and so a leap of faith is required. We either trust Mrs May to deliver or we trust parliament. It's a no brainer. If one must trust a politician (and we must) then it's Mrs May every time. She may not know the issues as well as she should but if she knows enough to distance herself from the Tory Brexiteers then she at least knows some of the right things.
I would perhaps back parliament were there a real risk of a hard Brexit but hard Brexit is a media contrivance based on their feeble command of the issues. This is massaged by those who see it as an opportunity to give parliament a chance to meddle. I'm not buying it.
But this all underscores how deep this runs. If we give parliament the opportunity to trespass on the verdict of the referendum they will vote to block or delay. It's the only reason they want their say. They will invent any reason to do so. That then creates a constitutional crisis where the ruling class believe that they have a right to disregard the will of the people. That could well have severe and terrible consequences.
This is no longer a question of EU membership. This is about an intolerably aloof establishment intent on ignoring the public - not just on this issue but any you care to mention. The public are not involved in the decision making and there is no real communication between the governors and the governed. They think they know better than us - but actually, as per the Matt cartoon above, ordinary members of the public on social media demonstrate that they have a firmer grasp of the issues than the politicians or their special advisers.
What is at stake here is profound. It is a test of the relationship between the people and parliament. A contract was drawn up between the people and the government that their vote would be respected. If parliament seeks to tear up that contract then their authority ends there. Civil disobedience then becomes a moral obligation - and I won't be surprised if somebody takes it further. I even understand the impulse. If the message from parliament is that our vote only matters when they like the result, then there is an obligation to remove them by any available means.
And this really underscores why Brexit is such a divisive issue. Ultimately it's about power. Who wields it and in what circumstances. Parliament handing over powers to Brussels without our consent is intolerable but parliament standing in the way of retrieving those powers ultimately says that the people are not sovereign. That makes parliament the weak link in democracy, not the EU. Ironic then that an unelected prime minister should be linchpin on which the fate of British democracy rests.
We did not leave the EU only to put the power in the hands of parliament. We must take constitutional reform further. Parliament is a necessary evil but it is still evil. We have wrongly fetishised parliament when in fact it is a dictatorial body. The fact that we can reshuffle the dictators every five years is nether here nor there. The power still does not reside with the people and Brexit very much exposes that - not through the actions of Brussels, but through the actions of our MPs. The servants believe they are the masters.
Cromwell said an immovable parliament is more obnoxious than an immovable king. I see no reason to split hairs. A dictatorship is intolerable regardless of who is dictating. The thin mandates that MPs enjoy does not come close to the mandate that Brexit has. If these lowlifes use their powers to sabotage Brexit then let the tumbrels roll. If our voice no longer matters then the social contract is irretrievably shattered.