Priti Patel said in an interview over the weekend that anti-Brexit MPs were, quote, “using Parliament to subvert the will of the British public”. I wish she and other Brexiteers could see that this statement makes absolutely no sense and contains an obvious logical error in its intended meaning.
The whole point of the unwritten British constitution is that the House of Commons is the supreme legislative body across the relevant territory. You might have heard about the “primacy” of the Commons before; ironically enough, the same Tory MPs who are going on about MPs subverting the will of the people are the very same who worried that an elected House of Lords would threaten the Commons’ primacy, which they considered sacred; in fact, the major reason most of them craved Brexit was supposedly so that the Commons could become the only lawmaker (taking away the European Parliament’s law making ability) and the Supreme Court the highest court possible (over any European body).
The fact that they are now facing off against both of them would be hilarious were it not for the serious implications for the country. Look, this isn’t even an anti-Brexit argument: either you want the Commons to have ultimate legislative power or you do not. Either you see the UK as a principally representative democracy, or you do not.
This is why Priti Patel’s statement makes no sense: by definition, MPs cannot subvert the will of the British public unless they break electoral law. They are the will of the British public by definition. So let’s take triggering Article 50 as an example – if MPs stand in the way of the will of the British public by voting for something that delays this from happening for a while, that very same electorate can vote them out at the next election. It’s very simple. They were voted in to vote in the Commons in their constituents interests – if they fail to do so, the constituents get to make the ultimate decision by voting them out as a result. Given Patel has defended First Past the Post before and the importance of the constituency link and that jazz, she can’t think anything is wrong with the system. So what’s up?
Could it be that they just really, really want Brexit – for no reason than they just do? Because if it really isn’t about making the Commons the ultimate legislature again then is it about immigration control? But too many pro-Brexit campaigners keep saying it isn’t about that but rather returning democratic control to the Commons so we’re back where we started.
Call me old fashioned but if we have to lose the shackles of Brussels, I’d rather not inherit a semi-dictatorship in which Number 10 can simple bypass the Commons anytime it thinks expedient by way of “royal prerogative”. If May is annoyed because MPs vote down the triggering of Article 50, she can say rightfully and truthfully that she did everything she could to get the ball rolling and the Commons would not allow her. And then she can call a general election and romp home. You see? All democracy usually requires is a little patience. Sadly, the Brexiteers are short of it at present.