In an interview with The Guardian, Jeremy Corbyn (shocked to see him interacting with the right-wing press) had a go at Theresa May for being like Henry VIII in her desire to keep the triggering of Article 50 from parliament, instead citing royal prerogative as the means to do this. In layman’s terms, being a bit of a queen about it all.
It made me think again about the Brexit debate. My biggest concerns, evaluating the last six months, has been the lack of vision for a post-Brexit combined with a slight authoritarian air to the whole thing. One of the reasons I was pro-Remain was that I rather liked power being taken away from Westminster and being given to Brussels. Not because I think that Westminster is the swamp of populist description, but rather that I like power being put into various places so that no one can build up a monopoly. Liberal Brexiteers had a different take on this and that’s fine.
What’s less fine has been an attack on the idea that the parliament that was supposed to become sovereign again should have a say in how we leave the EU from the very same people who argued the sovereignty of parliament point the hardest. I have found this genuinely worrying. Here I was concerned that taking Brussels out of the picture would mean parliament would get too big for its britches, eventually leading to prime ministers having too much power, when instead we jumped straight to PMs acting like monarchs in one go.
Another example of this authoritarian bent has been the idea that questioning any part of he government’s Brexit plan is tantamount to “questioning the will of the people”. Democracy, we all need to be reminded, is all about questioning what those who have gained power via the will of the people really do with that power when they get it – that’s why effective opposition is so important. Let’s take a pertinent, hypothetical example. Corbyn’s Labour wins a 50-seat majority off the back of a promise to send every single household in Britain a cheque for £1,000. Not only would it be right for the Tory opposition to hound the Labour government if they failed to deliver on this promise – they would be remise in their basic duties if they failed to do so.
As a Remainer, I would still like Britain to remain in the EU, but accept that we had a vote and that’s that. What’s important now is debating how to do this in a way that is constructive to the future of the country, not a childish shouting match. I intend in the new year to look at ways that Brexit could work to the betterment of the country – accepting that this is a very difficult task indeed. If only more Leavers were dedicated to the same mission. Take that as being one of my new year’s wishes.
Alex Macfie says
Nick: You rightly point out the dictatorial nature of the argument that criticism of the elected government plan is an attack on the “will of the people”, but you have at the same time fallen into their trap, by supposing that the plan itself (as opposed to how it is implemented) must be beyond discussion. Yes, we had a vote, but no, that is not that. Eurosceptics clearly didn’t thing that “that’s that” after the previous referendum in 1975, which is why we are where we are now. And just like them, Remainers have every right in a democracy to seek to change government’s, and people’s, minds on the principle of Brexit itself.
The opposition’s job is not just to hold the government to account over failure to deliver pledges, but also to criticise the pledges themselves if appropriate. For instance, the Tories’ 1987 election manifesto included a pledge to introduce a so-called “Community Charge”, better known as the Poll Tax. They delivered on this promise, and all opposition parties (and some Tories) opposed it, not over the method of implementation but the principle of a Poll Tax, resulting in its abolition during the same Parliament. I suspect that very few people would suggest that by opposing an elected government manifesto promise (aka “the will of the people”) we were attacking democracy.
Tom Carter says
Exactly. Freedom of movement, especially, is a human right worth fighting for.
If that means, as a liberal, that i have to fight for brexit to fail, then so be it…