Monday, 27 June 2016

The UK Parliament can block Brexit, but it needs a mandate

There is zero prospect for a second referendum, but a general election may be called in the next few months that would be a de-facto second vote. The result could be an unravelling of the main political parties.

In the three days since Brexit, social media has been abuzz with the prospect of holding a second referendum. The argument goes that so many leave voters did not understand what they were voting for, it justifies holding a new poll. 

An official petition asking for a second referendum has collected more than four million signatures, which will force a parliamentary debate on the subject.

But the idea of a second referendum is fanciful. The process of the first referendum was so ugly, so destabilising, that few would want to put the UK through that again. 
Most reasonable people agree that the first referendum never should have happened. Cameron's decision to call it makes him the most damaging British prime minister of the past century. And yes, I'm including Chamberlain in that list.

Parliament's prerogative

What is far more likely is that the sovereign British Parliament will choose to disregard the referendum result. After all, this was a non-binding, advisory referendum. It is up to the UK Parliament whether they want to take that advice.

Of course, to reject the 'democratic will of the people' would be enormously controversial. There are some who have suggested that MPs should vote the way their constituencies did. This would mean all Scottish and Northern Irish MPs would vote to reject the referendum's advice. 

Labour MP David Lammy has made the argument that MPs should reject the referendum advice.
It isn't just Labour. Some pro-leave Tories could also change their position. 

Take Victoria Borwick, MP for the London borough of Kensington. She went on BBC Sunday Politics yesterday and was asked how she could support Leave when her constituents voted 70-30 for remain. 'People in London should pay more attention to the rest of the country,' she responded. So much for representative democracy.

Kensington is, in fact, a very Conservative area. Many Conservatives, especially in London, are feeling betrayed by the eurosceptic elements of their party. As one friend put it to me, "they vote Conservative for economic stability and to prevent foolish errands of the Left."

There's many Tory Brexiteers who represent districts who voted overwhelmingly for remain, and their constituents are furious.

But would this kind of political pressure be enough to convince these Tories to vote against the referendum result? It's hard to say. Yes it might keep them safer in their own districts, but one could argue that the damage has already been done and their decision to support leave in the first place will be enough to get them booted out of office in the next election.

Also we have to keep in mind that British voters tend not to vote based on issues in their constituency. Most British voters don't even know who their member of parliament is. They vote based on party. And if the Conservatives or Labour are seen as betraying the public will, both parties would be punished at the polls, probably even by people who had voted remain.

New general election

In my opinion, a new general election is necessary to give these MPs the political cover to overrule the referendum. They need a political mandate. If a new general election is called, and is framed as being about #Brexit with MPs lining up on either side, and a majority of remain MPs are elected, that would be a democratic mandate to ignore the referendum result.

Even without the need for rapid clarity on whether this is really happening, it makes sense to call a new referendum anyway. 

Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned, and the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is likely to resign in the coming days. Everything has changed. The idea that Boris Johnson can waltz in and replace Cameron as prime minister with no public vote seems outrageous.

The danger with making a general election about Brexit is that it could lead to a disintegration of the party alignments that have existed in the UK for 80 years. MPs would line up on either side of the ratification issue, but this alignment is likely to split parties. The Tories might be evenly split, and Labour may be split as well (especially if angry Corbynistas decide to rally around Brexit as revenge).

The Liberal Democrats, the country's most pro-EU party, would remain unified, as would the Greens, UKIP, and the SNP. One could conceivably see an election where the Tory party splits in two, or more moderate Tories defect to the Lib Dems (and perhaps, moderate Labour defects to the Lib Dems as well). We could see new parties formed. The political map would be transformed.

Patience in Brussels wearing thin

But the big question hanging over this is whether Brussels is willing to wait for months while the UK figures this out. EU leaders have said they interpret the referendum result as an absolute no. "Out is out," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker insisted.

British members of the European Parliament and the UK's European Commissioner have already resigned. It looks like EU leaders want to push the UK over the ledge even if it is hesitating, in order to get certainty back to the markets as quickly as possible.

This GIF below has been making the rounds on social media (don't worry, it's staged, she's fine). It really does sum up the situation right now. The UK has jumped off the ledge without a bungee chord attached. She realises and grabs on to the ledge. But EU leaders have had enough with the prevaricating, and toss her off.

But if this situation was real, the bungee instructor would be in big trouble. It appears he does not realise that she hasn't connected her chord, or maybe he doesn't care. But he will care when the police show up the next day. 

EU leaders are angry and impatient right now, but they should not be too hasty in throwing the UK to the wolves. London deserves some time to determine if a new general election should be called. Don't throw them off the ledge. Help them back up.

1 comment:

An Cigire said...

I wouldn't agree that its outrageous to think that Cameron can be replaced as Prime Minister by whoever wins the leadership of the Conservatives. The voters don't elect the PM, parliament does. Its not a presidential style system like in the US. In Ireland for example it has happened in the past that the PM has changed after a leadership contest within the government party and no election was held. It might be politically preferable for there to be an election in the UK now but that's unlikely to happen as both the Tories and Labour know they would be punished.