“The referendum on Thursday, 23rd June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union. The government believes it is in the best interests of the UK to remain in the EU. This is the way to protect jobs, provide security, and strengthen the UK’s economy for every family in the country – a clear path into the future, in contrast to the uncertainty of leaving. This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.”
So said the leaflet distributed to voters across the country at a cost of some £9 million by David Cameron’s government. There was no equivocation. The people were being given the choice to decide the course the country should take in its relationship with the EU. A deal was not mentioned, like the ballot paper that would be presented, the question being put was should we remain or leave the EU?
Those 82 words could not have made the choice more plain while stating the government believed we should remain, but nevertheless confirming the majority decision of the people would be enacted upon. We would expect nothing less. Our parliamentarians had agreed to hand the decision over to the people. We did not know at the time that the turnout of over 33 million would mark the largest democratic expression of political will in Britain’s history. Ever.
Now, more than two and a half years later as we approach our departure on 29 March, we are witnessing before us in open view of the public a well-organised attempt by parliamentarians to go back on their word. Some of them voted in favour of holding the referendum so the decision would rest with the people. Many voted in favour of invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that meant the UK must leave the EU two years hence be there a “deal” for any future relationships or not. All of them have on many occasions said they would “respect” the outcome of the referendum and the solemn verdict of the people.
Yet many of those who were on the losing side in the referendum, who claimed they would abide by the result– and still later claimed their fresh popular mandate by standing on their party manifesto to leave in our entirety, deal or no deal – are now using every hour to betray their repeated promises.
As the last few days of the 2017 general election approached Anna Soubry, seeking re-election as the Conservative MP for Broxtowe, not only stood by her party and its manifesto she went further and distributed an e-mail to electors that said, “I accept and will continue to honour the EU referendum result. We are leaving the EU”.
During the same campaign fellow Conservative Dominic Grieve QC told voters, “the decision of the electorate in the referendum must be respected” and went further to say of the parliamentary process that “our system works correctly to give effect to the referendum decision”.
We now learn that Grieve, in cahoots with others who are intent of wholly disrespecting the referendum by seeking to annul the decision, is proposing to submit a parliamentary amendment that will introduce anarchy to parliament by wresting authority away from the majority and giving it to a minority. This is not about defeating the will of his own party he remains shamelessly a member of, or that of that the government he claims to support, but of ensuring even the will of parliament can be prevented from charting an agreed course – so that in descending into chaos nothing is possible.
His amendment would allow only 300 of the 650 MPs – a 46 per cent minority – to take control of parliamentary procedure so long as five of that number are from different parties are ten are Conservatives.
Grieve’s approach is stark; if you cannot win by achieving a majority within the rules, then change the rules so the minority governs the majority. The purpose is clear, he wishes to obstruct the existing law whereby if the EU has not agreed a “deal” with the UK then the process of government being able to amend the law can be grabbed by a minority – not the majority – of MPs in parliament.
Ironically what might stop Grieve’s amendment passing is a fear in the Labour leadership that were it to become established it could in future make life for any minority Labour government virtually impossible. Grieve needs the backing of Labour to pass his amendment, but Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell must realise the controversial programme they would dearly wish to introduce in time could be blocked repeatedly by MPs holding out for bargaining concessions unless they had a commanding majority.
There is a great deal of comment being expended about why the country’s democracy is now in the mess that it is. Some blame David Cameron for calling the referendum, but he at least gave fair warning he would do so and then having been elected delivered on that promise.
The reason we now have an impasse in Westminster is that MPs such as Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Nicky Morgan stood for election stating they would respect the referendum result and have then broken their word. It is really that simple.
MPs that voted for Article 50 to be invoked were voting for the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a transitional agreement before we departed. It is only because of their actions subsequent to the general election that Labour has been able to frustrate the government.
Theresa May has to ask herself if seeking to wrest control of her government’s authority is really in keeping with Dominic Grieve – and those Tories who may support his plan – retaining the Conservative Whip and being able to stand as Conservative candidates in any General election they may cause. I cannot see how it can be justified. If Grieve moves his amendment the Whip should be removed so he can be judged for the consequences of his actions.