Post-referendum politics

My member of parliament emailed me today with words to the effect that, now the people have spoken, he will set aside his personal judgement and work to achieve Brexit. I think he is profoundly wrong, for the reasons set out below, and have emailed him to say so.

The United Kingdom is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy; it is for Parliament to decide our future direction. In deciding that direction members of parliament must take the result of the referendum into account; but the result is advisory not binding and their role as our elected representatives requires members of parliament also to take other considerations into account. These include:

  • the likely break-up of the United Kingdom following Brexit;
  • the destabilising effect of Brexit on the European Union with the risk, greatly to our disadvantage, that it will unravel the decades of collaborative endeavour to build liberal democracies across the continent after the legacies of World War II and the Cold War;
  • the substantial body of evidence-based analysis about the benefits and disadvantages of EU membership (see here for an example), little of which was debated rationally during the referendum campaign;
  • the substantial amount of disinformation promoted by the ‘leave’ camp and their deliberate fuelling of misinformed prejudice;
  • the absence of a credible vision for a post-brexit UK and a coherent political strategy for realising that vision.

Members of parliament must also consider the extent to which the referendum was seen by some voters as a rare opportunity to revolt against the metropolitan elite. Their reasons for doing so are understandable yet largely unconnected with the European Union. Those reasons include: the perception of unpunished criminality behind the financial crash in 2008 which uprooted so many people’s lives (no-one seems to have been held properly to account for this, rather to have been enriched); the growing inequality in society; the apparent lack of social responsibility exhibited by many of the wealthy elite (Sports Direct and BHS are recent examples).

 Given that we have a representative democracy, the politics of what happens next must surely fit within that model. Most of our current members of parliament have given careful consideration to the points mentioned above and are in favour of Remain while UKIP – with only 2 MPs – is the only political party with a majority in favour of Brexit. It is difficult to see how our representatives in Parliament can claim to be fulfilling the role for which they were elected if they vote against their personal judgements in order to trigger Brexit – an act of possibly massive self-harm to the UK – including the breakup of the UK – that could also cause great harm to our European neighbours. I suggest that the only democratic course of action in these circumstances (and in a representative democracy) is for there now to be a general election. If that election results in a parliamentary majority in favour of Brexit, those members of parliament will be able to vote for it with their consciences clear before then working heart and soul to obtain a successful outcome.