Brexit

Brexit and parliamentary sovereignty: A cruel joke

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“Vote to leave the EU to ensure law-making power returns to our sovereign national Parliament.” Those were the words of the leading campaign group to leave the EU: Leave. EU, words that were repeated constantly throughout their campaign to encourage voters to leave by the likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.

Two years on from the referendum, it is increasingly hard not to view those words through a cynical lens. This is especially true after the defeat of the Dominic Grieve Amendment in a vote in the Commons in June. This amendment would have strengthened an amendment proposed in December of last year, to give Parliament the right to have a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal put forward by Government and then decide the next course of action if Parliament rejected the said deal. 

To understand why Parliament would shoot itself in the foot in such a manner, it is important to understand the impact Brexit has actually had on the nation and how this is reflected in Parliament, where MPs are primarily concerned with re-election and not necessarily long term strategic thinking.  

Despite technically being constitutionally sovereign since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when Britain was a member of the EU, there was long a feeling that Parliament was being reduced to second fiddle. Hence, people such as Gove, Farage and Johnson could play on this image of sovereignty returning to Parliament, and thus to Britain. But after such a divisive referendum, it seems the public mood changed, and changed to a point where there was more desire to simply allow the government to get on with negotiating Brexit than following proper constitutional procedure. As Theresa May set out in her Lancaster House Speech, that meant completely leaving the EU and changing the relationship between the two entities that had lasted for some forty five years. It was defiant and bold, and exactly what Brexiteers wanted to hear. 

Then came two big changes to the Brexiteer’s party.  First, Gina Miller won her case against the Government, forcing them to acknowledge that only Parliament had the right to trigger Brexit, and that Parliament must assess any deal brought back from Brussels. Then Theresa May called a snap general election to strengthen her hand, and things changed. She lost her outright majority, becoming reliant on support from the DUP. After losing her majority, confidence in May and her government slumped, with many people wishing for her to change course, as they felt her hand had been weakened. Yet May and her government remained defiant, continuing down the hard line, without anything to really show for their posturing. A change came with her Mansion House speech, suggesting a tamer, more realistic view of Brexit, something that only served to anger Brexiteers within and out of Parliament. 

As Brexit talks continued to drag on with no end in sight, some people began changing their minds and even calling for a second referendum, to perhaps get a new fresh set of eyes on things. However, others dug their heels in and spoke defiantly about respecting the result of the referendum and implementing Brexit regardless of the cost. 

All of this is important because it suggests that though the public is as bitterly divided over the issue of Brexit as Parliament itself is, the members of the House of Commons are still terrified about doing anything that might even be seen as going against the will of the people as expressed in the referendum. This is either because they are concerned about their constituents getting angry with them and voting them out of power, or because they themselves are very keen for Brexit to go ahead. All this has done has made Parliament appear nothing more than weak willed, occasionally turning up to box the government on the nose, but other than that do nothing.

Two things make this entire situation even worse. First and foremost is the fact that Labour as the official opposition appear to have a position on Brexit that is contradictory towards itself. With former and current Labour party figures claiming that Corbyn and his shadow cabinet do not truly know what they want, a confusion reflected in polls, with Labour voters seemingly unsure of what the party’s position truly is on the matter. Labour have not been helped by the apparent chaos within the party over a democracy review and a blaring anti-Semitism row, which led to one MP to call Corbyn some very rude names. Both of these internal fights lead to some serious questions over their ability to be a credible opposition, let alone a government delivering Brexit.

The second issue that makes this situation worse is that despite many within Parliament voicing their concerns over the government’s so called Henry VIII powers,and how this could very well undermine the democratic process, in a recent vote, both amendments 10 and 43 to a Brexit Bill which would have limited use of said powers, were defeated by MPs. Suggesting that there truly is no spine left within Parliament when it comes to this contentious issue.  

For Parliament to truly be considered sovereign as promised during the referendum, it needs to not be afraid of ruffling feathers, and actually act in the national interest. Parliament is there to represent the people after all, not the mob.

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