MPs’ vote for Article 50 was in Britain’s best interest, whatever you think of the EU.

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement, and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”  Thus spake Edmund Burke, on the 3rd November 1774, in his immortal speech to the electors of Bristol. His claim – which has gone on to form the basis of consultative, representative democracy – was simple: it is the duty of MPs not to simply follow the convictions of their electors, but to instead wield their own expert judgement in deciding how best to protect and represent their constituents’ interests. Members of Parliament, by this overwhelmingly prevailing view, are expected to act not as mindless delegates, bound by their constituents’ views on matters of minutely complex detail, but instead as discerning representatives. Should they deem it in their electors’ interests, they may overrule every single one of them when voting in the Commons. Since the 24th June last year – and especially since the original High Court ruling requiring a Parliamentary mandate of Brexit – it has become fashionable for the left to reference Burke, widely considered the father of modern conservatism, in a haute attempt to argue that Conservative MPs who disregard their own convictions in favour of the “will of the people” betray not only their own constituents, but the ethos of their ideological forefather. Professor AC Grayling, who leads the intellectual charge for ignoring the referendum result, has repeatedly argued as such, insisting it incumbent upon MPs – approximately three quarters of whom opposed leaving the EU during the referendum campaign – to vote down the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, as it empowered Her Majesty’s Government to take an action they believed would have a deleteriously adverse impact upon the lives of their constituents, and the country as a whole.  They are wrong. Yes, although I remain personally confident of a positive outcome, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union might bring down a litany of misfortunes upon these green and pleasant lands. But consider the alternative: a constitutional crisis and loss of trust in the British state so severe as to potentially render the country ungovernable. Electoral turnout, already precipitously low in the areas most united in support for Brexit, would plummet even further. Democracy, many would rightly argue, would be revealed as nothing more than a hollow charade, in which talk of empowerment is nothing but a façade to disguise the truth: that your vote will only count towards anything if its destination accords to the preference of the political establishment. This complete evaporation of faith in the deference of government to the governed would plunge the nation into a crisis of immeasurably more danger than any posed by a damaging Brexit. Grayling et al’s noblesse oblige sentiment might be well-placed, but let us be clear about one thing: given the crisis that would envelop Britain if the vote were ignored, Grayling demands that MPs act not as representatives, but as delegates of himself. If MPs believed it their responsibility to unconditionally preserve Britain’s EU membership, then the proper time to object was November 2015, when they voted by a margin of 316 to 53, to give the European Referendum Bill a third reading. Not only should they have refused to give the electorate a referendum on the matter that was understood by all at the time to be binding, and they should have offered far greater opposition to the Government leaflet, sent during the subsequent referendum campaign to every household in the country, which made it explicitly and irrevocably clear that the decision was to be made by the people, and their conclusion would be respected. But the only MPs to offer any vocal opposition to the leaflet were those who supported Brexit; the Remain-supporting MPs, believing it an effective campaign tactic, stayed noticeably moot. Whilst the referendum might not have been legally binding, therefore, the tenor of the campaign preceding it established an explicit contract of trust, between people and government – and trust, after all, is the basis on which the British democratic system functions. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, let us not forget, has the constitutional power not only to kill a swan whilst speeding in an uninsured car, but also to declare war on France to boot, and order its invasion by the armed forces who remain, by legal principle, at her absolute disposal. The imagination that Her Majesty might ever do these things, however, is absurd, as her legal freedom to do so would not accommodate for the dearth of institutional or public support. The system that affords her these legal principles survives, to this day, on the implicit understanding shared by all in the country, that she will use them only on the advice of her democratically elected government. Similarly, whilst Parliament might have the legal freedom to ignore the referendum result, a bond of trust was established with its repeated prior affirmation that the result would be binding. This is all without even considering the fact that the Conservative majority was elected, in 2015, on the explicit manifesto promise that it would, first, hold a referendum on British EU membership – and, second, uphold the result. The representatives that Grayling craves, therefore, were elected on the understanding that they thought it appropriate to hold a referendum on EU membership, and to implement it, whatever the result. To change tack and ignore the referendum result would thus uncork a fatal poison into the font of British democracy – and it is for this reason, cognisant of it or not, that MPs’ vote to support the Government was justified, and entirely compatible with their role as representatives, not delegates. Come what may of Brexit – and the horizon is by no means free of choppy waters – our foremost consideration must always be majority recognition for, if not popularity of, the institutions that govern us. We must never forget this: the relationship of paramount importance in our country’s long-term stability and security is not that between the United Kingdom and the European Union, but between Her Majesty’s Government, and the people who elect it.

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