Democracy is in danger as our political leaders seek to subvert the Leave vote

Democracy is in danger as our political leaders seek to subvert the Leave vote

A day before her defeat in the Commons on Tuesday evening, the Prime Minister had warned MPs that they must support her deal – or face doing catastrophic harm to voters’ faith in democracy if Brexit were stopped. The voters interviewed outside Parliament after the vote thought otherwise: they said that the MPs’ vote against the deal was right because ‘no one wanted it’. One man, a Leave voter, elaborated: ‘We voted to leave the EU, to leave’, he said. ‘We did not vote for a deal, for any deal, but just to leave, and we should leave’.

Both MPs and voters recognise that her deal would castrate Britain’s economy, bind the UK back into an EU customs union and divide Northern Ireland from the UK, making it a fief of the EU’s Single Market. Worst of all, it would deny the UK exactly the legal right a majority of voters chose to exercise in 2016 – the right to leave.

Yet despite opposition from the country and now from two-thirds of all MPs, including many from her own party, the Prime Minister made clear through her No. 10 spokesman that her withdrawal deal remains the only deal on the table, though she will now talk to MPs, she says, and listen to what they have to say. Few hold out any hope that she intends to do other than the EU’s bidding: it’s either her deal, as she has said time and again, or no Brexit.

A Remainer, like most of her Cabinet, she sees the referendum as a vote against immigration, not a vote for sovereignty or for the freedom to which people aspire. For her, as for most leaders clinging to power, the desire for freedom is neither a privilege to be defended nor a prize to be sought, but an obstacle to be overcome.

In the paternalistic world of power politics through which politicians duck, weave and dissimulate, the people are to be courted with bread and circuses: the equivalent today are immigration controls. The Prime Minister, like many MPs, does not see that when over 17 million people voted for Brexit, they did so to protect democracy from the overweening power of the EU, to preserve UK sovereignty and their freedom to decide their own laws.

Mrs May and her ministers do not seem to understand that democratic freedom matters, nor the corollary – that they must take account of their voters. Mrs May talks of democracy, but without an inkling of its potency for British people.

By their actions since Brexit, Britain’s political leaders have subverted the Leave vote, and damaged the arrangements under Britain’s constitution to protect peoples’ freedom against arbitrary rule. Despite being one of the world’s oldest and most iconic democracies – the strength of which derives partly from acceptance by governments of the electorate’s decision irrespective of their own wishes – things happened very differently since the referendum.

First, Parliament attempted to thwart Brexit. Then the Prime Minister deployed the autocratic systems of unaccountable powers to prepare a Withdrawal Agreement. That agreement was not the work of elected ministers – they were side-lined – but emerged from the backroom bartering of an unelected, unaccountable civil servant, the Prime Minister’s ‘court favourite’.

Ministers as well as MPs had been left in the dark about the deal with only an eleventh hour preview granted to some before the Cabinet meeting, at which those present were given little choice but to agree it there and then. Although two ministers resigned, others colluded to keep the deal alive.

The focus is now on the how House of Commons will respond to Mrs May’s next proposals. But already much has been done to prevent Parliament holding the executive to account. Some ministers have warned of the threat to the economy if the Prime Minister were to respect convention and stand aside for someone who would have the confidence of the country to execute the Brexit for which people voted. Other ministers have bombarded the airwaves and media with scare stories about no deal (that is to say, a WTO deal); bigwigs from the Cameron and Osborne Cabinet talk of the ‘duty’ to avoid ‘no deal’ and senior Tory Remainers have sought to block funds for ‘no deal’ preparations. And on top of all that come the Prime Minister’s threats that the country would enter the ‘unknown’ if there is no deal. This is the corroboration, if any were needed, of the anti-democratic impulses of Britain’s ruler today.

Instead, the UK could now offer the EU a UK-EU Free Trade Agreement which would solve concerns from all sides of Parliament at a single stroke, as David Collins, the International Trade lawyer, now proposes.

If the EU refuses? A ‘No Deal’ brings the freedom for a WTO deal that Canada and the US have both enjoyed, though Canada is now poised to strike a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. Both are Common Law countries with a long tradition of freedom under the law. They too, like Britain are amongst the world’s richest, G7, economies.