MPs voting down May’s Brexit deal are the elite revolting against democracy
Parliament has talked about Brexit for too long. We have so far failed to deliver. This week we have a chance to do so. Yet, instead of respecting the mandate of the British people, many MPs appear intent on overruling it.
What we will probably see on Tuesday with the vote on the withdrawal bill and amendments around it won’t be an example of parliament “taking back control” from Brussels or government, but parliament usurping power from the people they are meant to represent.
How so? In 2015, the major political parties supported the idea of a oncein-a-generation referendum on our membership of the European Union. We pledged to abide by the results. There’s every sign that we may now refuse to do so. This is not a heroic parliament taking away arbitrary power from a monarch or dictator, but parliament wresting power from a government trying to enact the mandate of the people to leave the EU.
I intend to support the government in the vote this week because I respect the result given to us by the British people and my own constituents on the Isle of Wight – I would do so regardless of what the referendum result had been. In addition, the only conceivable way of getting Brexit through is with this deal.
I have modest sympathy with those who are critical of it. But I agree with MPs who argue for compromise, a case eloquently made by my colleagues Richard Benyon and George Freeman as well as others last week. As percentage wins go, 52 to 48 is a victory, but it is one in which magnanimity would be a useful ingredient. And it may be that in five or 10 years’ time we vote to change the terms. I think the reality one has to face at this late stage is not between a bad deal and a “good” leave, but between this deal and no deal, potentially a second referendum and no Brexit, with the economics and political uncertainty to follow. And as for Northern Ireland, one should remember it is already treated differently in some of its laws and relationship with the Republic of Ireland anyway. Different laws and customs do not prevent it from being an integral part of the UK.
As it stands, too many MPs are telling our electors: “When we told you we would respect your opinion on our membership of the EU, we didn’t mean it.” There is no greater proof that Britain is becoming a European state than our elites demanding the people vote again because they do not approve of how the vote went the first time round.
Some MPs, such as Tottenham’s David Lammy, are at least honest about it. His message is: let’s just tell the people they are wrong and refuse.
I listen to Tory remain leader Dominic Grieve’s legal pedantry and my heart sinks. I don’t know if he more resembles a latter-day Thomas More or Professor Yaffle from the children’s series Bagpuss I used to watch when I was little. His legalistic approach may be impressive, but he has only one emotional aim, and it is to overturn and ignore the wishes of the people of this country. A fine legal mind is being deployed in the pursuit of undermining our relationship with our voters and damaging our democracy.
Two thirds of Labour constituencies voted to leave. While some Labour MPs do have principled objections, the majority appear engaged in a crassly opportunistic attempt to bring down the government, despite having nothing to offer and no new ideas.
But, of course, challenge any of the obsessive remainers plotting this week’s coup, and they portray themselves as martyrs. Ask them why they ignore the mandate that was given to us and we are accused of bullying. Ask them to explain themselves and they hide behind precedent, or say in mock sincerity: “Well, we’re taking back control, isn’t this what you wanted?” Challenge them as to why they are undermining democracy, and they tut-tut as if that question is not the sort of thing one should be asking.
I intend to call this for what it is. Those on all sides of the House of Commons who try, against our manifestos, against the promises we made, to undermine Brexit are not martyrs. They are representatives of an elite that is trying to block Britain leaving the EU.
They are not “taking back control”. They are usurping power. This is a revolt of the elites against popular democracy.
• Bob Seely is the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight
There is no greater proof that Britain is becoming a European state than our elites demanding the people vote again
‘Instead of respecting the mandate of the British people, many MPs appear intent on overruling it.’ Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA