Friday, 7 December 2018

Taking back control

That the government has been defeated in the Commons,  not once but thee times, on its Brexit plans, is good news.  The votes, to  force the government to publish the formal advice it has received on the legal consequences of Brexit, to turn down a government compromise to refer that matter to the Privileges Committee, and to permit Parliament to suggest and debate alternatives if and when Mrs May's "deal" is voted down, show that Parliament is, at last flexing its muscles.

Ironically, this is exactly what the Brexiteers demanded in the Referendum: that we should "take back control" and re-assert the UK's "Sovereignty."  And under  the British Constitution sovereignty resides in Parliament (actually "the Queen in Parliament" but let's not be pumpernickel) .

 However, although these decisions are valuable, our MPs are still not debating the real and only issue, which Guardian columnist Raphael Behr identified in a perceptive articlee on Monday, namely 

  "given what we now know about Brexit that we didn't know then, should we still do it?"  

  Plainly this issue transcends party loyalties and personal ambition, and it is time to stop messing about, take off the Whips and allow MPs a free vote on this very question.  If they vote with their true opinions the answer will be a resounding "No."  Article 50 can then be  withdrawn and the error  can be disposed of before Christmas. 

Such a move would avoid  all the argy-bargy of concocting a suitable question for a second referendum: who should vote; the rules to be observed; the spending limits; honesty  limits; and and all the other things that were so glaringly lacking in the 2016 referendum.

Of course, if Parliament did indeed "cut to the quick" and dispose of the problem itself (which it is constitutionally and morally obliged to do) there would be hell to play, and maybe French-style riots on the streets.  But they would blow over 

And then Parliament could get round to tackling the real and urgent problems the country faces: growing inequality; tax evasion; a desperate NHS; acute poverty, especially among children; a crumbling social care service, especially for the elderly; inhuman conditions in our prisons: a frighteningly large  balance of external payments deficit  - all these and more which have been neglected i the past three Brexit obsessed years.

 If some MPs with Leave- majority constituencies eventually lose their seats, so what?  Last month we commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the end of another failure of politics in which millions of many nations, inducing ours, paid a much greater price.   It is time for MPs to show similar guts.

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