Tuesday 24 January 2017

Brexit: the time for pester-power

Now that the Supreme Court has decided that it is up to Parliament, and not the Government, to decide whether or not to trigger Article 50 it is up to us to put the machinery of our much vaunted democracy (of which Brexiteers are so anxious that we should take back control) into action.

Step One: write to your MP.

I've just written to mine as follows:

  * * * * * * * * MP

House of Commons,

London, SW1A  0AA

Dear * * * * *   * * * * **

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that it is Parliament and not the Government who have the right to decide whether or not to trigger Article 50 I urge you to vote against any such move.  I appreciate your were not an MP at the time the Referendum Bill was passed, so are not personally responsible*, but it was  Parliamentarians, through complacency or negligence who got us into this mess (see points 2 and 4 below)  so it is up to them , now including you, get us out of it.
The grounds for opposition to triggering Article 50 are:

  1.  The referendum was not binding but advisory.  This was made perfectly clear to all parliamentarians even if, sadly, not too much was made of it during the campaign.   But the law is the law, and the truth  is that the Government and Parliament have received advice, not an instruction, and it is up to you to decide whether or not to act on it.
  2.  Parliament failed to include in the Referendum Bill the supermajority normally necessary for such an important decision.  Organisations as inconsequential as golf clubs and music societies require more than a simple majority to change their constitutions.  All parties were remiss in not including special provisions, such as a two-thirds majority over-all and at least a simple majority in each of the four constituent parts of the UK, for a "Leave" vote to be valid.
  3. The Government and other "Leavers" are fond of repeating  that "the people have spoken" but the actual result of the referendum  (37% of the electorate for Leave, 34% for Remain and 27% did not vote) was far from a clarion call that must be obeyed.  The 16-17 age group who, in terms of years, will be most affected by the long term effects of the result, were not allowed to vote.  If those not on the register but who should be are included it is estimated that the actual percentage of the adult population who voted to leave was a mere 28%, barely more than a quarter.  In two constituent parts of the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the majority voted to Remain.
  4.  The campaign, without the constraint of any means of challenging misleading statements in the courts such as the provisions of the 1983 Representation of the People Act,  was seriously misleading; on both sides, yes, but most seriously on the Leave side.  Promises made by Leave have been unravelling from day one: there is, for example, no £350m per week for the NHS, and we can't "have our cake and eat it."

As our MP you are elected not as a mandated delegate but as a mature and rational representative expected to use your judgement for the general good. In the present climate I know this will take courage, though it is worth remembering that some 70% of Labour voters voted to Remain**.  We are told that a substantial number of other MPs are contemplating voting against so you will not be alone.  Perhaps you can use your influence to persuade others, in the Lords as well as the Commons.

The tactic of demanding details of the negotiations or inserting provisions about preserving employment and workers’ rights, or even wanting a second referendum on whatever “deal” is finally achieved, is worthy but second best, in that it means you and the political establishment will spend the next two years  haggling over the details of an exit that the majority of you believe shouldn’t happen.  End it now and you can   concentrate on remedying the actual serious problems which face us: growing inequality, housing, low productivity, an alarming deficit on the balance of external payments, race relations etc. But the greatest of which is inequality.

Yours sincerely,

* My MP was recently elected at a by-election held after the Referendum Bill was passed, so, if you choose to use the above as a template, minor alterations will be needed.

**Also she is Labour.  Other points will need to be mentioned to MPs in other parties, very strong ones if the constituency happens to have voted "Remain."

The philosopher A.C. Grayling urges us to go much further, as follows.

Never forget that the referendum was unnecessary. It was an internal party political affair of the Conservative Party. Leave won with 37% of the electorate (a restricted electorate which excluded millions) that had been defined for the
poll. . . . .

The best way to stop Brexit is for our MPs to vote it down in Parliament. . . .

The most effective means of getting your MPs to act is to visit them in their constituency surgeries and to keep on visiting them every week. Crowd their surgeries every week. Demonstrate outside their surgeries every week. Fill their waiting rooms every week. Insist. Do not stop. Keep it up. Do not give up. Do not stop until it is all over.

Support the various legal actions by donating to the crowd-funded resources for them. Stay informed. Argue with Leavers; change their minds. Discuss with those Remainers who have given up the fight: get them back into the fight.

Choose a day, a time and a place, and meet there every week regularly with posters and EU flags. Gather more and more people there every time. Keep it up, rain or shine. In 1989 in the German Democratic Republic what began as a small nucleus of protesters grew until there were millions all over the country, and the government fell.

The EU has its flaws because it is a work in progress. But it is a great work in progress, with immense achievements already to its name in bringing peace, progress and increased prosperity to Europe, along with admirable labour laws, environmental protection, scientific advance, human rights and civil liberty protections, and so much besides. 


PS (added 27th JanuaryI'm pleased to see a clarion call for Labour MPs to vote against from their activist, (and repsected railway expert and oponent of HS2) Christian Wolmer, at


  1. You do realise that if the House of Commons votes against invoking article 50, there will have to be an immediate general election (it's pretty much the ultimate issue of confidence in the May government), in which, due to public anger at Remainers, UKIP will finally make its electoral breakthrough (at least into double figures, maybe 20 seats, possibly more — certainly they will overtake the Liberal Democrats as the fourth party)?

    Do you really want that? I don't.

    1. You're right, it's certainly not an outcome I want, but there are a lot of known unknowns which could affect the scenario you present.

      First there's no guarantee that a defeat for triggering article 50 would lead to general election. Mrs May was a Remainer (albeit a tepid one) and so are a majority of Tory MPs, along with the majority of MPs in other parties. A defeat could be met with a sigh of relief that they are let off the hook and can carry on with urgent business as normal.
      Second, there's the Parliament Act which now requires a 66% majority of MPs to permit a dissolution. (They did have the sense to build a supermajority into that one.) We have as yet no experience of how that can be achieved, though I must admit it would be very difficult for Labour to vote against it.

      Thirdly, I had thought that, having achieved their objective and, given the antics of their leadership, UKIP would by now be a busted flush. However, I believe there are polls which predict that Paul Nuttall is set to push Labour into second place in the Stoke by-election. We shall see.
      Fourthly, if there is a general election following the defeat of triggering Article 50, "normal" allegiances, already becoming more fluid, could disintegrate altogether, and the election could become a Pro or Anti remaining in the EU contest. If so the majority of constancies are likely to vote for the Remain candidate.

      On top of all this there would undoubtedly be some unknown unknowns. We live in interesting times. I think trying to stop Brexit now, without any further waste of time and energy, is worth the risk.

    2. To first and second: Mrs May has already faced questions over her legitimacy. Labour and the Liberal Democrats both called on her to go to the country to 'validate' her Prime Ministership as soon as she was appointed (unwisely, in my view, as both of them could only stand to lose in the resulting election). She basically staked her legitimacy on implementing the mandate of the referendum. Without that, I think she'd find it very difficult to carry on, and politically, it's hard to see how there could be a second unelected Conservative Prime Minister without an election (changing PMs once mid-term is an established part of British politics; but twice, is not).

      And given that Corbyn, McDonnell and Farron have all called for May to go to a general election, they couldn't very well then not vote of the dissolution of parliament motion. (Personally I think the government should have repealed the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act by now, it was bad legislation drafted in haste for a particular circumstance — it should have had a sunset clause to die with the coalition that it was designed to protect — but in this circumstance, it's irrelevant, as Labour and the Lib Dems have committed themselves politically to the idea of a general election as soon as possible.

      Thirdly, I thought UKIP was going to dissolve in in-fighting too, but the one thing that could rejuvenate them is massive and widespread anger at the idea that there is a 'stitch-up' to ignore the desire of the majority of the electorate to leave the EU (people would draw comparisons to the 'vote again and do it right this time' Irish referendum re-runs, etc).

      Fourthly, you're wrong: the majority of constituencies would for the 'Leave' candidate in that case. The result of the referendum was close, but the 'Remain' vote is highly concentrated while the 'Leave' vote is spread out, such that there are about 200 constituencies where 'Remain' would win with 80+% of the vote, versus about 400 where 'Leave' would win with majorities ranging from 55% - 80%. Some of those, particularly in the north, would be UKIP.

      That's not taking account of any vote-splitting, the the effects of that are too complicated to try to predict.

    3. Re "Fourthly" I can't remember the source, but I've recently read a comparison with the US Electoral College which claimed that, had we decided by Brexit by constiuencies, Remain would have won:ie the opposite of the popular vote

    4. That is not the conclusion of:


  2. Well, that looks pretty well researched and convincing: I withdraw

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