Wednesday 8 March 2017
Two cheers for the House of Lords
I'm not too upset that the House of Lords failed yesterday to support a Liberal Democrat amendment that, if and when the government has concluded the Brexit negotiations there should be a referendum on whether or not to accept the result.
A second referendum has a certain symmetry and logic to it but there can be no guarantee that a second one would be conducted with any more veracity, or reported any more fairly, than the first. There could also be an even greater temptation for those who wish to strike a blow against the complacent establishment to cast a "sod you" vote. But the strongest reason is that referendums are not a good way of making decisions on complex issues. We should have learned that lesson by now, and the sooner referendums are phased out of our political lexicon the better.
By contrast I find that fact that Labour sided with the Tories last week to vote against an amendment to ask that the government to try to stay in the single market. This was proposed by Peter Hain, former Labour cabinet minister and erstwhile Young Liberal digger-up of cricket pitches in the fight against apartheid, no less. And even Boris Johnson is allegedly on record as arguing during the campaign that leaving the EU did not imply leaving the single market.
So what on earth is the logic of the Labour leadership whipping its peers to vote against this? If Labour's purpose in life is to preserve employment and jobs (as they repeatedly argue - indeed one wonders sometimes if they are in favour of anything else) then continued membership of the single market is a sine qua none of their existence.
Presumably the Labour leadership feels there is some short term electoral advantage in this stance which escapes the rest of us, but, if there is not already such a thing as a Black Monday in Labour's history, then 27th February 2017 surely fills the bill, and they should not be allowed to forget it if the British economy is left out in the cold as a result of this mysterious alliance with Mrs May and Hard Brexit.
Finally I am delighted that yesterday the Lords voted for an amendment that parliament should have a "meaningful" vote on the Brexit settlement when it is reached.
With a lack of logic that beggars belief the government has promptly said it will try to overturn this in the Commons. A main plank of the Leavers' argument was that the British parliament, and only parliament, and certainly not Brussels, should make rules for Britain. (This is nonsense, of course since, with or without the EU we are inextricably sharing sovereignty with umpteen other nations and international institutions in innumerable treaties and obligations.)
Be that as it may we can presume the government will argue that, politically if not legally, the people and not parliament are sovereign and "the people have spoken!"
How easily that phrase trips of the tongue. Like the Devil ,who "has the best tunes," it is irksome that the misguided and misguiding Right seem to get the best slogans. It is so much easier to parrot this mantra than to point out that only 72% of the eligible voters actually voted, and so only 37% voted to Leave and 34 % voted to stay and 16 and 17 year-olds, presumed to be overwhelmingly in favour of Remain, weren't allowed to vote and if parliament had had any sense it would have required a two-thirds majority for a leave vote to be valid and even Mr Farage argued that a narrow majority would require a re-run (but that was when he though Leave had lost).
Yes, is easy to dub us as poor losers and "Remoaners." But the case for the future and greater health of our economy and our political standing remains with us and we must strive to the utmost to challenge the loud repetition by the blustering Leavers of the only argument they are able to produce.