Monday, 21 January 2019

Brexit - what next?


In a post in August 2018 I argued that, although  a People's Vote on Brexit would be highly desirable, an even better step would be for the party whips to be taken off and our MPs to be free to debate the merits and demerits of every conceivable option and then, perhaps having narrowed down the viable alternatives to two or three, make the final decision themselves.

 If they decided not to leave the EU after all on the grounds that no deal which involves  leaving, on whatever terms,  is anywhere near as good as the one we already have, then there would be a lot of harrumphing and perhaps even some French-style riots on the streets but we'd get over it and could, from that stronger position, begin to tackle the real problems facing the country - and not least the genuine grievances which led to the Brexit vote.

The idea did not receive much traction.  Nor did a letter in the Guardian the following month (26/09/18) arguing that if MPs took this step than the whole mess could be sorted out before  Bonfire Night.

Fiends with whom I discussed the matter seemed to take the view that I was probably right but "it ain't gonna happen."

Happily, I now feel opinion is moving  in that direction.

Having spent two and a half years devising a plan that has been rejected by a bigger majority than anything else British Governments have attempted in modern times, Mrs May carries on as if nothing has happened, and is expected to propose the same plan with minor variations this-afternoon.  The Leader of the Official Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, refuses to participate in cross- party talks unless the game is played according to his own rules.

 It is perfectly clear that, since the Brexit issue seems to have split both major parties equally, the traditional party structure is incapable of resolving the issue.

The prominent Tory Remainer and former cabinet minister Dominic Grieve  has proposed that MPs should be allowed  one day for free discussion and "indicative votes" on the various options.  Amazing that the body in which our sovereignty lies has to ask permission!

More boldly,  Sir John Major, the former conservative prime minister who designated the Brixiteers in his cabinet as "the Bastards" has called for the whips to be taken off and some free discussion and "indicative votes"  to take place.  Major points out that Edward Heath, under whose premiership, after several rebuffs, we actually joined the EU, allowed Tory MPs a free vote, so these free votes would not be dangerously innovative.

I'm not sure  if Major  goes as far as asking MPs to make the final decision. but he seems to allow the possibility of a People's Vote if MPs can't make up their minds.

In the wonderful words and music of Gilbert and Sullivan: "quite calm deliberation  disentangles every knot."

Rather than further weeks of Mrs May trying to foist her unacceptable deal onto a reluctant parliament, with an Opposition too timid to propose any alternative (other than a General Election, which would be absurd at this stage).  we need several  weeks, if necessary, of calm discussion form our MPs to enable them, fully informed,  to make the most serious decision of their and my political lifetime.

10 comments:

  1. More boldly, Sir John Major, the former conservative prime minister who designated the Brixiteers in his cabinet as "the Bastards" has called for the whips to be taken off and some free discussion and "indicative votes" to take place. Major points out that Edward Heath, under whose premiership, after several rebuffs, we actually joined the EU, allowed Tory MPs a free vote, so these free votes would not be dangerously innovative.

    That's incredibly hypocritical of Major. What he should have done was allow MPs a free vote on the Maastricht treaty, way back when — you know, the one that actually created the European Union out of the old EEC. If he'd done that, then it never would have been ratified by Britain, and if the other countries wanted to go on and form their misguided 'Union' we would have stayed on the sidelines, probably with some kind of 'associate membership' that kept us in an EEC-like relationship within the single market but without the political union, without the social chapter, without all the things that we don't actually like about the EU.

    And then there would have been no need for any of this hassle. We would never have needed to vote on leaving the EU because we never would have been in it. Would that not have been much better?

    But he didn't do that: quite the reverse, he made it a confidence vote in order to effectively blackmail Conservative MPs into voting against their consciences.

    So as he was the one who basically got us into this mess, I think he's the last one who should be listened to re: getting out of it, don't you?

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    Replies
    1. Given what I take to be your preference for semi-detached or peripheral membership of the EU, I can see the logic of your argument. Personally I'd prefer to see us at the heart of Europe, fully cooperating with moves to "ever closer union," so my only quarrel with Major would be the opt-outs from the Social chapter
      and monetary union.

      More generally, I hope once this is cleared up we never have another referendum: they have no place in a representative democracy.I'd be more relaxed about less whipping and more free votes, so that MPs have more opportunity to exercise their own judgement - which is what they are elected for.

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    2. More generally, I hope once this is cleared up we never have another referendum: they have no place in a representative democracy.

      Personally I rather like the convention that seems to have been established that major constitutional change — eg, changing the voting system — cannot happen without a referendum. Call it the 'People's Veto': it would stop, for example, in a future hung parliament, a Liberal Democrat rump (assuming the party doesn't toally disappear at the next general, as I suspect it might, or be reduced to one or two MPs) demanding that the government impose PR on an unwilling population as the price of their joining a coalition.

      As long as a referendum is deemed necessary because of precedent, the peopel have a chance to reject and any all major changes, as they ought to.

      More generally I agree referendums ought to be rare, but what can you do in a situation where the views of 90% of MPs are unrepresentative of the views of 52% of the electorate? that's clearly not a long-term sustainable situation. Eventually it's got to boil over in some way, and at least a referendum isn't a civil war.

      I'd be more relaxed about less whipping and more free votes, so that MPs have more opportunity to exercise their own judgement - which is what they are elected for.

      I am rather less relaxed about that given the number — eg, Heidi Allen, Ken Clarke — who seem perfectly willing to disregard the views of those who voted for them when they come to cast their votes. I would be hopping mad if I lived in one of their constituencies and had voted for them on the basis of their manifesto promise to leave the EU, only for them to betray my trust and try to frustrate the very thing they had promised to implement.

      If MPs are to be given greater latitidue to exercise their own judgement, then they first have to demonstrate that they can be trusted to be up-front about what that judgement is, not stand on one manifesto and they try to subvert it once elected. they currently do not have that trust and so I would not be happy to see them given greater latitude.

      Once they have earned back the trust, then they can have freedom.

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    3. The doctrine of the mandate is a rather questionable concept. True it is helpful if the parties give us some idea of what they would like to do if they gain power or influence, but it is a nonsense to claim that everyone who votes for a party supports every item in their manifesto. How many know? How many care? How many are voting not for that part but against one of the others?

      Re referendums I suggest you listen to Val MacDermid" on this week's "A point of view."

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00025gg

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