The debate over Brexit isn’t about Brexit anymore. It’s about democratic accountability and the limits of referenda in modern politics.
They are, bluntly, a fad. There is no stipulation or law that mandates their results be taken as gospel nor a limit as to how many ones you can have. According to the House of Lords Constitution Committee, referendums “cannot be legally binding in the UK, and are therefore advisory.”
Why then, are they taken as sacrosanct? Brexit is the result of a flawed and convenient philosophy. Theresa May refuses – as does Jeremy Corbyn – to hold any future referenda on Britain’s relationship with the EU. If Brexit is accepted in principle, then it surely follows that another referendum should be held on the practical details of any treaty arranged with the EU?
Since 1973 there have been national referendums held in 1975, 2011 and most recently in 2016. The Conservative Party under Edward Heath took the UK into the European Communities in 1973. In 1975, two and a half years after entering, it was Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson who held a referendum in 1975 on continuing membership.
In the present day, it is morally and politically heinous for the Conservative and Labour leadership to refuse to support calls for a vote on the terms of the Brexit deal. If a referendum was held after entering in European Communities in 1975, when then can a vote not be held two years after leaving the EU in 2022?
This is unlikely, not least because Mrs May is the same prime minister who had to be publicly shamed into letting Parliament have a say on Article 50 at all. She also is the same leader who made a £1 billion deal with the DUP to stay in power after the calamitous 2017 general election and shockingly refused to have a vote on the Syrian bombing campaign in April. It is fiercely improbable that she will loosen her grip on executive privilege.
The uncodified nature of the British constitution has never been so brazenly indulged for such political purposes. Mrs May has taken one look at the failures of her immediate predecessor and done the opposite. David Cameron gambled and lost the first Syrian vote in 2013 and failed when honouring his own manifesto pledge to allow an EU referendum in 2016.
Parliamentary authority and the supremacy of the House of Commons simply do not apply to the current First Lord of the Treasury, and it is perhaps long overdue Theresa May is called out on it.
Worse still, the official Labour Opposition stands for nothing. It represents nothing. All it seems to do is indulge the whims of its leader and has yet to form a coherent policy strategy with regards to the European Union and Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn has been anti-EU for all of his political life, but cannot rise to the responsibilities of his position and duly place democratic accountability and government scrutiny first. That job has been left to his own backbenchers, some of whom are working tirelessly across party-lines to bring about a ‘People’s Vote’ on any final EU deal.
One can only look on in disbelief at the level of hypocrisy and fear that the UK government has towards its own people. The ghost of Tory Christmas past is finally close to being exorcised, and Mrs May will not leave the Brexit victory to chance. That the Conservatives refuse to consult on the terms of the final agreement or provide a conditional period of withdrawal subject to a further referendum is a damning indictment of how the government fears democracy.
It is nothing less than the betrayal of a generation. Certainly, it hangs the 1.4 million Britons in Europe out to dry with no democratic recourse left to them. Brexit is only a symptom of a government, and system, which cannot be compelled to act democratically. Such a calamitous mistake as ignoring the British public is an unforgivable sin against the soul of British democracy and will come back to haunt those responsible.
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and teacher between Scotland and Spain. You can learn more and support his petition here for the introduction of MPs to represent British citizens abroad.