Brexit impasse
Democracy

Brexit impasse: democracy can be messy – but the alternative is terrifying

And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee‘ (1Sam 8:7). It might not end well, but never let it be said that half a verse of Scripture can’t be plucked out of context to support the idea that God is a democrat. If the people are to be consulted, they may of course opt for the golden calf on the ballot paper (Ex 32:1), but ‘listen to their voice‘ (1Sam 8:9) clearly gives them a decisive role in deciding their nation’s polity and destiny. Don’t be surprised, however, if they fall for a candidate’s good looks, charm and charisma (‘a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people‘ [9:2]): you just can’t escape the Clinton/Blair factor. This might explain why when Pilate balloted the people again some centuries later, the election lighted on Barabbas (Mk 15:7-15). Perhaps he was just ‘more choice’; better looking than Jesus (Isa 53:2). Of course, the Lord doesn’t approve of assessing political telegenicity as the best way of choosing one’s leader: ‘But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (1Sam 16:7).

There is manifestly a role for the whole community to play when it comes to making important decisions: we read in Acts (6:2) thatthe twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them‘ in order to arrive at a consensus by corporate discernment on precisely what the head should do and what the hands and feet should do. Instructions for the ordering and functioning of the Body of Christ did not arrive by email from heaven; it developed from a Disciples’ Vote. Democracy is certainly flawed and messy and quite unfinished, but, as Winston Churchill observed, it is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

And so to the Brexit impasse.

The Prime Minister is about to face a challenge to her premiership. This is inevitable after her decision to postpone the parliamentary vote on her ‘deal’ (which isn’t actually a deal, but a withdrawal agreement governing the transition period toward the long-promised trade deal which might emerge in 2020 [or it might not]). If we hadn’t already reached it, we are now at the point of political crisis. It is not, as some assert, a constitutional crisis, for the Queen still reigns, Parliament still sits, and the Church of England is still established. All the UK’s historically tried-and-tested levers and buttons of the Constitution remain to be pulled, pushed or pressed as may be necessary: the Constitution is in rude health, waiting to be exercised.

You can’t iterate to the people and reiterate to Parliament that this ‘deal’ is the best and only and absolutely final ‘deal’ available, and that you believe this with all your heart and soul and mind, and then traipse over to the EU capitals to renegotiate it, or seek legally-binding assurances or clarifications on it. There comes a point where goodwill expires because confidence dissipates: just when is Theresa May telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

Despite the result of the EU Referendum in 2016, there is apparently no parliamentary majority with an appetite to deliver on it. That’s messy. There’s no majority for the PM’s ‘deal’, no majority for a ‘no deal’ (ie WTO rules), no majority for a general election (which wouldn’t actually resolve anything), and no majority for a second leave-remain ‘informed consent’ referendum. That’s messier.

But the so-called ‘People’s Vote’ is a solution to the mess we’re in.

But not the ‘People’s Vote’ that the ‘People’s Vote’ posse wants.

The Telegraph reports: ‘Theresa May’s “plan B” could see second referendum that does not include option to remain in EU’:

A radical plan for a second referendum that does not include the option to remain in the EU is being discussed as a possible “plan B” for Theresa May if she cannot get her Brexit deal through the Commons.

Some May loyalists believe that a second referendum might be the “least worst” of several grim alternatives facing her if MPs block the deal on Tuesday or in a postponed vote.

..Mrs May could not, however, risk calling a referendum that could end up stopping Brexit altogether, having staked her party’s entire reputation on delivering the result of the 2016 public ballot.

Instead, some ministers have discussed a plan to give voters the choice between Mrs May’s Brexit deal and a no deal Brexit to break the current Parliamentary deadlock.

“The Conservatives would be destroyed at the next general election if they brought about a referendum that ended up with Britain staying in the EU, so this would be a valid alternative.

“You can legitimately argue that remain doesn’t need to be on the ballot paper because that issue has already been settled. We voted to leave in 2016.

“Now people could be given the choice of how we leave.”

While this option might also struggle to get through Parliament, it would at least put paid to the lie that advocates of a ‘People’s Vote’ are concerned solely with the principle of ‘informed consent’. There is surely sufficient (mis/dis)information out there now to allow people to weigh the pros and cons of Theresa May’s ‘deal’ vs the WTO ‘no deal’. Such a choice shouldn’t alienate the 48% who voted to Remain in 2016 (well, it would, but then anything short of remaining in the EU will continue to alienate them) because: i) this question was settled in 2016 (we voted to leave); and ii) they would have the option of supporting the Prime Minister’s ‘deal’ in the hope (and prayer) that it falls through and we are forever locked in the ‘Backstop’ (ie in a UK-wide Customs Union, and so we effectively remain in the EU).

This is the only viable second referendum which would avert a significant collapse in trust in the great institutions of state. It might not, of course, stop at a collapse in trust: there is already some murmuring about a British ‘Gilets Jaunes’ movement to ‘take back control’ from the elites who would conspire to nullify the result of the Referendum. “This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide”, assured the Government’s propaganda information leaflet which was sent to every home in the UK on the run-up to the referendum. There was no warning about what might happen if the people dared to vote the wrong way, and no hint that the Government might not honour its pledge: this was effectively a contract with the people. If Brexit isn’t delivered as HM Government promised, those in power ought not to be surprised if those who feel they are without power begin to feel even more impotent, and civil unrest ensues. Where exactly are people supposed to go; what are they supposed to do; to whom are they supposed to appeal when the Ballot Box fails to deliver what it promised?

You may believe Brexit to be a national disaster; an international humiliation; a generation betrayal; a denial of all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. But the people chose a different king; they raised their hands for another messiah. If Brexit is Saul mingled with Barabbas, the people must learn and experience the consequences of their decision. That might be messy, but it is the people’s mess: they made it; they own it, and so they must lie in it.

You might believe yourself to be endowed with all superior enlightenment, wisdom and discernment, but the appeal to ‘Divine Right’ hasn’t really worked in England since 1689. ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee‘. The people said ‘Leave’. For the sake of the peace and political stability of the Realm, Parliament must deliver. If a prime minister cannot be found to deliver, then the mess we’re in is about to get an awful lot messier: indeed, the ‘Poll Tax’ riots of 1990 will look like a picnic in the park, and the Gilets Jaunes will find a few new revolutionary soulmates over La Manche.