Dark rumblings in the British Isles portend the betrayal of the largest democratic exercise in the nation’s long history. Storm clouds gather in the form of elitist politicians seeking to tie the United Kingdom – once a proud, independent nation – to the increasingly fragmented European Union project. As the official deadline for leaving this European Superstate approaches, it seems that elected members of Parliament are determined to override the will of the British people in a capitulation that will mark the death knell of their freedom.
Will the U.K. forever be trapped in a political union with no hope of escape? Will the British Deplorables take to the streets to demand democracy be served? And is there any doubt remaining in the minds of the electorate that the government has its own agenda that must be served out as thin gruel in this ongoing saga?
Each week, we’ll be examining the machinations and plots that infect British politics.
The Dates, the Decisions
On March 29, Britain is set to leave the European Union. Under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the U.K. gave its two-year notice of withdrawal, and that deadline is fast approaching. You might assume that Brexit is a done deal and that this nation of shopkeepers (as Napoleon described his eventual victors) should be negotiating new trade arrangements with the rest of the world. But, no, there are further machinations taking place.
The 2016 referendum asked a simple question: Should the U.K. remain part of the E.U.? Once this was decided in an historic vote, the follow-up question should have been, simply: When do we leave? Yet this question – that was handed to the British voting public – morphed into a vicious hydra of how we leave, what deal should be in place with the E.U., and how much power should remain in the hands of the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels?
The British government has decided, in its all-too-finite wisdom, that exiting the union on simple World Trade Organization (WTO) terms would be a poison pill for the economy. Remember that this is the same government that wrongly forecasted Britain would enter immediate recession upon a Leave vote. The Conservative Party under Prime Minister Theresa May is left pitiably scabbling for scraps of compromise from unbending fanatics who have stated that “Britain must be punished” for the crime of daring to leave their precious club. As Mr. Brexit himself, Nigel Farage, points out, the withdrawal agreement so far is more like a surrender document signed under the barrel of a gun by a defeated nation.
Deal or No Deal
May’s ministers presently are attempting to get minor concessions to a withdrawal agreement, brokered by May but rejected by Parliament, with little luck. The opposition Labour Party has finally, after three years of dalliance, decided that what’s needed now – at the 11th hour – is another referendum to make sure the supposedly idiotic plebeians know exactly what they voted for the first time.
And through it all, the recalcitrant E.U. leaders smugly state that not only is there no dealing to be done but also those who dared to orchestrate Brexit have “a special place in hell.”
Yet what is it that the British public actually want? A recent Politico poll asked which scenario the respondents would prefer. The option and responses were:
- Delaying the U.K.’s exit from the E.U. to negotiate a different deal: 15.6%
- Remaining in the E.U.: 31.5%
- Leaving the E.U. with the government’s deal: 16.4%
- Leaving the E.U. without a deal: 21.6%
At first glance, it seems that remaining in the E.U. has the highest amount of support, until you realize that this is a weighted question. You see, although remaining part of the E.U. project has the support of 31.5% of people (down from 48% of voters in 2016), the other three options all support leaving. In fact, 53.6% of respondents want out one way or the other. (The other responders to the poll opted for “don’t know.”)
Why the Disconnect?
Surely in a representative democracy, the elected politicians should make a reasonable effort to carry out the majority wishes of the electorate, especially if through an act of Parliament, the aforementioned politicians had agreed to carry out the will of the people.
So why is it that actually achieving Brexit is proving more difficult? It could be, as the Remain- favoring Members of Parliament suggest, that leaving is just far too complicated and an impossible task. If this is the case, it would make sense to persevere in pulling the plug now while the going is good rather than be stuck in a painful extrication procedure as the whole project collapses (as many economists now predict).
Or is the more likely scenario that of the 650 Members of Parliament, representing the 650 constituencies of the United Kingdom, the majority of them personally favor remaining, and as such ignore what their voters demanded? As it turns out, only 156 MPs openly backed leaving the E.U., yet more than 400 constituencies voted the same. This shows that a vast majority of MPs are not respecting the vote given by their own electorate.
If there were ever an argument to be made for a British Electoral College, it is this. The vote to leave the European Union was won by a slim margin in terms of overall votes, but by area and constituency it was a huge au revoir from almost everywhere but London, the capital city. That the sheer number of people living in one small area of the U.K. have the ultimate sway over the direction and lives of those from whom they are so far removed shows us that the present system is deeply flawed.
Anger is at boiling point in Britain. Demonstrators are taking to the streets in growing numbers. Belief in the value of voting is being eroded day by day, and the murmured chatter in back rooms and bars across the nation is one of disgust and righteous indignation. When change fails to come through the ballot box, the nation will fall to chaos, and the social contract may be irreparably broken.