When so many things are happening so quickly, it can be difficult to decide what to write about, or even dismiss the idea that anything I write will be worth anyone’s time writing. There is also the small challenge of sifting through all the possible topics and coming up with just one, as opposed to writing something unfocussed, jumbled and incoherent.
But there is something to say, today. Because the Parliamentary Bill that will lead to Article 50 being invoked, in about 6 weeks time, has now been laid before Parliament. And our Parliamentary Democracy is dependent on there being a fully functioning Opposition, to challenge the party in Government, to ensure that there are checks and balances preventing massive mistakes (mistakes that will have ramifications for us, our children, perhaps even their children) from being made. When there is no functioning Opposition, the Government of the day can get away with anything, including things that small parts of the governing party are pushing very hard at, while other elements of that party are hoping against hope that their concerns can be voiced by the Opposition.
We are in one of those situations now. Brexit means Brexit, has rapidly morphed into Brexit means Adamantine-Brexit – a Brexit so hard that it hurls us out of not just the EU, but the Single Market, the Customs Union (of which non-EU states such as Turkey are a member) The European Union Court of Justice, The European Atomic Energy Agency EURATOM – what next, the Council of Europe, Europol?
This, at a time when the US has just elected a President who appears to be Russian President Putin’s biggest fan. Putin who has sought repeatedly to undermine the influence of the EU, of NATO. Putin who is implicated in fixing the election for Trump to win. Trump who has already signalled his intention to walk away from the US’ responsibilities for security in NATO countries. Putin who has already ramped up the scale of hostilities in the Ukraine, knowing there will be no pressure from the US. Putin who can confidently look forward to the US unilaterally withdrawing from the sanctions regime imposed following the Ukraine invasion and Crimea annexation.
Is this the best time for us to be leaving the EU? How have these massive geopolitical seismic shifts affected UK voters views on whether we should be within the EU or outside it? We are told repeatedly that Brexit is the Will of the People, but that was then. Things have changed.
Labour MPs, in particular those whose electorates voted for Brexit, are being scared into supporting the Bill for fear of losing their seats in 2020. Is this not utterly craven of them? Should they not be voting for what they believe to be the best outcome for their constituents – all of them. What about all their constituents who had no vote? Should their concerns be ignored? Corbyn imposes a three line whip and threatens to sack any rebels on the front bench. This from the serial rebel Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn who was pro-Brexit from the very beginning. Corbyn who appears to be being held hostage by some hard left extremists, led by Seamus Milne.
Labour MPs are fearful because many represent constituencies that voted for Brexit. But if you take a look at the areas which voted for Brexit and those which voted Remain, things are not quite that black and white. Many constituencies (or rather the Local Authorities in which those constituencies site) only voted for Brexit with marginal majorities. While around 160 Local Authorities voted strongly for Brexit and 100 voted for Remain, 120 voted marginally for Brexit (49/51 to 45/55).
Take the Birmingham City Council area. There are ten MPs whose constituencies lie within Birmingham – 9 of them are Labour, including Brexit leader Gisela Stuart. Yet the Brexit vote in Birmingham was incredibly marginal. 223451 Birmingham voters voted for Remain, while 227251 voted Leave. From a total electorate of 707,000, the majority for Brexit was just 3800 ie 0.5% of the electorate. Demographics alone (deaths of Brexit-voting older voters, enfranchisement of young Remain-voters) will have whittled this majority away in the time since the vote. What of those who voted Leave expecting, quite reasonably, that a soft Brexit was the obvious course of action?
Or how about Lancaster. A council with an electorate of 100567, split into two constituencies – Lancaster and Fleetwood; and Morecambe and Lunesdale. Lancaster and Fleetwood is Labour, Morecambe and Lunesdale Tory. Lancaster voted to leave by a majority of 37309 to 35732, or 577 voters. A shade over 500 voters, from an electorate of over 100,000. If 250 switched sides, Lancaster would now be voting Remain.
This begs the question – are these MPs really just hostages to their voters’ views, on one particular day, in one particular year? Voters that had been bombarded with news (some of it fake) and a relentless diet of propaganda through their TVs, newspapers and, perhaps most significantly, via their Facebook feeds? Do our MPs not have a greater responsibility to use their heads, to consider all the angles. Is this not what they are elected to do – they are not delegates.
I think those MPs who do decide to bow their heads, walk through the Parliamentary lobbies, toe the party line, will find that come the next election, there will be a day of reckoning. It won’t be so much “what did you do in the war daddy” as
“what did you do to stop the mad rush for the Brexit?”