Churchill said, in a speech in 1955, a speech on the ‘Duties of a Member of Parliament’:
“The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate. Burke’s famous declaration on this subject is well known. It is only in the third place that his duty to party organization or programme takes rank. All these three loyalties should be observed, but there is no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy.”
Yes, I know, who am I to question Churchill but please indulge me (I intend no disrespect!).
This is crucial, the subject, the matter, of the responsibilities and duties of an MP because it goes to the heart of what has come to be known as the Brexit shambles.
In fact, it goes further than Brexit because the furor surrounding Brexit, what is now happening, touches on even bigger issues, democracy, the rule of law, the very foundations on which Britain stands.
Whether democracy and the rule of law still stand, still exist, still function in Britain is being called into question and that makes the situation a crisis.
IMHO, the chasm between Parliament and ‘the People’, “the People’s” sense of disenfranchisement, “the People’s” lack of trust in MPs, and the division that Brexit has caused amongst ‘the People’ in Britain, it puts the country, the nation, at risk of a civil uprising.
So, back to Churchill:
“The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain.”
It seems that Churchill is saying that the MP has to be objective – it has to be his (or her!) “disinterested judgement”: the MP has to consider what is “right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain”, he/she mustn’t think about how decisions can/will/would affect him/her personally. Ok.
“His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate.”
Now, this is important, the fact that Churchill made this the secondary, not the primary duty.
The common cry of Brexiteers is that democracy demands that the Government take Britain out of the EU. However, if Churchill is right about the duties of MPs, it would appear that they must first consider “what is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain.
“Burke’s famous declaration on this subject is well known. It is only in the third place that his duty to party organization or programme takes rank. All these three loyalties should be observed, but there is no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy.”
…and one can presume that “the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy” is the order in which he has referred to them.
Before I looked into this, just a few days ago, my position was this:
In 2016, a Bill was passed in Parliament which paved the way for the Brexit referendum, a plebiscite. Parliament surrendered the “should we stay or should we leave” decision to ‘the People’. Bad call but David Cameron and his Government asked Parliament, “should we leave?” and Parliament said “yes”.
So, the Referendum and the campaign.
First problem/weakness with plebiscites:
How do we frame the question?
Such a massive issue but the question was, in essence:
“People, do you want to remain in the EU or leave it?”
Just think about that for a minute (which I don’t think Parliament did at the time!):
How on Earth can that question do the job that it’s supposed to do?!
The job? To deliver certainty on this issue of leaving.
The mere fact that that was the question reflects how ignorant Parliament was in understanding the workings and complexities of the EU and the complexities of leaving.
Answer to the Referendum question, “yes” or “no”.
What were ‘the People’ saying “yes” to?
What were ‘the People’ saying “no” to?
You can only answer that question, “do you want to leave the EU?”, answer it meaningfully, if you know, really know, what the EU is, what it does, what the costs of membership are, what the benefits are, what the disadvantages of membership are, what the consequences of staying are, what the consequences of leaving are – and considering that no thought had been given to the matter of HOW the UK would leave the EU if “leave’ won the vote, how could anyone answer the question.
The options should have been:
Yes, in principal;
No, in principal;
Depends on the deal.
The Referendum campaign was littered with lies, deceit, misunderstanding, uncertainty and it was quite possibly illegally funded. IMHO that makes the Referendum result invalid but there is so much at stake now, such are the emotions, such are the risks of severe civil unrest that I don’t think we can get stuck at that point, I think we have to move on, I think we have to accept the validity of the result: 52% Leave, 48% Remain.
There is a red herring often brought up, that being that only 17.4m voters said that they wanted to leave, that that does not represent over half of those entitled to vote. That argument stands on quicksand. The result is based on the percentage of people who vote, not the percentage of those entitled to vote. No more on that need be said.
I do think that there is enough of a consensus on that point, that, putting aside, as we now must, the winds of dishonesty and foul play that blew the Referendum campaign to the day of voting, ‘the People’ voted to leave, not by a big margin but they won.
Now, THAT has to be the starting point, not whether there should or shouldn’t have been a Referendum, not all the talk of skullduggery during the campaign, the starting point in all this has to be an acknowledgement that the Brexiteers (unfortunately) won.
BUT contrary to the cries of Brexiteers that Remainer MPs have to put their own feelings on the subject aside and follow the instructions, the wishes, of the majority of voters who said ‘Leave’, it seems, if Churchill is right, that they, the MP’s, can, must, do what they, objectively, believe is:
right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain.”
That makes this very complex.
I am a Remainer but I can see why Brexiteers are fed up – they voted to leave and it hasn’t happened. That drives a wedge between them and Parliament, it strains the relationship of trust.
I believe, however, that there should be a second referendum on the question of HOW Britain should leave the EU and that, despite my being a remainer, the option of withdrawing from Art 50 should not be on the ballot paper. This mess started with a plebiscite and should be concluded with one, otherwise the end will be seen as a Parliamentary stitch-up.
I might even, had I not read these words by Churchill, have said that a second referendum is not called for, that the question was asked in the referendum, that it was a poor question but it was what it was, it was answered, that Parliament is duty-bound to do the best deal it can and that whatever it is, soft brexit, hard brexit, no deal brexit, that has to be it, out Britain goes.
But is that how it works?
Churchill believed that it is the duty of MP’s to act in accordance with what they believe is “right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain”, not in accordance with what their constituents have said, nor in accordance with the wishes of the whole nations’ electorate. Churchill said that the MPs are representatives of the People, not delegates.
I’m pretty sure that “the People don’t see it that way!
In this Brexit debacle, not much is certain but one thing IS certain: the very stability of Britain is at risk, the nation stands, and I genuinely feel this, stands on the precipice of civil disorder.
I think that that risk has to be the driving force of MPs now, their motivation.
Despite what Churchill said, I believe that Brexit (sadly) must happen.
I believe that Boris Johnson has a duty to do the best deal he can (though I fear that he isn’t trying) and I believe that if he has done his duty, has tried to get as good a deal as possible but hasn’t managed to improve on Theresa May’s deal, he must put it to Parliament one more time, everyone aware that if it is not passed, the UK will leave the EU without a deal.
Johnson must reconvene Parliament immediately, regardless of the result of the Supreme Court Hearing on Tuesday this coming week.
IMHO, the barrier that Parliament put in the way of the Government being able to take Britain out of the EU on 31 October must be removed but, if it can’t, Britain must leave as soon as possible thereafter.
There is no easy way out of this mess. No Brexit would lead to civil upheaval. Brexit, whatever the deal, or without a deal, will cause an uproar and there’ll be economic and social consequences but the loudest voice, unfortunately, was the one sounded back in 2016, when 17.4m people, many misled and deceived, said “leave” and unless we want to see the chasm between “the People” and Parliament open ever wider, I’m afraid Brexit must go ahead, on the best terms possible, as soon as possible.