26 October 2016
Members of Parliament, as representatives of the British people, should vote according to their consciences and best judgment. Photo: Reuters
Members of Parliament, as representatives of the British people, should vote according to their consciences and best judgment. Photo: Reuters

Purposeless Parliament?

I do not doubt that most of the people who voted to leave the European Union are thoroughly decent people who genuinely believe that it is in Britain’s best interests to sever its connection with the EU.

I agree unreservedly with them that there are many facets of the EU that are in desperate need of a change for the better, not least the trend toward greater political integration.

But, just as strongly, if not more so, I believe that to walk away from the EU is to turn our backs on the greatest force for progressing civilization that Europe has ever seen, in the 71 years of peace on a continent that was devastated by two world wars from the scars of which it took generations to heal.

Worse, the contribution that Britain made to the EU was the most enlightened and stabilizing force in an increasingly troubled world.

And at what cost to Britain?

The immediate aftermath has been shocking: currencies destabilized, people rushing for the exits, Scotland and Northern Ireland counting the cost, heightened fears on almost every front, and the most respected parliament in the world beginning to look like a farmyard full of chickens pecking each other’s eyes out.

Which brings me to the core of my argument.

The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy. It is governed by a body of men and women elected by universal suffrage after full political argument.

Those men and women, members of Parliament, are elected to exercise their judgment on our behalves.

It is impossible for any one political party to mirror every individual’s preferences; consequently we plump for the party that most closely approximates to our philosophy.

But if the candidate of our preferred party is not someone in whom we are prepared to place our confidence, as often as not, we do not vote for him or her.

It stands to reason that, as individuals, we cannot influence every decision taken in Parliament, and equally, we would not support every measure that comes up for debate.

That is why we have to trust our parliamentary representative to exercise his or her judgment on each topic.

Just as the elector cannot identify with every proposal of the party, so the MP cannot be expected to follow the party whip whenever his or her conscience dictates the opposite.

Failure to follow their conscience would be a powerful reason to vote them out at the next election.

Though politicians, as a class, have sunk low in the public’s estimation, they should not all be tarred with the same brush.

Even more to the point, we ought to expect our politicians to behave with courage and integrity.

The decision that Britain leave the EU can only be taken by Parliament, not by referendum — that is inimical to our constitution.

That such a dramatic decision should be taken on the basis of a slim majority of about 70 percent of the population runs entirely contrary to the philosophy of parliamentary democracy.

Parliament is equipped with the full machinery of government in order to reach informed decisions.

On one thing almost everyone is agreed, that the information made available to the public with regard to the pros and cons of leaving the EU was pitifully inadequate and all too often misleading.

On such an issue, convention dictates that the vote would be free, leaving each MP to vote according to his or her intelligence and in good conscience.

I hear some folk saying that no MP would risk his or her seat by voting against the wishes of 52 percent of the country, but I demur.

Only those whose primary concern is to retain their seat rather than keep their integrity intact would ignore their conscience.

The decision to offer a referendum on this subject was fundamentally flawed and an ill-considered sop to revanchist Conservatives.

David Cameron broke faith with history.

The very thought of a replacement prime minister being eased into office by one of the most outrageous examples of selfish political opportunism of all time is quite sickening.

Parliament, as a body, should not compound this singularly grave error with its limitless capacity for harm.

Are we to anticipate governance by referenda usurping the proper role of the mother of parliaments?

Nelson turned a blind eye to his admiral’s order.

Parliament must turn a deaf ear to suicidal speech.

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