Friday, March 15, 2019
What We Saw This Week in Westminster
It looks like utter chaos in Theresa May's House of Commons. The Conservatives are fractured, Labour is fractured, whipped votes aren't. The Scots want something, the Northern Irish want something else, the Welsh are playing it cool for the moment, at least compared to everyone else. Some are calling for snap elections. Others want another referendum. A small camp wants a hard Brexit, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. Another group wants to settle for the withdrawal agreement May negotiated with the EU. That includes the "backstop" for the Irish border that infuriates the hard Brexit camp.
What the world is witnessing, with a lot of puzzlement, is a nation governed by representative democracy having to deal with the result of direct democracy. It doesn't help that the Brexit referendum was botched. Leave voters were seduced by empty promises that bordered on outright lies, coupled with financing irregularities and, of course, the manipulative prowess of Cambridge Analytica.
After two years of wrangling, there isn't a person today who can accurately define Brexit. What is it? Who knows? Having recently spent hours listening to Brit talk radio (LBC London) or the Guardian live stream coverage of the House of Commons, it's obvious that there is no central factual framework to this. One will eventually emerge, possibly by default. There may be no real managed outcome and that will be a cloud over Parliament for years to come.
The referendum was direct democracy. Brits were asked to choose Leave or Remain and the Leave camp won by a small margin. Team Farage might have spun Leave supporters with sugar plum dreams but they had no accountability once the votes were counted. Like Jacques Parizeau their only challenge was to get enough "lobsters in the pot."
The referendum outcome then fell to Parliament, representive democracy, to enact in some form or another. That's where the real slogging began. MPs had to represent their constituents and the nation. And doing that meant dealing with other affected parties that had no vote, no say, including the entire European Union, especially the Irish Republic. There were fears of a resumption of "the Troubles" between north and south. It wasn't easy getting the UK into the EU and it wasn't going to be easy to get out either.
What lies ahead in the next few weeks? Nobody knows. Theresa May will keep trying to grind down MPs until she gets enough support for her withdrawal agreement. Third time lucky? Then she needs the support of all 27 other members of the EU for a postponement of the March 29 trigger date.
A lot of mistakes have been made since David Cameron called for the referendum. The United Kingdom, if it can even remain united, will be paying for those mistakes for years to come.