The Death of the British Parliamentarian: The Brexit Debate, 11th January, 2019

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion. Edmund Burke on representative democracy, 1774.1

It is worth saying that Torbay voted strongly to leave the EU, so I do not see an option of staying in. Kevin Foster on delegate democracy, 2019.2

Parliamentary speeches by careerist MPs match their party’s position and are accompanied by blind loyalty in subsequent votes. The Brexit referendum destroyed this approach. MPs have a new master: their voters. Referendums have had a catastrophic impact on parliamentary voting as MPs look first, not to their party, but to the stated position of their voters. Voting on the Brexit arrangements is predetermined by the electorate. The new reality is irresistible when referendums have unequivocally spoken.

Julia Lopez rightly said –

The direct democracy of the referendum was going to smash painfully into the representative democracy of our parliamentary system, risking a constitutional crisis that could reverberate across our nation.

MPs have become delegates. This was succinctly put by David Tredinnick I see myself as a delegate, not a representative, on this [Brexit]. Clearly Tredinnick as a delegate is a very different animal to Tredinnick the party loyalist. Lopez says referendums ‘smash painfully’ into representative democracy and the pain is felt most keenly in the Whips’ Office whose responsibility it is to get the government’s business through. Referendums obliterate party discipline which goes, as it were, down the drain.

Sir Nicholas Soames said, I feel very strongly that we must not reject this agreement and thus descend into constitutional and, I am afraid, administrative chaos. Soames is a senior parliamentarian trying to rescue a semblance of order from referendum induced chaos. A different approach came with the call for parliamentarians to work together. Emma Lewell-Buck There is another option: an extension to article 50, giving us the space, albeit a small timeframe, to do our politics differently, to restore our country’s faith in this place and to show people that we really are working together. [my emphasis] In essence she is a Burkean adherent flaying around in the new reality wrongly believing that all is needed is time, though she recognises party discipline has gone.

MPs as delegates follow instructions: the instructions of the electorate, not the Whips’ Office. Sir David Amess asserted, This so-called “deal” most certainly does not match up to the expectations of the millions who voted to leave the EU, and I cannot and will not support it. Amess is a loyalist Conservative MP, declaring his vote against his party. Conservative loyalist James Duddridge feared parliament had brought this on itself, Parliament chose to go down the referendum route again because we collectively abdicated responsibility for making the [Brexit] decision. The decision-making process was ‘out-sourced’ to the electorate. And the electorate has spoken to the horror of most MPs. They made a Faustian pact and must now live with it.

Nick Herbert spelt out the principal problem with a possible solution-

I say to hon. Members on both sides: “Prepare to climb down, because both of you cannot be right—one of you is not going to get what you want.” The right thing to do is to support a pragmatic exit, which is what the withdrawal agreement offers.

But this is exactly wrong. The Brexit referendum didn’t offer a pragmatic Leave option. The referendum was stark: leave or not. Voters don’t want MPs to climb down. James Duddridge hit the nail on the head when he said that MPs had ‘collectively abdicated responsibility’. Voters took control and passed the baton to MPs’ for implementation. The ‘No Deal’ option is the default position regardless of the hideous economic possibilities resulting.

David Cameron PM, 2010-16, called the Brexit referendum. He utterly failed to take cognisance of the volatility of the electorate. The consequences are awful. Parliament has been paralysed for two plus years and MPs are reduced to ciphers. They are delegates voting for something they believe to be damaging to the British economy. Yet they do it as they must. They are now delegates.


2 The debate on Brexit on the 11th January 2019 is the source for quotations used in this blog There were 34 contributions in the debate on that day.

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3 Responses to The Death of the British Parliamentarian: The Brexit Debate, 11th January, 2019

  1. sussexscot says:

    You are of course totally correct in all you say.

    Looking at the situation from a slightly different perspective, it seems to me that the nub of the problem centres around two factors – party control and personal selfishness, which militate to eliminate representative parliamentary democracy at Westminster.

    You quote my MP, Nick Herbert, who is a very good example of the problem. Despite being a “remain” campaigner (and presumably one of the 75% (yes, 75%) of MPs who voted to remain, he refuses to adjust his position one iota in the light of events of the last two years.

    Our constituency voted almost exactly 50/50. However, in correspondence and conversation with him, what I have been able to discern is neither his functioning as a representative NOR a delegate. If the former, his previous stance on the question would surely have moved him towards examining the danger to the welfare of our country, never mind his constituency; if the latter, he would surely have informed himself of our current views, by straw polls, counting his mail, holding open meetings, etc. He does none of those, preferring to rely on his “feeling” that nothing has changed in two years.

    My conclusion therefore, is that representative parliamentary democracy is dead hereabouts, that one or both of the above “factors” rules and that we don’t even get a responsible “delegate”! He and his ilk have locked us into the present impasse, which is of course also due to adversarial politics in the House of Commons. Having Cameron’s foolishness followed by May’s intransigence and near-fundamentalist mania for doing her so-called “duty” by the country (no matter what damage is done) was the final nail in our coffin. So much for representative parliamentary democracy.

    You pointed out the error of Herbert’s “conclusion”. It is doubly wrong simply because he claims there are two sides to the argument. But the 17.4 million on one side all wanted DIFFERENT things, the 15.1 million on the other all wanted the SAME thing. So leaving satisfies only some and the argument falls to the ground.

    As a PS, if anyone wants to find a summary on why WTO rules Brexit would be calamitous, go to

    Debunking WTO.pdf

    by Edwin Hayward

    Keep up the good work!

    Jim Sloan

    • odeboyz says:

      Thank you for this.

      I read the entire 11th January 2019 debate to see what MPs thought they were doing. A great deal was incoherent and yet they were still under the illusion that they matter… but. If they matter then they must take substantive decisions and live with the consequences. Your MP was giving the world-statesman treatment to parliament. A quasi-lecture on decision making in a patronising way, which seems to fit with your experiences.

  2. Ray emmett says:

    What happens if the UK does leave with some kind of agreement. How long before both the Scottish and subsequently the Welsh devolved governments seek referendums on leaving the UK and rejoining European Union. We are then left with a tinpot island subdivided into 3 seperate states. If this happens l think D. Cameron should be tried for treason, by their actions the Tories will have inflicted more damage on the U.K than 2 world wars

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