Saturday, 18 February 2017

Blank Cheque Brexit

William Keegan used a recent column in The Observer to make the important point that members of parliament are representatives rather than mere delegates - a fine distinction and one with particular significance over the Brexit vote.

Given the binary Yes/No nature of the great EU referendum I would have no problem taking the view that while the people have spoken, no one has the foggiest idea of what Brexit will actually look like in two or more years time.

So I can't really understand the enthusiasm of a Corbyn-led Labour Party to embrace Brexit almost at any cost when MPs were quite entitled to say let's have another think about this once everyone can see the outcome of negotiations and details of the Government's 'Leave' package.

Because as things stand, Jeremy Corbyn & Co have given the Conservatives the equivalent of a blank cheque because no matter what Theresa May's Government comes back with the Labour lot have already given their approval to the deal.

Which is a very odd way for a parliamentary opposition to behave, especially as the Leave camp would have just continued with their campaign had the vote gone 52 to 48 the other way.  

So I take my hat off to Kenneth Clarke and his clear conscience - I have much more time for Clarke than I do for Jeremy Corbyn.

What use is sovereignty when MPs deny their conscience over Brexit?

By William Keegan - The Observer

The majority in both houses believe leaving the EU is a disastrous idea. But only a principled few have tried to steer Britain away from its fate

Kenneth Clarke: a clear conscience. Photograph: Felix Clay for the Observer

‘The first duty of an MP is to do what he [or she] thinks … 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.”

These are the wise words of Sir Winston Churchill, ignored by the majority of our elected representatives in last week’s vote on the Brexit bill.

In his magnificent contribution to the debate – a speech of which Churchill himself would have been proud – the veteran Conservative statesman Kenneth Clarke stated that, in opposing Brexit, his conscience was clear, but “when we see what unfolds after we leave the EU, I hope the consciences of other members of parliament remain equally content”.

He did not go as far as to quote Hamlet – “thus conscience does make cowards of us all” – but I could not help thinking that, if not cowardice, the word “pusillanimity” might not have been far from his mind with regard to the position of his colleagues.

Consider: it is widely acknowledged in Westminster that the vast majority of members of both houses of parliament regard Brexit as little short of national madness. Yet only one Tory – namely Clarke himself – 52 Labour MPs and a small band of Liberals had the guts to vote against triggering article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. As Clarke says: “I have never seen anything as mad or chaotic as this.”

In another memorable observation, the Financial Times commentator Martin Wolf writes: “What sane country would sever its ties to its most important trading partners and its strategic position in its continental councils over a feeling that its own government agrees is erroneous?” The feeling being the mistaken belief that parliament has not been sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, which it has and still is, as last week’s potentially catastrophic vote reminds us.