Imagine the industrial levels of brass neck it must require for EU-supporting MPs to present themselves as defenders of parliamentary sovereignty.
That’s what they’re doing today, on ‘Brexit Super Tuesday’, as they start voting on the Lords’ amendments to the government’s Brexit Bill. They say they are backing the amendment that would give MPs a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final Brexit deal because they love parliamentary sovereignty that much. Pull the other. These are people who for years happily handed over huge swathes of law-making to Brussels bureaucrats and would still like EU law to enjoy supremacy over UK law. They support parliamentary sovereignty like an electric chair supports your back.
As Brexit Super Tuesday gets under way, all eyes, or at least most eyes, are on Amendment 19. The other amendments are important, of course, not least the Customs Union and EEA ones. Our lords, in their infinite wisdom, have advised that us plebs were wrong to vote out of the EU and therefore politicians must now endeavour to rectify our idiocy and keep us in parts of the EU at least. It will be interesting to see which MPs vote for this system of Remain By Another Name — which is what staying in the Customs Union and a version of the Single Market would amount to — in defiance of the 17.4m people who said ‘let’s leave’.
But it’s Amendment 19, the one promising MPs a proper final say on the Brexit deal and the power to decide what would happen if MPs reject the deal, that is getting people excited.
Why? We know it isn’t because these people take parliamentary sovereignty seriously. Their beloved EU, whose rule they pine for, exists primarily to dilute national sovereignty, to soften parliamentary power by outsourcing decision-making on major issues to the Brussels oligarchy. No, what they love about Amendment 19 is that it allows them to seize the Brexit initiative back from the people, back from the pesky Euro-sceptical throng.
This is what most horrified certain members of the political class and the self-styled expert set about the EU referendum: the fact that it called upon ordinary people — including uneducated ones! — to decide on Britain’s constitutional and political future. As David Lammy put it in his furious outburst of post-referendum elitism, we cannot countenance ‘rule by plebiscite’ because it would subject Britain to ‘the “wisdom” of resentment and prejudice reminiscent of 1930s Europe’. Those are his scare quotes around ‘wisdom’, because of course the plebiscite — the plebs — are not wise at all. We’re fascists.
They could not believe that the government said to the public, ‘This is your decision and we will act on it’. And so since then, since that rare act of direct democracy, they have been looking for a way to interfere in this relationship between the people and the government, to step in between the people who made a decision and the government that promised to implement that decision and basically say: ‘Hold on. Not so fast. Let’s have a chat about this decision, shall we.’
And Amendment 19 allows them to do this. It allows them to get in between the people and the government, or to put it another way, between a democratic decision and the enactment of that democratic decision. What they love about Amendment 19 is not that it boosts parliamentary sovereignty but that it hampers the people’s sovereignty.
Amendment 19 is the one they’re most keen to pass because it would put the Brexit process back in the hands of those who apparently do have wisdom — no scare quotes this time. And what’s more, it would make the possibility of a ‘no deal’ response to Brussels incredibly unlikely. In the words of the Financial Times — a passionate backer of Amendment 19, unsurprisingly — 19 will ‘limit the chances of a “no deal” Brexit in March 2019’. And EU supporters and sympathisers are dead keen to kill off the ‘no deal’ option.
This is bad, really bad. Because if the ‘no deal’ option is sidelined, the EU knows it can offer us a dreadful arrangement. And it knows that MPs will either accept that arrangement — because many of them fundamentally agree with the EU that Brexit is a bad idea — or reject it and call for a second referendum. In passing Amendment 19 and making it very difficult for the government to say ‘no deal’, MPs would incentivise EU intransigence; they would green-light the EU‘s ruthlessness and its determination to punish Britons for our uppity vote against continued EU membership.
We must insist upon the right to say ‘no deal’ to Brussels. Firstly because negotiations become devastatingly one-sided if one of the parties is robbed of the ability to say, ‘I’m out, I’m not dealing with you anymore’. The end of ‘no deal’ would instantly empower Brussels against Britain. It would effectively lock us in to whatever humiliating trade deals and market arrangements and legal stipulations the EU chooses to throw at us.
And secondly because ‘no deal’ increasingly looks like the only democratic option on the table. The British public voted to leave the EU and yet every single proposal put forward by the EU entails keeping parts of Britain or all of Britain inside EU bodies. If we are serious about democracy, then we have to say ‘no deal’ to any deal that keeps us entangled in EU institutions. The more this fiasco drags on, the more it looks like ‘no deal’ and the future of British democracy are utterly inseparable.