The duty of MPs and peers who support remaining in the EU is to vote against the Bill authorising an Article 50 trigger
Those of us who remain convinced that Britain’s place and future should be in the European Union with our closest friends, partners and allies have a plain duty to continue campaigning against Brexit. That means persuading public and parliamentary opinion, even now, that the referendum’s narrow result was a terrible mistake. Following the judgment of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the best hope for averting the calamity of Brexit is for parliament to refuse permission for the government to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, or indeed at all. There is no conceivable justification for convinced Remainers in the House of Commons or the House of Lords to vote in favour of the forthcoming government Bill to authorise the A50 trigger. If they do, they will be failing to act in accordance with their best judgement of British interests, which they are elected or appointed to exercise on behalf of the British people. Voting for, or even abstaining on, what you believe to be a disaster for the country is clearly contrary to reason. We all “respect” the referendum result, but that means only that we recognise it as a fact. ‘Respecting’ it can’t possibly mean that we have to agree with it (when we don’t) or feel obliged to support its implementation, any more than ‘respecting’ a Tory election victory requires a Labour opposition to pretend to agree with the Conservatives’ election manifesto or to work to give effect to its policies regardless of its belief that they are reactionary and damaging. That belief obviously imposes a duty on those who hold it to do everything legally possible to persuade public and parliamentary opinion that those policies are wrong and should be changed or reversed. That’s what the Opposition is there to do. Mr Corbyn’s and some other Labour leaders’ inability or unwillingness to understand this and to act accordingly is a national tragedy.
Anyway, the referendum was not a “decision” by the British people, nor “an instruction” to parliament or the government, as Mrs May likes to claim. It was advisory, a snapshot of the opinions of voters in both camps seven months ago. If it had been binding, there’s little doubt that the Act setting it up would have stipulated a majority much greater than 52% to justify such a political, economic, social, legal and diplomatic earthquake as Brexit would entail. The reckless and unconstitutional promises of a few politicians to act to put the result of the referendum into effect, whichever way it went, can’t affect its status either in law or in practice. No referendum result can possibly oblige those who disagreed with the majority of the referendum voters to change their minds or to act in ways that are contrary to their deepest convictions. The idea that if the referendum had gone the other way by an equally small (or any other) majority, the fanatical Brexiteers would have dropped their antipathy to the EU and all its works, and would have “respected” the result in the sense of switching allegiance and working to strengthen Britain’s role in Europe, is obviously for the birds. At least one prominent Brexiteer openly promised to continue to work to get the UK out of the EU even if the referendum went against him. There’s nothing ‘undemocratic’ about seeking to change public and parliamentary opinion in the direction that you believe best serves the country’s interests.
So Labour and other MPs and members of the House of Lords who worked with often passionate conviction for the Remain campaign, in accordance with established Labour policy (never formally reversed), have a clear obligation this week or next to vote against the promised Bill required to authorise the Tory government to trigger A50, which otherwise will be the first and probably irrevocable step in Britain’s self-inflicted expulsion from our continent’s most significant economic, trade and political association. Labour should of course vote Yes to any proposed amendments to the Bill designed to improve the conditions on which we leave if Brexit can’t be stopped. But rejecting the Bill itself, with or without amendments, is essential if we are to avert calamity. Those who know this but still vote for it, or even abstain on it, will violate their consciences and their judgement, and even more unforgivably our country, our interests, and Britain’s place in history. I appeal to all MPs and peers, of any party and none, who recognise that Britain should remain in the EU, to vote No to Article 50. It may be your — and our — last chance.
Note: An earlier version of this post first appeared earlier today in the website LabourList as “This may be our one chance: Labour MPs have a duty to vote against article 50” at http://labourlist.org/2017/01/labour-mps-have-a-duty-to-vote-against-article-50/, where it is already attracting some predictably ferocious comments from the Brexiteers. Thoughtful comments, whether or not dissenting, on the version here will of course be welcome, as always. Abusive comments will be deleted.
I’ve been saying this for months and months on facebook (mainly) finally now, at the last minute people seem to be waking up.
Obviously all but one the Scottish MPs will vote against Brexit and I support that, but the problem will be for Labour MPs in the North of England. They are already under threat from UKIP. My impression is that the voters there are still hung up about immigration and still support Brexit. Will MPs be willing to put their jobs on the line by defying them?
With profound respect for the people of Britain, and for their chosen representatives, of all parties, in Parliament, I find persuasive the traditional, indeed Burkean argument that a legislator is chosen to exercise his or her best judgment, on the basis of knowledge and reason, and therefore ought to do so. If this means voting to reject the Article 50 bill, then such judgment would be properly and responsibly exercised. The United Kingd0m’s remaining within the European Union, and exerting its very considerable political and diplomatic influence on it _from the inside_, would be in the whole world’s interest. Members of Parliament now have an opportunity for truly international leadership, beyond Britain, and even beyond Europe.
Thank you for this, Brian. I hope it gets the wide readership it deserves. I have shared it on my Facebook timeline and on Twitter. May I have your permission to share it on the following Facebook pages (unless you wish to do so)?
Full English Brexit, and making sure it never is
Labour Against Brexit
Remain in the European Union
I have written to the Prime Minister, several other ministers, and the Leader of the Opposition, reminding them of their belief during the campaign that remaining in the EU was in the best interests of the country. I have also written to my (Conservative and Brexit) MP asking him to reconsider his position in the light of all that has come to light since the referendum. I have so far received no replies.
Well said. Judging from conversations about the place I do suspect that there has been some shift in public opinion towards Remain – although marginal Brexiteers wouldn’t necessarily admit it. Voting against triggering Article 50 at this early stage may give time for wavering attitudes to harden.
I have written in to my anti-Brexit, SNP MP, urging him to vote the Bill down and to urge like-minded colleagues to join him, whatever their Party. If Parliament trumps the Government, surely it trumps a referendum. It’s time the “elites” hit back!
Brian writes: I very much appreciate these supportive comments and the vigorous actions that some of their authors are taking to try to influence our parliamentarians’ votes on the Article 50 enabling Bill. These comments are in sharp contrast to the often scurrilous and abusive comments by raving Brexiteers on the same post over at LabourList, although there are some useful and informative ones too.
Barrie, by all means share my post wherever you like on Facebook and indeed anywhere else. I don’t think it can do any harm and it just might do some good. I’m grateful for your good opinion of it. And I’m especially glad to have the assenting comment by Professor Henrikson of the Fletcher School at Tufts University.
Haven’t been following you Brian for that long, but I can say this is another beautifully written and faultlessly argued piece. Thank you for your courage and energy. Having been out of the UK long enough to no longer have an MP to write to, I still care deeply enough to wonder if I want to return to an inward looking, marginalised, populist country for my retirement. People like you encourage me to do so.
Well written Brian. To argue that Parliament must, or should, vote to give expression to the result of an advisory referendum is to vote for the destruction of Parliamentary democracy, and its ultimate replacement by a plebiscitary system (otherwise known as mob rule). The Supreme Court has done its best to tell Parliament, as well as the Government, where its duty lies: how appalling that it should have had to do so. Once this Brexit bill, which the Government scandalously tried to evade, and Parliament equally scandalously failed effectively to demand, goes to the Lords, as I fear it will, there will be much clap-trap about how unelected peers must not frustrate “the will of the people”. Surely the only good argument for having an unelected second chamber is precisely to ensure at moments like this that catastrophically stupid legislation is not passed just because a clutch of MPs are cowards, afraid for their seats.