Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The will of the people? Which people? Another email to my MP

Dear Mr Cartlidge,

I'm sick to death of hearing people talk about "the will of the people" when discussing or reporting on the referendum. The result was tight and was only the "will" of under 35% of the UK electorate. It didn't reflect the views of those who will be most affected by leaving the EU - young people. It offered a simple yes/no choice on a very complicated subject that many admitted they didn't fully understand. Claims were made in heated debates, but not fact-checked. One of the experts despised by Mr Gove and others is the Liverpool University Law Professor Michael Dougan, who described the Leave campaign as “one of the most dishonest campaigns this country has ever seen”, referring to “Dishonesty on an industrial scale”. The debates I saw on TV weren't very helpful to the undecided or bewildered, as they could be described as a lot of argy-bargy, with very little unbiased explanation of the consequences of leaving the EU. UKIP-inspired racism and xenophobia, helpfully fuelled by The Daily Mail, The Express and The Sun, were shameful, and had very little relevance to the real issues.

It was extremely foolish of Mr Cameron to call the referendum, mainly to appease the Leavers in your party, and very neglectful of him to walk away when all hell broke loose afterwards. I'm unimpressed by his successor's haste to act and the confusion about her negotiating strategy. Sounds to me as though she expects far more than we're likely to gain, as we're in a very weak bargaining position.

I don't accept that the referendum result provided a mandate for the government to trigger Article 50, which will have disastrous consequences for the UK. The economic effects are already being seen. The effect on food costs, with a shortage of agricultural labour and tariffs on imports, will make life more expensive, especially for those on limited incomes. Scientific research and the freedom for students to move between European universities will be affected. Trade with non-EU countries, like India, won't necessarily make up for the loss of trade via the EU, and is likely to result in more immigration from those countries as part of their conditions. Those areas of our country that mainly voted Leave because of industrial decline need new industries and new skills; the development of technologies to conserve energy and combat climate change could help to do that, yet your government has reduced subsidies while committing a huge amount of money to nuclear power that the Chinese will be involved with. It's a crazy way to do things. We need EU healthcare staff, without whom the NHS would be in an even bigger mess than it is now, and at a time when the far right is flexing its muscles and Putin is threatening the security of the Baltic states, it's crazy to leave an EU that we need more than ever, for the maintenance of peace and our shared values. The fact that Putin, Trump and Marine le Pen all want to see the EU break up says it all, really.

If Parliament votes to trigger Article 50, however popular that decision may be in some areas, it will not be acting in the country's best interests; far from it. "The will of the people" should not dictate a decision when those people were not properly informed and almost certainly have not understood the consequences of leaving the EU. Please don't vote to do it.

Margaret Nelson

Dear Margaret,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me about Brexit.

Whilst I campaigned for the Remain side, I want to be 100% clear in assuring you that I fully respect and accept the result of the referendum. It should be noted that I voted for the Referendum Act to come in to law. This made clear that on the subject of our membership of the EU the people’s decision would be final and that Parliament, on this occasion, would not be the deciding body.

As it happens, I did not support the Government’s decision to appeal the judges’ verdict that Parliament should have a say on Article 50. You can see from this Hansard extract that when Brexit Secretary David Davis gave his statement on November 7th following the original High Court decision, I urged not to appeal, saying that it must be ‘blindingly obvious’ to him from what MPs were saying that most of us – regardless of what side of the referendum we had campaigned on – accepted the result of the vote and would vote for Article 50. Instead, the Government waited and has anyway gone and lost the appeal. But David Davis is right: nothing has changed, the big change was the result of the referendum and we are still going to leave.

Given that I accept the result, were there to be a vote in Parliament I would have no hesitation in voting to issue Article 50. I believe that a very strong majority of MPs in the House of Commons feels the same. Yes, a majority of MPs were for remain, but I do believe that most share my view in respecting this vote and recognising that we cannot overturn the decision whether we like it or not. The strong vote on Second Reading for a Bill to issue article 50, which I believe is inevitable, would send a strong signal to the EU and help to put this to bed and show the country had chosen to come together and accept the result. In contrast, if we voted for article 50 and the Lords overturned it, that would be setting an unelected chamber against both elected MPs and the clear will of the people. Such an outcome would be indefensible and, I believe, unlikely.

Ultimately, I think it is possible to have supported remain, but also to have supported the referendum in principle, and furthermore to argue that we should vote in Parliament to show we respect the referendum result. One key reason I supported the referendum is that I felt for too long the country has been torn over its EU membership. That debate is now over. The worst thing for this country was not leaving or remaining but staying in limbo. I hope that we can now finally get on with things, issue Article 50 and start plotting our new future as voted for by the British people in a decisive manner. Better to move forward than be mired in indecision.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.

Regards, James


Zeno said...

God. Some MPs are stupid and thick.

Josh Kutchinsky said...

His position is clear and sad. He has offloaded his responsibility and done so in a ham-fisted way. I am ashamed that I didn't have my eye on the ball when the referendum bill went through, but it wasn't my paid job to scrutinise proposed legislation. It was his. Why was it made advisory? How hollow is it to speak of taking back control and sovereignty when you encourage the crowd (or allow the encouragement) to call for a lynching and then you pin a star on the nearest person available and offer to go find the rope. It is a shameful position defended by weak sophistry.

Margaret Nelson said...

It's not over.