Brendan O’Neill

Parliament’s plot to thwart Brexit is complete

Parliament's plot to thwart Brexit is complete
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It is time for plain speaking. The stakes are too high for euphemism or obfuscation. Bluntness is required now. And the blunt fact is this: Britain’s parliamentarians are in revolt against the electorate. They are defying the demos. They are pursuing a coup, albeit a bloodless one, against the public. This is what last night’s votes against a no-deal Brexit reveal: that our representatives now refuse to represent us.

What else are we to make of the events of the past few days? They voted against Theresa May’s deal, which was a super soft Brexit, unloved by Brexiteers like me. So they don’t want a soft Brexit, clearly. Then they voted against a no-deal Brexit, twice (why give the electorate just one slap in the face when you can give it two?). So they don’t want a hard Brexit, either. 

Today they might vote to extend the Article 50 process, so terrified are they by the prospect of any kind of Brexit taking place on 29 March. And of course many of them want a second referendum, possibly involving the removal of the Brexit option entirely. In the slippery lingo of Keir Starmer and Co., a second vote would be a choice between a ‘credible’ Leave option — by which they mean something like May’s mongrel Remain-Brexit mash-up — and the option of remaining. So Brexit — actual Brexit, as in Britain exiting the EU — would be snatched away, memory-holed, put beyond our grubby reach like bleach is with children.

They don’t want Brexit. That’s the long and short of it. Of course a few of them do — the ERG, some DUP people, principled Labour folk like Kate Hoey and Dennis Skinner — but not many. My favourite statistic of the 21st century so far is that 95 per cent of Labour MPs voted to remain. Ninety-five per cent! As against just 48 per cent of the public who favoured remain. It is hard to think of any other time in living memory when the political machine was so spectacularly adrift from public sentiment.

And so they thwart Brexit. We are living through something extraordinary: a slow-motion assassination of the people’s will. Bit by bit, blow by blow, motion by motion, the largest democratic vote in British history is slain. No soft Brexit, no hard Brexit, definitely no no-deal Brexit. For God’s sake just say it: No Brexit. What I wouldn’t give for some honesty. I would cheer the politician who stood up and said, ‘I will block Brexit because I think it is a pig-ignorant idea voted for by pig-ignorant people’, because at least then the truth would be out, naked and disturbing.

They will not allow Brexit. And the reasons they are giving for their revolt against Brexit, which is a revolt against voters, are positively Victorian. They must save us from ourselves, apparently, from our dumb, self-destructive instincts, from the idiotic decision we made in June 2016 when our brains had clearly been muddled by that advert on the side of a bus and by Eurosceptic demagogues like Jacob Rees-Mogg. The masses were ‘tricked', 'lied to', and 'conned’, says Anna Soubry, sounding indistinguishable from those who argued against universal suffrage on the basis that ordinary folk lack ‘ripened wisdom’ and thus are susceptible to the ‘vicious ends of faction’.

To anyone with a modicum of negotiating nous, taking no deal off the table looks like profound folly. It essentially tells the EU to do its worst, to give us the crappest deal, because we’ll take it. Worse, it boosts the power of the EU over the UK to an extraordinary degree because we’re essentially saying to Brussels: ‘We will only leave if you allow us to, if you permit it, if you think the terms are utterly favourable to you.’ And yet, at root, this isn’t folly at all; rather, it is the final, craven realisation of the British establishment’s dream of killing Brexit by a thousand blows. They have taken no deal off the table because they know in their heart of hearts that no deal simply means Brexit. They’ve taken Brexit off the table.

This is a crisis of historic proportions. The difficulties that would arise from a no-deal Brexit pale into insignificance in comparison with the damage being done to democracy by the establishment. They threaten to overturn the modern political order, to destroy the contract between the people and their representatives. Indeed, they’re making many people think that representative democracy is a sham, that it is so filtered and checked and balanced and so thoroughly colonised by people who think they know better than us that it has become utterly unrepresentative.

This is the final irony of the elite’s polite coup against the public: they are desperately trying to hold back a massive act of direct democracy, yet in the process they’re making a great many people think that direct democracy might be a better bet than this representative democracy lark that no longer delivers what we ask for.

Written byBrendan O’Neill

Brendan O’Neill is the editor of Spiked and a columnist for The Australian and The Big Issue.

Topics in this articlePoliticsbrexit