by Kevin Meagher
Is it really a surprise that Theresa May intends to press on and trigger Article 50 and begin our negotiated withdrawal from the EU without a vote in Parliament?
After all, June’s referendum was conclusive.
A clear majority of Britons chose to quit the EU. 52 per cent to 48 per cent. 17.4 million votes to 16.1 million. And at 72 per cent, the turnout was higher than the 66 per cent that voted in last year’s general election.
The debate was had. The issues were discussed to death. Both sides made their case. They were well-matched. The Remain campaign lost. Game over.
What comes next is axiomatic, surely? Article 50 is triggered, we negotiate the terms of our exit and future working relationship with the EU and we get on with it.
That’s what the public chose to do. It’s what they commanded ministers to implement on their behalf and the political class to accept.
Yet Owen Smith is standing for the Labour leadership on a platform of offering a second referendum, while Tottenham MP, David Lammy, called Theresa May’s plan to press ahead with Article 50 a ‘stitch-up’.
Going one better in terms of rhetorical outrage, shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, has accused May of trying to ‘diminish parliament and assume the arrogant powers of a Tudor monarch.’
What part of this don’t they get?
The people are sovereign. Parliament legislated for the referendum so MPs have had their say and need to abide by the result.
How does Westminster hold out against the SNP’s demand for a second referendum on Scottish independence – which it would be very likely to win – if MPs do not accept the integrity of referendum results?
It’s the same when it comes to Jeremy Corbyn.
He secured 65 per cent of the vote in last year’s Labour leadership contest. There was an exhaustive three month campaign representing all shades of opinion across the party and he triumphed – convincingly – and on the first ballot. There was no ambiguity about the result.
Whatever you think of his leadership or the leftwards direction he wants to head in, his mandate deserves respect.
The failure to accord it such is to insult the members who voted for him. He won fair and square. And, as with the EU, the implications of his victory were absolutely clear.
That doesn’t mean he goes unchallenged, or that we don’t insist the terms of our exit from the EU are put under the microscope, but what it does mean is that people should stop looking for a tactical ruse to undermine results they don’t like.
The obvious lesson? Fight better campaigns in future. Don’t let issues like Europe or the demands from the grassroots for a more meaningful politics go unheeded again.
Stop assuming the Westminster class has magical powers of persuasion that lets them ignore public opinion in the mistaken assumption that it can be bounced when needed.
Instead, bear in mind that when the facts change, the public change their minds.
The EU might, eventually, react to Britain’s departure as the existential crisis it is for Europe and abolish the free movement of people that – more than any other issue – swung the result for Brexit.
Likewise, in time, the soft Corbynistas, those who simply want their politics to mean something after New Labour’s ideological crash diet, may recognise Jeremy Corbyn lacks a strategy for winning the next election and accept that it is the first duty of a party leader to be able to do just that.
In both instances, time and experience may present new opportunities to re-examine these decisions.
The next two years will be long and hard in British politics.
Perhaps the eventual terms of Brexit will justify being put to the public in a second referendum.
Perhaps a string of poor electoral results will trigger another leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn.
In both cases we will see, but the losing sides have no right to disown the mandates of the victors on a whim.
Pro-European and anti-Corbyn MPs should remember the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr and ask for the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can and the wisdom to know the difference.
The smart move would have been to have treated Brexit as a genuine threat in the first place and worked much harder to persuade moderately sceptical members of the public about the benefits of continued membership of the EU, rather than battering them over the head with puerile scare stories.
And rather than sulking around on the backbenches, perhaps moderate Labour MPs should accept that Jeremy Corbyn will only quit or be forced out when the soft part of his support recognises the 2020 election is already lost and spend more time engaging with them to explain the alternative.
In both instances, if you don’t respect the decision and the mandate, you don’t show respect to those who made it.
In democratic politics, that’s surely unwise?
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut