“If we vote to leave, then we will leave. There’ll not be another renegotiation and another referendum.” – David Cameron, 2015
In a truly disappointing day for the United Kingdom, the House of Commons voted by a huge majority Thursday to support delaying departure from the European Union:
MPs have voted by 413 to 202 – a majority of 211 – for Prime Minister Theresa May to ask the EU for a delay to Brexit.
It means the UK may not now leave on 29 March as previously planned.
Mrs May says Brexit could be delayed by three months, to 30 June, if MPs back her deal in a vote next week.
If they reject her deal again then she says she will seek a longer extension – but any delay has to be agreed by the 27 other EU member states.
Let’s get this out of the way: few would prefer no deal at all to some sort of managed exit. There is, undoubtedly, potential risk with a no-deal Brexit – at least in the short-run.
Unfortunately, as I wrote the other day, Britain’s negotiations with the EU have been anything but successful. They’ve given too much, too soon, and paid the price – Parliament twice voted against Theresa May’s ham-handed plan, and now they’re on the verge of a statutory Article 50 deadline to exit without one.
The problem now is one of precedent. The UK is well known for having an “unwritten constitution” comprised of various laws, court decisions, and major parliamentary actions. It is, in other words, based largely upon precedent.
And therein lies the rub.
For while in the United States, a national referendum would never fly – we are, thankfully, a representative constitutional republic – Britain is more open to such actions of “direct democracy” as a national vote. They even allowed Scotland to vote on becoming an independent nation a few years ago, after Scottish nationalists pressed the issue. That was, thankfully for the UK, unsuccessful.
Brexit, however, was successful.
I won’t make the argument here that suddenly, democracy is dead in the UK. But consider it: what happens when the people of a democracy vote for a clear choice, leaving the EU or not, choose to do so, and then are basically ignored by their politicians?
If you would say such a nation is in dire straits, you’d be right.
Does it affect the “unwritten constitution” of the US’ closest ally? Perhaps not, but it certainly will affect the way in which UK politicians consider the voice of the people going forward. How could it not? If they don’t go for a real exit from the EU, and remain mostly entrenched in the EU’s vast regulatory and trade scheme, it is hard to imagine how they would react to further democratic actions they disagree with.
But disagree with this one, they have. And the MPs who voted Thursday to delay Brexit undoubtedly voted against the people – even if, personally, they supported the Remain side of things back in 2016.
Compared to that, the risks of a no-deal Brexit seem small by comparison.
“This is a huge decision for our country. Perhaps the biggest we’ll make in our lifetimes. And it will be the final decision. So to those who suggest that a decision in the referendum to leave would merely produce another stronger renegotiation and then a second referendum in which Britain could stay, I say think again. The renegotation is happening right now, and the referendum that follows will be a once in a generation choice. An in or out referendum. Where the British people speak, their voice will be respected, not ignored. If we vote to leave, then we will leave. There’ll not be another renegotiation and another referendum.”
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