There is a natural expectation that an MP will hold views that are in line with those of a majority of voters in their constituency. If this is not the case, there is something seriously wrong with the way we do representative democracy.
Parliament could have taken the decision to leave the European Union itself rather than legislate for a referendum. However, in the light of a manifesto commitment, the Conservative Government proposed that this decision should be delegated to the people in a referendum and Parliament agreed.
So in 2016 there was a referendum about whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union. The Government wanted us to remain, as did all the political parties with the exception of UKIP and the DUP. The Government went so far as to spend £9 million of our money to send every household a leaflet which clearly advocated a remain vote.
David Cameron, as Prime Minister, couldn’t have made it plainer. He said that the referendum “will be the final decision”. When the British people speak, their voice will be respected, not ignored. If we vote to leave, then we will leave. I say to those who are thinking about voting to leave, think very carefully because this choice cannot be undone.”
Against all expectations, when all the votes were counted, there was a majority in excess of one million for leave. Estimates from Prof Chris Hanretty of the Royal Holloway suggest that had the votes been counted on a constituency (rather than a local authority) basis, well over 400 constituencies would have returned a “leave” verdict. It is therefore somewhat incongruous that among members of both houses of Parliament, there is a significant remain majority.
Whilst we all claim to be democrats, it is becoming clear that for some of our parliamentarians a commitment to democracy means no more than championing the will of the people just as long as the popular will coincides with their own.
In the two years since the Referendum, those unwilling to accept the result have argued variously that voters were misled in the campaign (Project Fear was not misleading, of course), that leave voters were “right wing” or uneducated or plain stupid, that voters didn’t vote to become poorer (as though we would gladly have accepted totalitarian rule by Vladimir Putin had we thought that to do so would make us better off) and that voters didn’t realise what Brexit would entail (though nobody came clean that remaining would involve a European Army and a United States of Europe).
I think that most leave voters were quite clear that leaving would mean our laws being made in Westminster by our elected representatives rather than in Brussels by appointed Commissioners and that the jurisdiction of the European Courts would cease in the United Kingdom. Calls for another referendum “so that we have an opportunity to change our minds” deserve to fall on deaf ears since the prospectus for the 2016 referendum was exactly what David Cameron spelt out.
To argue now that the Government can renege on a Prime Ministers’s solemn undertaking of three years ago is to suggest that the concepts of plain speaking and trust are now obsolete.