There are those (amongst the lunatic fringe of the Bexiteers – see this) who believe that the Supreme Court decision this week on Boris the Bodger proroguing parliament was an anti-Brexit move and undemocratic.
Nothing could be further than the truth; indeed it is possibly more important than Brexit. To quite from the Supreme Court summary of the judgement :-
It is important, once again, to emphasise that these cases are not about when and on what terms the United Kingdom is to leave the European Union …
It was about the so-called “unwritten” constitution (which is actually far too many bit of paper all over the place), and ensuring that Britain’s governance (not government) was in accordance with constitutional law.
Britain’s governance consists of three parts :-
The executive (the Prime Minister and the government they appoint) who is appointed by Parliament.
Parliament (the only part of governance that is democratically elected) which creates legislation and supervises the executive.
Finally the Judiciary (and the Supreme Court) that judges whether actions are legal, illegal, or unlawful.
The Supreme Court by declaring that the proroguing of parliament was unlawful, decided that the purpose of proroguing parliament was for the government to make Brexit arrangements without the supervision of parliament. Brexit can and must be delivered with Parliament’s blessing – anything else is undemocratic.
But more importantly, this was about a prime minister ignoring the will of parliament and using an instrument of state in a way that was never intended. This was effectively an attempt at dictatorship.
So in the end the Supreme Court decision was not about stopping Brexit but stopping a dictatorship now (which admittedly would have been a particularly limited dictatorship) and in the future.
Today Boris the Bodger called the privy council up to prorogue parliament to stop those ever so inconvenient representatives of the people from causing more trouble for his agenda. There are those who go so far as to call this a cout d’état – not entirely unreasonably although it is probably legal.
There are those who are disappointed that the Queen agreed to the proroguing of parliament, but why should she? Disregarding the ‘advice’ of the Prime Minister would go against what she has spent her entire reign doing – being a symbolic head of state in a parliamentary democracy.
Because it’s a lifetime ago, it is all too easy to forget that the Queen ascended the throne with the monarchy in crisis – her uncle had abdicated in 1936 and her father reigned for a relatively short time. She has spent her long reign rebuilding trust in the monarchy.
There are those who will say what happened was not democratic (and I’m inclined to agree with them) but the Queen can quite reasonably point out that she acted in a democratic way – she assented to the request of the Prime Minister elected by parliament.
If anything undemocratic went on, it was done by Boris the Bodger, and parliament has a duty to take care of that.
So the Euroskeptics want a divorce between us and the EU; or in other words they want to go back to a time when we would protect our interests in Europe by going to war every generation or so. Which is a far more expensive proposition than EU membership fees, and far riskier.
Because the continent has always been there. And throughout history we have had to keep an eye on what the rest of Europe is up to, and intervene whenever France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, or Germany has been involved in actions that interfere with our interests. Being part of a club that can discuss contentious issues and tell a member to stop behaving badly is far preferable than the old way of doing things. And yes that involves giving up a bit of sovereignty.
When you come down to it, that little loss of sovereignty hurts the politicians more than the rest of us, and the rest of us are more likely to be the ones killed off in European wars.
Does it seem a little far fetched that leaving the EU will cause the return of European wars? Perhaps, but one of the reasons it seems far-fetched is that we do have an EU where we can go and argue. Without that safeguard, there is not a great deal to stop the return of the old ways.
There is an assumption that leaving the EU will lead to fewer immigrants arriving in the UK.
Perhaps. At least in the long-term assuming we ignore the UN directives on refugees, but in the short-term there is a good chance that immigration will increase.
For a start, all those refugees and economic migrants from outside the EU won’t suddenly stop coming just because we leave the EU. Sure we’ll set up new border guards, but that will take time. And guards don’t stop everyone.
And what incentive does France have to co-operate over that migrant camp outside Calais? None of course; their interests would be best served by giving all the refugees a Eurostar ticket to move the refugee camp to Britain.
And what happens to all those Brits who have set up homes in the EU? Are they going to want to return to Britain? Is the EU going to force them? After all there is no natural right of residence for citizens of former members of the EU. Perhaps you would not count such returnees as “immigrants” but they would have all the same problems – needing a place to stay, and often needing income support.
And most of them would be rather annoyed.
The “outers” would have us believe that leaving the EU is an opportunity to make trade deals with the rest of the world to more than make up for the trade lost with Europe. Half our trade is with Europe, which in monetary terms is very roughly 230 billion a year.
In other words the “outers” want to put that 230 billion of income at risk in order to gain an unknown amount of trade through new trade agreements.
And what stops us making those trade agreements now anyway?
Regulation and Justice
Of course one of the big weapons the “outers” have is to claim that we would be freed from all that tedious European regulation. Well, perhaps but remember that 230 billion of trade with Europe? The EU isn’t going to let us export stuff to Europe if we don’t follow the EU regulation; it has always been the case that if you want to sell something in a market you have to meet the regulations of that market.
It is one of the reasons why the EU started regulation – to harmonise regulation across Europe so that you could meet one set of EU regulations rather than 28 different sets of national regulations.
And as soon as we get rid of EU regulation, we’re going to start getting British regulation instead. It won’t be a one-for-one replacement of course, but we won’t be losing as much regulation as we think.
There is a whole set of EU regulation that business universally loathes – the EU regulations that protect workers (such as the Working Time Directive). Well I for one think that European protection for workers is valuable; certainly our own government isn’t interested in protecting workers!
As to the European Court of Justice, the politicians are all up in arms about their power to overturn decisions made by parliament. Which must be very irritating for them, but ignore the whole “sovereignty” thing for a moment – don’t you secretly think it’s a good idea to have someone overseeing parliament? After all, it’s not as if politicians are trustworthy, so having some oversight is not a bad idea at all.
And people overlook just how useful the European Court of Justice has been to us – it wasn’t such a long time ago that France was blocking British beef imports on the grounds that British cows used to have this health issue. Of course what they were really doing was protecting French farmers. And the ECJ forced the French government to repeal laws that prevented British beef being imported.
And there are plenty of other examples where the ECJ has been helpful.
Unelected Bureaucrats & Democracy
You will often hear the phrase “unelected bureaucrats” (or even “eurocrats”) in association with the EU. You could almost imagine that politicians are volunteering to do some real work.
In reality government is run by unelected bureaucrats – when a farm inspector visited a farmer and told her that she needed to paint blue numbers on her cows and not red numbers, he would blame the bureaucrats; in the 1940s it was the civil servants in London; today it is the eurocrats in Brussels. It’s just a different flavour of bureaucrat.
And as for the EU being undemocratic, well the EU Parliament is trying it’s hardest to change that. And it’s the heads of national governments who are blocking such reforms. So when a national politician is complaining about undemocratic Europe, she is speaking with a forked tongue (how can you tell if a politician is speaking with a forked tongue? Their mouth is open).
If you hadn’t already guessed by now, I’m in favour of staying within Europe. Sorry I meant staying within the EU. The EU is the future of Europe, and for better or worse we’re part of Europe, so if we want to have our say on the future of Europe, we had better stay within the EU.
If you are unlucky enough to catch our representatives in parliament during Prime Minister’s questions (Wednesday lunchtimes), you are probably aware of the MPs making loud noises during the questions and answers. When a new election looms, the noise gets louder to the point that many ordinary MPs find it difficult to ask their questions and any answers become difficult to hear.
Personally I’m of the belief that shouting and screaming whilst someone else is trying to speak is impolite in the extreme; the MPs come across as a bunch of loud-mouthed louts who would rather shout down an opponent than actually take part in an intelligent debate. In other words the kind of yob that would be thrown out of any decent debating society for disruptive behaviour.
It is quite possible that their behaviour is a great deal better in ordinary debates, but we do not see those as often as we see PM’s questions. Part of the image problem that MPs have is probably down to this loutish behaviour.
The Speaker of the House is supposed to keep control and stop the worst excesses of this sort of behaviour, but he fails to do so properly – simply because he isn’t prepared to exclude the noisiest members for their behaviour. Perhaps it is about time he did ?
Gordon Brown has announced plans to reform the electoral system in the UK after the election – if Labour is elected, and they do not change their minds. Of course they look likely to give us one choice of reform – choose Labour’s preferred option or no reform. What kind of choice is that ?
We should be telling Parliament what kind of electoral reform we want and not just calmly expect what suits the government of the day. If you look at what Gordon Brown is proposing, it probably represents the minimum possible change to our present system. The Alternative Vote (what GB is suggesting) consists of people voting by listing their preferred candidates in order of preference; if there is no overall majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded and the votes of those who voted for him or her are shared out amongst the other candidates according to their second preference.
The idea is that no MP is elected without representing the majority view of his or her constituency. Ok, sounds better than the current system, but is it as good as one of the following :-
Or even the zillions of other possibilities out there – Wikipedia has a good selection.
There are certain advantages to Gordon Brown’s preferred system – it is a relatively small change and does make things a bit fairer. I would myself prefer a more radical change, but I am quite willing to let the people decide and not have our choice restricted to a simple yes or no to choose some politician’s choice. After all, how sure are we that this is actually best for us and not best for the Labour party ?
Of course as you might expect, the Tories are against any form of electoral reform, and the Liberals are in favour (although this isn’t their preferred system).
What I would like to see is a referendum giving us a proper choice amongst a range of options. That would be complicated to difficult to do properly and would be more complex for us people to decide – we would have to spend some time thinking about what we want. We would need a neutral group reviewing possible systems and keeping the list of options down to sensible numbers. We would also need a neutral group coming up with a list of advantages and disadvantages for each, and ideally stop the politicians from making recommendations (asking a politician to keep quiet is wildly unrealistic I know).
The key thing is that we should be making the choice and not the politicians.