The Christmas break is unlikely to have seen Dickensian interventions in the lives of the Continuity
Is it possible that the holiday brought some sort of Christmas Dickensian intervention, designed to break the back of Continuity Remain’s intransigence? Was, perhaps, Anna Soubry visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come? Did he offer her a vision of what was likely to befall her at the snap Winter General Election of 2019 were she to continue on her present course? Did he vouchsafe to her the following scenario: that at this future election she is returned with 52 per cent of the vote but is prevented from taking her seat because she lacks a mandate?
I imagine the conversation unfolding as follows:
Soubry: I don’t understand. I’ve won 52 per cent of the vote. How can I not have a mandate to take my seat?
Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (let’s call him Jacob): Indeed you did. But the 48 per cent of people who didn’t vote for you can shout louder than the 52 per cent of people who did. And some of them are on the radio a lot. And let’s not forget that it’s been days now since the polls closed and some of your supporters have probably died. The good news is that we have permission to rerun the election, although obviously your name will not be on the ballot paper.
Soubry: That is profoundly undemocratic. That’s how they run a banana republic.
Jacob: I knew you’d approve.
Let’s consider the logic of the position of the MPs who are currently agitating for a “second referendum”. In order to argue that another plebiscite would be legitimate it is necessary -presumably by an act of will- to void the result of the first one. But if the instruction of that referendum has now lapsed then how does the mandate of the MP who was elected on a commitment to implement that instruction remain intact? How is such a person different from the man who climbs a ladder and then throws it away in the belief that he can hover in mid-air?
Obligations are not events that occur at a particular point in time, there is more to them than that. From their inception they shape what happens next and are alive until they are discharged. If I enter into an obligation on Monday then -if not met- the obligation persists on Friday. And the older the obligation the more pressing the need to meet it. A referendum establishes a type of obligation and therefore shares in this metaphysics. The result of June 2016 is animating an instruction to our politicians that is, if anything, even more urgent now. This is true irrespective of how many of the original participants have shuffled off this mortal coil. The advocate of a “People’s Vote” is trying to park a Citroen in a space that is already taken while at the same time saying that the BMW that was there first does not in fact exist. Such a strategy is both incoherent and unlikely to end well.
“Ah”, says Dominic Grieve, adjusting his spectacles and putting down his well-thumbed copy of A Beginner’s Guide to Constitutional Law, “you misunderstand the advisory nature of the referendum. In our system it is Parliament that is sovereign, and if MPs collectively decide to ignore the advice then that is constitutionally proper. MPs are representatives not delegates. We are obliged to follow our consciences”.
If he will forgive me I will cut Dominic off there, as we all know the inevitable and tiresome misinterpretation of Burke is coming. But here is my reply: to say that “Parliament is sovereign” is only to say that the people have entrusted to it their sovereignty, leasehold not freehold. What many of us find so obnoxious about the European project is that it has corrupted the institution of Parliament into handing over powers that were not properly in its gift. The decision of the people to vacate that project was a decision also to bring that corruption to heel. That the Establishment lickspittles have doubled down on the venality is all the more reason to believe the decision was correct.
Daniel Hannan makes the point that the current Brexit impasse reflects Establishment Petulance rather than Constitutional Emergency. In particular, he suggests, the Continuity Remainers in the Commons are manufacturing a miasma of crisis over the possibility of “No Deal” in order either to halt Brexit or to force another plebiscite.
I have a suggestion as to how this can be dealt with, specifically on the Tory side. I notice that the relevant cabal tends to sit together to the immediate right of the Speaker’s Booster Seat, egging each other on in an orgy of mutual regard. Why not simply do what my son’s Year 4 teacher does when all the naughty children find themselves on the same table: split them up? Grieve and Soubry, for example, could be made to sit with the Liberal Democrats. Surely that’s fitting? I accept that some form of special dispensation will need to be found for Nicky Morgan, who seems to carry permanently an aura of bafflement, like the media studies student who has wandered into a seminar on quantum mechanics.
Just a suggestion.
We have been warned that in the event of “No Deal” our planes might not be able to take to the skies. Well I’ve got news for you; thanks to imaginary drones and a fictitious double-glazing crime syndicate we’ve already experienced that hit. The official response to that nonsense, amusing to those of us not caught up in it, was shaped by the deep integration of our civil service systems into those of the EU. The more histrionic claims of Project Fear are to some extent, already “priced in”.
I’ve been trying to think of a way of quantifying the anger that would follow were May to capitulate and construct a Heath Robinson political gimmick and attach to it the label “second referendum”. The best I can come up with is this: think of an LGBT activist who’s been “misgendered” by a Trump-supporting foxhunter with a copy of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life tucked under his arm. And then multiply that by the size of the national debt. Perhaps more importantly, were it to happen, the legitimacy of our whole political order would, quite simply, evanesce.
Happy New Year.