As the Brexit chaos continues, it is worth reflecting on the background that led Britain to where it is today – with no ending in sight. The root cause lays in how the Westminster system is failing to serve the people.
I feel for Theresa May as a politician who put herself – albeit willingly – in a position of leadership of a cause that was neither hers, nor for her party to take on. I doubt if there has been a Prime Minister in a less enviable position since Winston Churchill passed through those hallowed doors of No. 10 Downing Street in May of ’39.
The whole sorry Brexit saga – from its flawed inception through to its eventual ending has been caused by the fundamental flaw of Westminster democracy – party politics.
Not originally a member, Britain joined the European Union (EU) in 1973, a few years after the mercurial Charles de Gaulle’s tenure as President of France had ended and with it French objection to Britain’s inclusion. Like in most European countries, the popularity of membership waxed and waned over the years since, and both Labour and the Conservative fortunes at the poll were at times at the mercy of what Britons thought of the EU.
In 2015, David Cameron’s Conservative Government decided to put the issue to the test of the people. It followed renegotiations of terms with the EU and a period where polling showed increased support for it. Cameron was confident that a referendum would strengthen his hold on party power and set him up for the next general election.
There was no constitutional need for a referendum and the “European Union Referendum Act 2015” was technically not a referendum anyway, as the result was not by law binding on the Government. Technically it was a plebiscite.
It backfired spectacularly as Britons quite surprisingly voted to exit the EU on June 23, 2016.
As it was really all about party politics in the first place, nobody within the Conservative Party had thought it through. David Cameron had to resign and in the chaos that ensued Theresa May emerged as the new leader of the party and Prime Minister; having to lead the negotiations with the EU on an orderly exit most of her party members didn’t want in the first place.
Across the aisle in the Palace of Westminster the Labour Party has made the most of the chaos, making it their mission to obfuscate the process while being equally divided on the matter themselves.
Both the Conservatives and Labour were officially opposed to leaving in 2016 showing how both were out of touch with voters on an issue that divided the country but didn’t follow party lines.
Party politics started it, party politics muddled it further and now party politics means that the process is stuck in limbo for the foreseeable future. Prime Minister May is unable to get her party to support the exit deal her Government has negotiated with the EU, and Labour leader Corbyn is not helping, playing it for what it worth to weaken his “members opposite”.
Nowhere to be seen are elected representatives standing up to say: “hey, this is what the people voted for and as their elected representatives it is incumbent on us to find a solution – it’s about our nation, not our parties“. Instead, both Government and Opposition are quite happy to let the impasse go on, benefiting nobody, least of all the people of Britain. All in the obscure interest of party politics.
Granted, what the people voted for may not have been such a great idea in the first place. Misinformation about the consequences of leaving abounded throughout the campaign period leading up to the referendum. Unscrupulous fringe politicians such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage milked it for what it was worth in their own power games of populism.
Without the support of her party for the deal, and with Brussels saying they have no more concessions to offer, the most likely outcome may be “no deal” – a diabolically complex situation with more unknown unknowns than even a Donald Rumsfeld could contemplate. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is also not in a position to solve anything, all they can do is oppose what’s on the table.
Calling an election is another option, or rather a fall-back position that will only serve to re-arrange the deck-chairs of the Titanic as both major parties are kinda’ committed to remain, contrary to what the people said they wanted.
The only possible “solution” seems to be a new referendum. Although that only becomes a solution if the people vote to remain this time. If they don’t, back to square one.
And all this because of party politics! All this because over the last couple of centuries of democracy political parties have been allowed to usurp control over it. All this because the well-being of the party has taken precedence over the interest of the constituents.
All this because we have collectively lost sight of what the first pillar of democracy – the legislature – was meant to be: a body of representatives of the people, by the people and for the people. It was never meant to be governed by conventions created for the benefit of politicians, not the people, nor for the purposes of developing sound policies.
As (first American President) George Washington said in his farewell address to Congress in 1796:
“(Although) political parties may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
How right he was.
Kim Wingerei is a former business-man, turned writer and commentator. Passionate about free speech, human rights, democracy and the politics of change. Originally from Norway, lived in Australia for 30 years. Author of ‘Why Democracy is Broken – A Blueprint for Change’. Follow @ kimwingerei.com