Voting against the Tory Deal

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland left the European Union in February 2020 with a stay of execution until 31 December 2020. On the 30 December the country faced a dire emergency. Next day the Great Britain would crash out of the Single Market and Customs Union, leaving Northern Ireland in the single market for goods with a EU customs border with the rest of the UK. The only question in doubt is whether there would be the safety net of a trade deal to prevent a crash.

So with no time to work out what was really going on the Commons, Lords were reconvened to rubber stamp the deal and Her Majesty summed to give the royal assent. The ‘Brexit revolution’ (2016-2020) exposed many of the realities of the UK constitution through a series of crises. On the very last day another crisis confronted MPs. Parliament did not have time to properly scrutinise the Deal. It made a mockery of the idea of sovereignty coming back from the EU to parliament and the people. Democratic scrutiny and accountability was a sick joke and a national humiliation.

This was a reminder of another infamous bloody mess when the Commons was allowed to vote on the Iraq war with British tanks already on the Iraq border with their engines revving up. The issue was no longer about war or economic damage but the patriotic duty of MPs to support the Crown in its hour of need. The three pillars of the British constitution are thus ‘crisis’, ‘emergency’ and ‘rubber stamp’. Starmer duly delivered his MPs to back a rotten Tory deal and overturn the policy in the 2019 Manifesto, which promised the people a democratic right to ratify

The sovereignty of parliament is a fiction because sovereignty is vested in the Crown-In-Parliament, which shares power between the Crown and parliament. The lion’s share of power is in the hands of Ministers of the Crown, especially in the ‘crisis’ and ‘emergency’ that faced MPs on 30 December. Labour MP Clive Lewis expressed the frustration of many MPs. He said this situation “has shone a light on the deep democratic deficits in our arcane political system” where “power concentrated in the hands of a few, an over-centralised Government evading scrutiny to act in favour of vested interests and impose decisions from the top down”. (Norwich Post Angus Williams 30 December 2020)

Brexit highlighted the divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, which had grown out of thirty years of republican struggle by the IRA and Sinn Fein embodied in the Good Friday Agreement (1998). The Withdrawal Agreement reminded the Democratic Unionists of the new reality and forced them to vote against it and against the Trade Deal on constitutional not economic grounds. At the same time it exposed Scotland’s constitutional subordination to England because unlike Northern Ireland or Gibraltar there was nothing to recognise Scotland’s vote to remain.

The Brexit debacle has been a constitutional revelation for people who have been kept ignorant of the secrets of power. It has exposed a surprised public to the sham or pretence of democracy masquerading behind the ancient façade of the Palace of Westminster. At the eleventh hour neither parliament nor people had any control or indeed real knowledge of what the Crown was imposing. Taking back control was simply restoring the central power of the Crown and exposing more fully the democratic deficit.

The process of leaving the EU was a stress test for UK ‘democracy’. Now at the end of the road it is useful to review the whole process. Final ratification on 30 December was the last step in a three-stage process. The first stage started in parliament and led to the 2016 referendum. We have noted many times the exclusion of millions of resident citizens because it was inconvenient to the Tories to allow them to vote. The 2016 votes triggered the second stage of negotiation, which comprised of two parts, the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade Deal. The whole process is completed by the third stage of ratification by parliament and the agreement of the people in a referendum. What began with a people’s vote, handed negotiating rights to the Crown, and must be completed with a people’s vote.

Anything resembling a democratic process ended in a parliamentary farce. Caroline Lucas MP in her Commons speech said “I believe it was right to campaign for a confirmatory referendum on the terms of any departure”. But she omitted to say along with the Liberal Democrats, Blair, Watson and Starmer they all conspired to split the working class and facilitate Corbyn’s defeat with the divisive slogan of a second referendum. Johnson won, Starmer replaced Corbyn, a second referendum went up in smoke, and Starmer and his MPs voted for a Tory hard Brexit.

In 2016 the Tories opportunistically handed sovereignty over the decision to leave the EU from the state to the people. Republicanism snuck into the constitution for one moment only. The EU referendum adopted the principle of popular sovereignty, which many liberal Tories and Labour, regretted. But they kept the real power to negotiate in the hands of the Crown, the political arm of the City of London, and the ratification to a subservient and supine Parliament, which would always do as it was told especially in a crisis manufactured by the government.

A ratification referendum was thus an important difference between the Johnson Tories and Corbyn Labour at the 2019 general election. Labour manifesto promised a ratification referendum on any deal they made with the EU. This had to apply to the Withdrawal Agreement and any Trade Deal. It was a manifesto commitment Labour should have stood by, continuing to argue for it with reference to good trade union practice. Labour should have opposed any deal that did not pass this democratic test. In the end only one Labour MP voted against it along with the smaller parties demanding constitutional change. That is surely what is now coming down the track.

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1 Response to Voting against the Tory Deal

  1. John C says:

    The betrayal of Corbyn by the PLP is perhaps the darkest part of this story. And why? Because the PLP (out of ignorance, out of fear, out of self-interest?) were, and so remain, unwilling to tamper with the liberal banking regulations and balanced-budget ideology which funnels the supply of new money into the control of the financial sector, to the disbenefit of the democratic majority.

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