It’s easy to appreciate the strength of feeling on both sides of the EU referendum. After all this is, in a way, much more important than any General Election. It’s an issue that will affect our lives not just for the next five years but over the course of our lifetimes. As it happens it seems it’s probably going to be more significant than even the most well informed political observers had imagined and I think we haven’t begun to fully grasp what the future holds for post Brexit generations. But let’s be clear, the results of the June Referendum must stand.
The referendum was entirely legitimate, we knew well in advance that it was going to happen, had the chance to read up and inform ourselves of the facts and make up our minds about which camp we were going to support. There was a good turnout (relatively speaking) and very few ballots were discounted. Putting the quality of the campaign and integrity of the chief protagonists aside the whole process worked just as intended. So, the results must stand.
However let us also be clear about a couple of things. Firstly the result was far from the overwhelming victory that is now claimed by some campaigners and suggested by careless journalists. Claims that the ‘people have spoken’, that ‘52% of the population voted out’ and that this in some way means we must expedite the result without further debate is perhaps the most un-British approach possible.
Only some of the British people have expressed an opinion. The number of people registered to vote by June 2016 was 46,501,241 (BBC figures), an increase on the ONS figure for 2015 of 44,722,000. Turnout for the Referendum was 71.8% (33,551,983) and the Leave vote secured 51.9% (17,410,742) of the ballots cast. The difference between leave and remain was 1,269,501 votes. But lets remember that the population of the UK is approximately 63 million and all of them will be affected by the eventual decision regarding Britain’s future position in the European Union. So whichever way you cut it it’s difficult to see how the ‘British people have spoken’ or indeed that ‘52% of the population have voted out’.
But I grant you 17,410,742 people together represent a sizeable slice of the British pie and their collective howl against the EU was deafening. The political elite were immediately falling over themselves to say they recognized the need to listen to the people only to withdraw very hastily into their Westminster bubble to plan/plot their next move and simply reinforce the view that there is a fundamental disconnect between the people and their representatives. And this is the second point, they are our representatives.
The British political system is not without its faults. Nevertheless we are fortunate indeed to have a system of representative democracy not pure direct democracy. Our system is not based on the principle that the loudest voice must be listened to without question while the quiet folk or those without a voice are ignored. We elect MPs to make decisions in the best interests of all their constituents (the ones who voted for them, against them or not at all) and, more importantly in the best interests of the nation as a whole. Some MPs clearly take their responsibilities very seriously working tirelessly to help the people in their communities and voting intelligently on matters of national importance. OK, at the moment they need to sort out which unfortunate is going to take the helm next but as the blood letting, resignations and petty partisan manoeuvring continues, the markets seethe and the big property funds draw the deadbolts across their king sized piggy banks I’m growing increasingly worried that they’ve forgotten what they’re paid to do. Her Majesty’s Government and Opposition should govern in the best interests of the nation; how can they claim to do this without fully debating the most pressing issue of the day in light of the referendum results and subsequent turmoil?
We all voted with the very best of intentions in June. We were all thinking of our families, our communities, our regions and our countries when we placed our cross on our ballot paper. But we are not paid to make choices that will affect the lives of millions of people across the length and breadth of the British Isles. We have not been elected and are not directly responsible for the future of Great Britain. That is the heavy burden shouldered by the 650 Members of Parliament who represent every last citizen in the United Kingdom.
It’s ironic that we all listened so closely to arguments about the danger posed by the EU to the sovereignty of Parliament but today we’re about to allow just 149,000 members of the Conservative Party to elect a Prime Minister who may seal the fate of our nation without consulting Parliament. When tough decisions about the fate of my nation need addressing I’d prefer as many MPs as possible to have the opportunity to represent the views of all their constituents. I’d be worried if the loudest voice drowned out everything else or the executive acted alone. There’s a reason we have a Parliament. There’s a reason why our elected representatives usually debate key decisions. When Parliament is bypassed trouble follows. There must at the very least be further Parliamentary debate about our future in Europe and ideally a General Election shortly after.