Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Brexit is about the people's sovereignty, not parliament

The reason we have majoritarian decision making via an elaborate system of voting is to give legitimacy to decision making. The social contract we have is that we abide by those decisions and accept government as the legitimate authority. Without that legitimacy there is no basis for recognising such authority.

For normal decision making representative democracy is almost sufficient. There are, however, times where the insular world of politics is so remote that there is a conflict between the public and their parliament. Brexit is one such conflict. It is a question of the EUs legitimacy as a government.

And let us not beat around the bush here. The EU is not some trade alliance. It is a government. And so it then becomes a matter of self-determination. Any economic considerations are entirely secondary. How a people choose to define themselves and constitute their own government is a matter for them alone, it must be a majoritarian decision, and anything else is not democracy.

Having agitated for more than twenty years, eurosceptics forced the hand of the government to grant a referendum. To the surprise of many, the government lost it. The British public do not consent to the EU as their government. We can bicker about the small win margin but the result is as legitimate as legitimate gets.

The game in play now is less transparent. We can all play games with definitions of Brexit and I am not innocent on that score. I think nearly everyone active in the debate has used the "Where on the ballot paper does it say..." game. We need a bit of honesty here.

Whether anybody likes it or not the vote mens that we leave the EU, end freedom of movement and leave the single market. That is what both major leave campaigns campaigned on - and they won.

The single market, though, is the point of contention. Leaving it has major ramifications. You can play games and say that we did not vote to leave the single market but the movement that brought about the referendum on the EU is the same movement that campaigned to leave that entity represented by a ring of stars long before it was even called the EU - then commonly known as the common market.

Where it gets further complicated is that the single market is no longer what it was back in 1992 - and pulling out of it is neither simple or quick. So now it is a question of how we leave. Whether we go for a negotiated exit or a unilateral one. That battle has already been settled. Unilateral exit is off the table. And so now it is a question of whether we leave in stages or whether we attempt it all in one go. The latter is the most problematic, but fortunately for all of us, the least likely.

It was always the view of this blog that we would have to leave the EU the same way we went in. Gradually. It is the view of this blog the EEA agreement represents the safest and easiest means of achieving it in the timeframe available - and there is nothing to suggest that a bespoke agreement is worth the trouble or is achievable in two years.

In this, the government thus far has been evasive, refusing to even define the single market let alone rule it out. It must be noted that the single market is not the customs union. What is certain is that we must leave the customs union so that we can make our own trade deals. Leaving the single market though, is optional for the time being.

When asked outright by Anna Soubry whether the government intends to remain a member of the single market David Davis today declined to answer - and all we have to go on is a reassertion from Mrs May that we will seek a trading arrangement as close to the one we have now with "the maximum possible access to the single market". That can mean whatever you want it to mean - but when you add in all the extras we can take it to mean that it will be a deep and comprehensive relationship even if we are not calling it the single market.

The reason that parliament is now agitating for a vote on the terms of our departure is that they want to force the government to stay in the single market at all costs. To them, this is a reprieve from the horror tales they have been complicit in spreading from the get go. As this blog is a ardent proponent of the EEA you would think I would support their efforts. I do not.

Presently the government seems to think it can get a "British option" that will be superior to the EEA. They do not specify how they intend to achieve this, but if they can then I wish them the best of luck in seeking it. I take the view that they have not properly comprehended the complexities of the task and will need the EEA agreement as a fallback position. I rather suspect the EEA or a clone of it will be central to the Brexit settlement.

The question of whether parliament should be involved is a more vexed issue. Parliament would seemingly prefer to bind the governments hands and take leaving the single market off the table completely. The EEA to them is a means of parking Brexit rather than a stepping stone to a particular endgame - so when the hardliner protest that the remainers in parliament do not intend to honour the spirit of the referendum, they are quite correct. They only reason they want a vote is to act as a blocker.

Where the hardliners come unstuck is their lack of a credible destination for Brexit and have failed to acknowledge the depth of integration, or the way in which global trade has evolved into a rules based system which uses the same foundations as the EU for its regulations and standards. We can leave the single market but we are left with more or less the same regulatory codes, little scope for divergence and unless we rip up contracts and treaties then we will be paying for legacy obligations for some years to come. It may at one time have been desirable to leave the single market but in 2016 there is very little point.

The insistence on leaving the single market is on the basis of a universal insistence that remaining in the single market means that freedom of movement is non negotiable, despite the existence of instances where it very much has been renegotiated. This is where the fault line lies. Remainers mainly seek the EEA in order to safeguard freedom of movement.

This blog is somewhat ambivalent in that the demand for low skilled labour will tail off in due course as massive advances in agricultural robotics will soon curtail the demand for unskilled labour. I would rather keep our options open but I am seemingly in the minority there. Whether we like it or not though, some control of EU migration is part of the mandate even if it is on the basis of a misunderstanding deliberately massaged by Farage and his fellow travellers.

What matters is that there is a mandate to leave the EU. In this, calls for parliamentary sovereignty fall on deaf ears. This being the same parliament which readily handed over exclusive powers to the EU without seeking the consent of the people.

Parliament cannot be trusted to respect the instructions of the people. They have shown that they have little regard for the will of the public time and again which is in part a reason why the leave campaign won. The only thing that matters here is the sovereignty of the British people - and in that, like it or not, the only power fully committed to an attempt at delivering a full Brexit is Mrs May's government. In acting on behalf of the British public they are more legitimate than parliament.

But this underscores the fundamental error of eurosceptics in campaigning for parliamentary sovereignty. Parliament has always been sovereign. It could have chosen to leave the EU at any time at any time but wouldn't have without a direct threat to their ownership of power. That is what makes parliament intolerable.

I find the dictatorial rule of parliament every bit as offensive as Brussels. The periodic voting rituals we hold are merely the process we employ to elect dictators for the period of five years; dictators who need not defer to the people in the time between. For sure, the voting rituals we have keeps them roughly in line but it has allowed them to get away with far too much - not least signing away powers to the EU without our consent.

And this brings us back to those question of legitimacy. Over the decades, successive governments have sought to conceal the true nature of the EU and taken us further in by the use of parliamentary technicalities rather than seeking permission. The EU was always a machination of our political class whereby the sovereingty of the people has been undermined by parliament for its own ends. That is why Brexit is not enough.

As much as we do not want these malign parasites frustrating the process of Brexit we do not want them having the power to reverse or subvert the Article 50 settlement. Never again can we allow them to enter such binding and consequential arrangements without seeking explicit permission. To that end we need to stop festishising parliamentary sovereigty and demand a recognition that the people are sovereign - not parliament. With that comes a new constitution that prohibits the transfer of powers owned by the people.

When we have a system that brings about its own political ecosystem which has a wholly separate set of values to the rest of the country, amplified by way of being located in London, it cannot possibly represent the people nor can it take legitimate decisions. The gulf between the people and the policies enacted in their name is vast and there are insufficient defensive measures to stop our parliament defying our will. We need far more direct democracy.

Since the inception of the EU lawmaking has changed. We can no longer expect that we can make all of our own rules and we increasingly adopt rules from the global level, bypassing the EU entirely. This is what made Brexit necessary. In this MPs are no longer the lawmakers, they are merely the goalkeepers and scrutineers. They serve as our line of defense against national and international government - but in that we need a new constitution where by the public have defences against their parliament and a better means of holding them to account.

At the core of this is a question of democratic legitimacy and ensuring that never again can our so-called representatives hand our powers away. There is no point in retrieving powers from Brussels if we are to leave them in the hands of Westminster. Meanwhile, if MPs take it upon themselves to subvert the verdict of the people in a fundamental constitutional matter like Brexit then they are playing with fire. If majoritarian rule applies only when convenient to them then they have turned their backs on democracy. The consequences of which are profound. Brexit has divided the nation for the time being but reversing it will shatter it.

No comments:

Post a Comment