Could the British parliament make the big decision? Is it required to do so? Yes, according to Dr Jo Murkens, LSE law professor. And others, not least Conservative MP Ken Clarke.
But Dr Murkens lays out the clearest case for parliament doing what it’s meant to in a parliamentary democracy. On Monday, she told LBC that British MPs have a responsibility to look at the bigger picture when implementing the non-legally binding referendum result.
“The United Kingdom is parliamentary democracy and decisions are made by our representatives, by our MPs. These MPs are not delegates. Their role is not to implement the will of the people. they are representatives, who exercise political judgement on the basis of their party affiliation, and on the basis of their conscience.”
More to the point, said the Professor, “Westminster cannot ignore Belfast and Edinburgh in this equation. It can but it risks the disintegration of the Union.”
That makes very good sense.
British prime minister David Cameron exhibited rank political cowardice in passing the buck to the public even though the country’s political system is set up for elected leaders to make big decisions.
Britain (and India) elect parliamentary representatives to do the job. Switzerland relies on the referendum method to make major decisions. Recently, it may be recalled, it put the introduction of a Universal Basic Income to the people’s vote. (They voted ‘no’.)
But Mr Cameron decided to play a politics with the European issue. Cowed by the anti-EU sentiment in his own party and feeling threatened by the drumbeat of the right, such as the UK Independence Party, Mr Cameron declared he would have a referendum.
Populists and politicians who wanted Mr Cameron’s job jumped on the euro-wagon. Fear of immigration won.
Would this have happened if the British prime minister, who led his party to a decisive victory just last year, had promised a comprehensive plan – prepared by a cross-party panel – for reforming the relationship with EU instead? Reform may not have come and many people may not have been particularly ecstatic but neither would this leaderless chaos be the result.
Complex big-ticket decisions need careful study of tonnes of data and dull analyses. But Mr Cameron ducked the decision.
One of the most thoughtful pieces on Thursday’s Brexit was by former UN undersecretary-general and Shashi Tharoor. Click here to read it. Mr Tharoor is a citizen of Cosmopolis, a term recently used by Timothy Garton Ash to describe a connected world where mass migration and the internet are fast making us all “neighbours”. Mr Tharoor is also an MP of India’s Congress Party and consequently has an understanding of the way politics works – and often doesn’t – in the developing world.
Accordingly, Mr Tharoor is able to identify key similarities in the psychosis currently affecting parts of the developed world and link it in relevant ways to the perils of the developing world “making national policy by populism”. Or, as Simon Jenkins wrote in The Guardian, “A silly question was asked, a silly answer was given.”
As Mr Tharoor writes, “Brexit teaches us the dangers of rule by referendum. Letting policies with wide ramifications be settled by the emotions of a moment will only ensure that popular sentiment holds sway over informed decision-making. That is not what representative democracy is about.”