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If MPs don’t do their jobs, it’s not surprising judges fill the gap

Tory MP John Redwood on the decision last week of the High Court to rule that MPs must be allowed to debate the case for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty before the UK can start to quit the European Union:

As the judges wished to trespass into this territory they should have acquainted themselves better with Parliamentary procedure and the recent Parliamentary timetable. They would have discovered that Parliament has had plenty of allotted time for debate and questions on Article 50 and general Brexit in both government and Opposition time. They would have realised that if the Commons wanted a vote on Article 50 the Opposition could at any time table a motion to require one in Opposition time. It could formally ask the government to table one, though the government might reply they should table one themselves. The fact it has not done so implies that the Commons accepts an Article 50 letter will be sent. Indeed, many Labour MPs have confirmed they agree with sending a letter, as does the government side.

Whatever else one might conclude about the issue of the judges’ involvement in the process – I am told that their judgement statement is well worth reading – I think Redwood has it exactly right here. MPs should not expect judges to do their work for them – if they had wanted to force the issue, they had in their power to do so. That they haven’t is, I suspect, based either on laziness and cowardice, or a fear on the part of the Labour MPs that a no-confidence vote and possible early election will wipe Labour out (oh happy day); the most enthusiastic Remainer Tories, such as Ken Clarke, may fear losing their seats, at least if they are in marginal ones. I also think that our membership of the EU, and the gradual erosion of Parliament and the quality of people entering it, means that MPs lack the kind of backbone that legislators of earlier ages might have had. Indeed, one of the reasons I voted for Brexit (even though I am very different in my views from the more nationalist inclined Brexiteers) is my hope that MPs no longer can hide behind the skirts of courts, either in Brussels or here, and have to start taking direct responsibility for the laws that affect this country. With ownership comes responsibility, and hopefully, an improvement in the product.

Samizdata quotes of the day

“Believe you me, if the people in this country think they’re going to be cheated, they’re going to be betrayed, then we will see political anger the likes of which none of us in our lifetimes have ever witnessed in this country.

[…]

“I heard you talking to Gina Miller earlier about the nasty things that have been said about her. Believe you me, I’ve had years of this, I’ve had years of hate mobs – taxpayer-funded hate mobs – chasing me around Britain.

“The temperature of this is very, very high.

“Now, I’m going to say to everybody watching this who was on the Brexit side – let’s try and get even, let’s have peaceful protests and let’s make sure in any form of election we don’t support people who want to overturn this process.”

Nigel Farage

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.

John F. Kennedy

More than just a great big opinion survey

I wrote this comment on the blog following an earlier posting by Perry de Havilland; I decided to recast it a bit for a comment I hope deserves another airing here.

With all the nonsense of the Remainers claiming that the dignity of Parliament must be preserved (a poor joke, considering how Parliament has seen its powers eroded by various forces, including the EU, in recent years), surely the point has to be made that this referendum was presented, by former Prime Minister David Cameron et al, as not merely a giant public opinion survey, but as a referendum the consequence of which would, if the vote was for leave, trigger an exit by the use of Article 50. The Cameron government had a majority of MPs in the House of Commons; they approved this referendum and its terms of reference. (If they had chosen to revolt, they plainly decided not to do so.) This was, therefore, a process that had support of the majority of parliament, and was not undermining parliament or pushing MPs aside. There can be no attempt at convenient amnesia on this point from those who are sore at being on the losing side.

The fine details of exactly how an exit will be achieved can be for the lawmakers in the Commons and Lords to decide, but the binding nature of the referendum result is not a matter of debate. By a clear majority, it was for Brexit, based on a 70 per cent turnout, the highest turnout in more than 20 years.

Had the referendum result been for Remain, you can bet that the Remainers would have said the outcome was a settled one, and that no further attempts to hold such a referendum should be held for many years. That is, after all, the position taken on the Scottish Referendum result by the victorious side. And they are right to do so.

What this whole saga shows is a high-handed disdain for voters (I have had my fill of being told how Brexit voters are all racists, fools or fantasists by people who conveniently forgot their support for the wretched euro and other hubristic projects.) The arrogance of it only serves to reinforce my belief that Brexit is not just the best course, albeit with certain risks, but desirable in that it is giving heartburn to the kind of creatures who deserve to suffer it.

And consider this – the outcome was a clear majority, of over a million people; that contrasts with how, under our first-past-the-post system, a government can wield power based on the votes of a minority percentage of the voting population. This point is one that needs to be made, given the clear imperfections of our FPTP system. After all, politicians such as Nick Clegg, the former leader of the (greatly diminished) Liberal Democrats, and an ardent supporter of proportional representation (as opposed to FPTP) might, you would suppose, see the force of using referenda to deal with cases where the current FPTP system yields unsatisfactory outcomes. But he doesn’t in this case, because majority voter opinion is against his desire for ever-closer moves towards a federal Europe.

Even so, I don’t think referenda should be used a great deal, and should be reserved for special occasions where there is an enormous, and insupportable gap, between public opinion on a matter of constitutional importance, and those of MPs. (Imagine if most MPs wanted to remove the monarchy, a view clearly at odds with that of the public.) We should hold referenda rarely. There is, after all, the practical problem of exhausting the patience of voters. Representative democracy, after all, involves a certain division of labour in the Adam Smith sense – we send people to Parliament to deal with specific issues and if we dislike their general approach over time, can remove them; we are not expected to follow the details of every policy and decide them en masse ourselves.

I agree, broadly, with the old Edmund Burke point that MPs are representatives, not just delegates and ciphers of the electorate;  The point, however, like all such arguments, has its limits, particularly when the views of most MPs are clearly at odds with the majority of the adult voting population, as they have been on the European Union. That divide between MPs and the opinion of the country has become so wide that a referendum was needed to settle the matter. It has been.

Addendum: It is argued by Andrew Lilico that because the majority of MPs before 23 June were for Remain, they plainly lack a clear mandate, and authority, to take the UK out of the EU, and that to remove obstructionist MPs and gain a fresh mandate requires a general election. Of course, given the current state of the polls, such an election should lead to a larger Tory majority, composed, one assumes, of more pro-independence MPs.

Ultimately this will change nothing

The High Court has ruled that the government must get Parliamentary approval before it triggers Article 50. So we are a three-line-whip away from triggering Article 50. Big deal.

guy-fawkes-dream

What Richard Cobden and Sir Robert Peel can teach us

The following article over at the CapX site explains why the UK should go for unilateral free trade immediately, and summons up arguments deployed a century and a half ago by the likes of Richard Cobden, and Sir Robert Peel, the Conservative prime minister of the time (who had a rather stronger grasp of political economy than, I suspect, any member of the present government):

I trust the government … will not resume the policy which they and we have found most inconvenient, namely the haggling with foreign countries about reciprocal concessions, instead of taking that independent course which we believe to be conducive to our own interests…[L]et us trust that our example, with the proof of practical benefits we derive from it, will at no remote period insure the adoption of the principles on which we have acted… Let, therefore, our commerce be as free as our institutions. Let us proclaim commerce free, and nation after nation will follow our example.

And these comments from the author of the CapX article, Louis Rouanet, who is a student in Paris, strike me as crucial:

A unilateral free trade program is very simple: the British Parliament declares the abolition of all tariffs. To avoid a race in non-tariff barriers, the Parliament can pass a law declaring that every product which conforms to the EU norms and regulations can be sold freely in the UK. This should not be a problem since the UK still is a member of the EU.

By Parliament’s act, most of the “non-tariff barrier” problem withers away without any need for regulatory harmonisation. If the EU legislator considers it necessary to regulate the curvature of vegetables, so be it! But, although EU producers will be free to sell their product in the UK, the British legislature may deem it unnecessary to regulate its producers in the same absurd way.

The advantages of this approach are many. First, the UK can have free trade now instead of waiting through years of negotiations. No need to wait for bureaucrats to agree on which laws we burden consumers and producers with.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Samizdata quote of the day

If anything is harming Britain right now, it is the ongoing attempts to catastrophise Brexit being fomented by bitter Remainers – people who would seemingly rather Britain descend into some dark, dystopian future and be vindicated in their doomsaying than help their own country to present a positive, open and internationalist face to the world.

We should not be surprised. In an age where looking good (and signalling virtue) is more important than actually doing good, there is every incentive for Remainers to continue seizing on every morsel of bad news, overlooking every positive development and generally acting hysterically, so long as their precious internal narrative – that They Virtuous Few stood alone against the “dark forces” of racist Brexit – is not disrupted.

Personally, I find it despicable, but good luck to them.

Samuel Hooper

Have they even been selling EUrope in Europe?

Following Brexit, an interesting area of agreement has emerged between members of the two contending teams, by which I really mean between Brexiteer me and Daniel Korski, who recently penned a Politico piece entitled Why we lost the Brexit vote. We. His team lost. His discussion of why his team lost strikes me as well worth reading.

Korski was for the EU, and for Britain being in the EU. He describes it as:

— an extraordinary project of continental peacemaking and economic liberalization —

However, those dashes at the beginning and the end of that quote are because that is a parenthetically pre-emptive addition to a long passage in which Korski tells us many of things that have been wrong with the EU, especially recently. The EU …:

… has become increasingly distant from voters. It has struggled with the contradictions laid bare by the euro crisis and come up against the limits of its attraction, in Turkey and on its border with Russia. The resulting impression is of a Continent lurching from crisis to crisis. …

There is much more in a similar vein. Read it all, if you are the sort that relishes unflattering descriptions of the EU. The …:

… the impression of the EU across the Continent was of an enterprise no longer delivering for Europeans. …

The word “impression” occurs twice during this peroration, and again in one of the subheadings that Korski, or someone, has added. But it all reads like a lot worse than just an impression.

→ Continue reading: Have they even been selling EUrope in Europe?

Samizdata quote of the day

Because it’s being made very clear to us that the Single Market is Brexit. We are being told that if we want membership of that trading area then we’ve got to accept free movement of people (not in itself a bad idea but not really what people voted for), all of the regulation of the economy which the EU imposes, must pay into the EU budget and so on and on. Essentially, it is being made very clear that membership of the Single Market comes with all of the costs and responsibilities of full EU membership.

That is, single market membership is a denial of Brexit itself.

We do all know that a majority of MPs are against the very idea of leaving. Which is exactly why they shouldn’t have a vote on the matter. For accepting single market membership is tantamount to not leaving, it would be a reversal of the referendum by the back door.

Tim Worstall

Doing referendums differently so the oiks don’t win again

The Electoral Reform Society has released a report about the conduct of the EU referendum called “It’s good to talk: Doing referendums differently after the EU vote”.

The title “It’s good to talk” suggests a conversation, a dialogue. Unlike some commentary by prominent Remain supporters, it does not seek to rule that some people are not qualified to take part in the dialogue at all and their votes should be disregarded. In fact if I chose to use this particular document in order to criticise a paternalist tendency in British politics, it is because it shows this tendency at its most well-meaning. But however reasonably expressed, the purpose of the measures suggested by the Electoral Reform Society is to stop the wild voters ever getting loose again.

So it’s time for a root and branch review of referendums, learning the lessons of the EU campaign to make sure the mistakes that were made in terms of regulation, tone and conduct are never repeated.

“Regulation, tone and conduct.” How very British, how very Sir Humphrey! Yet the people who wrote this probably object to being called “The Establishment”. The report assumes that the referendum was ill-regulated and that the referendum was something that should be regulated. By people like them.

We’ve made nine key recommendations to improve the conduct of future referendums. They are:

Laying the groundwork

1. Mandatory pre-legislative scrutiny for any Bill on a referendum, lasting at least three months, with citizens’ involvement

2. A minimum six-month regulated campaigning period to ensure time for a proper public discussion

3. A definitive ‘rulebook’ to be published, setting out technical aspects of the vote, as soon as possible after the passing of any referendum Bill

Better information

1. A ‘minimum data set’ or impartial information guide to be published at the start of the regulated campaigning period

Written by their sort of people, containing the information that their sort of people think is relevant, impartial in the sense of being in the middle of the spread of opinion that is socially acceptable for their sort of people.

2. An official body should be given the task of intervening when misleading claims are made by the campaigns, as in New Zealand

“An official body” means a body with power. “Given the task of intervening” means given the power to silence. And, of course, the official body will be staffed by suitably qualified people. So some more of their sort of people will have new powers to censor the unenlightened.

3. Citizenship education to be extended in schools

I don’t really need to say it, do I?

alongside UK-wide extension of votes at 16

With the result that those who have only known a life where the majority of their waking hours were spent under the control of the clerisy will mostly vote as directed. There is another point, too. The extension of the franchise to children is no longer an anomaly if all the voters are treated as children. Like children, all the information they receive will be censored and filtered by their wise teachers, who get to decide what claims are misleading.

More deliberation

1. The government should fund a resource for stimulating deliberative discussion/debate about referendum

2. An official body should be tasked with providing a toolkit for members of the public to host own debates/deliberative events on the referendum

“Providing the toolkit” for debates is an example of the agenda-setting power.

3. Ofcom should conduct a review into an appropriate role for broadcasters to play in referendums, with aim of making coverage/formats more deliberative rather than combative/binary

It’s a referendum, for goodness sake. How can it be other than binary? Ah, I think I know. I came across many comments by Remainers saying that the simple option “Leave the EU” was too easy and the question in the corrective referendum should be broken up into multiple different flavours of Leave plus one flavour of Remain. This would have the happy effect of splitting the Leave vote.

We think our new report, ‘It’s Good to Talk: Doing Referendums Differently After the EU Vote’, will be a useful resource in tackling the big questions about where we go from here when it comes to referendums. We hope you agree.

I do not agree. The report suggests various measures that would reduce the chance that polite conversation will be interrupted by shouting. Another way of putting that is that the report puts forward measures to make it harder for angry, inarticulate people to be heard, harder for them to sense that they are not alone, harder for referendums to fulfil their function of yanking the people’s representatives back into contact with what the people actually want.

More than that though, we hope the recommendations we suggest lead to some genuine change so that the public get the referendum debates they deserve in the future.

The wording is revealing. Although the mention of the public getting what they deserve is meant politely rather than literally, debate is seen as something the public get given to them, not as something they do themselves, however raw and “combative” and “binary” it may be.

Regret is not a policy

I just heard, on the telly, the leader of the Lib Dems repeat his support for a return by Britain to the EU. Other Lib Dems on the same show are echoing him. The Empire Loyalists of our time. They’ll attract a small lump of enthusiasts, who will spend the rest of their lives insisting that they were right to oppose Brexit. And everyone else will watch and say: so what? Even most of those who voted Remain themselves. Regret is not a policy.

Brian Micklethwait

This was too perfect not to warrant a little post of its own.

Samizdata quote of the day

Let’s be clear: No deal is better than a bad deal.

Richard Tice, discussing Brexit.

How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party

A friend of mine reckons that Ex-Prime-Minister David Cameron’s plan was, all long, to extricate Britain from the EU. This theory reminds me of the similar things that were said about Gorbachev and the collapse of the old USSR. If Gorbachev had been a CIA agent, working to contrive the exact USSR collapse that happened, what would he have done differently? Very little. It’s the same with Cameron and Brexit. How could Cameron have done a better job of contriving Brexit than he actually did do?

You may say: Cameron might actually have argued for Brexit, in public. But if he had done that, then many of those north of England Labourites who hate Cameron might have voted Remain instead of Out, just to stick it to those out-of-touch Etonian bastards, the way they actually did feel they were sticking it to the Etonians by voting Out. And Britain might now be chained to the sinking ship that is the EU rather than liberated from it.

But, whether by design, as my friend thinks, or by accident, as most others assume, Brexit has unified the Conservative Party. With that observation, I move from the territory of undisprovable speculative diversion into the land of out-in-the-open truth. And I am not the only one who has noticed this.

For all of my adult life, the Europe issue has divided the Conservative Party. Until now.

→ Continue reading: How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party