Brexit: A lesson in democracy from the mother of Parliaments — Geoffrey Williams

JANUARY 17 — The government is the servant, not the master, of the people. This is a fundament principle of democracy and of the United Kingdom, Conservative Party, the longest running and most successful political party in the world.

In the UK, when we vote for a government we do not vote for a new set of bosses who will push us around and tell us all what to do for five years. Nor do the British people fall into line and take instructions from the government without questioning their authority to issue such instructions.

In the UK we vote for a government that governs at the people’s pleasure, carries out the will of the people and fulfils its promises in its election manifesto. If they don’t do that we hold them to account or kick them out and vote for someone else.

Compare that to the European Union (EU) which has no less than five Presidents, none of whom are elected by popular vote among almost 500 million Europeans and none of whom can be removed by popular vote. Once they are elected they spend their time in office making up rules and forcing them on the people of the EU, sometimes without our knowledge, with little or no chance of amending or stopping them.

On June 23 2016 the British people, myself included, voted to leave the EU in a referendum that was the largest democratic exercise in our long democratic history. It was not, as some people say a close result. The 52-48 per cent vote to leave represents a margin of almost one and a half million people of all genders, races, social classes and political views. It was a vote for British sovereignty to reclaim our democratic control of our laws, our borders and our money.

Armed with this instruction from the people, the UK Government proceeded to push on and announced that it would invoke Article 40 of the Treaty of the European Union to formally leave the EU. The Supreme Court stopped them in their tracks. The judges ruled that the Government had no such power and that it was Parliament not the Government that must trigger Article 40.

This placed the power firmly in the hands of the people’s representatives in the House of Commons. Using this power 81 per cent of Members of Parliament voted to instruct the Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 unconditionally.

In the run-up to the Brexit date on 29th March 2019, the UK Government has negotiated a withdrawal agreement in good faith – the EU has not. The final, non-negotiable offer from the EU included a so-called, “backstop” clause which would have effectively kept the UK under the influence of the EU Customs Union without any option to withdraw unilaterally.

Worse still it would have kept a whole region of the UK in Northern Ireland effectively under the control of EU laws with no chance of changing or revoking those laws. This would have split the UK and was totally unacceptable to the British people.

Outraged at the terrible deal Theresa May had negotiated Conservative MPs held her to account in a challenge to her leadership. She defeated the no confidence vote with a majority of 83 and cannot be challenged again for twelve months. This allowed her to push on with her terrible deal with no changes as if she was the master of all she surveyed.

But the people took control again and her withdrawal agreement was overwhelmingly rejected earlier this week by 68 per cent of those voting in the House of Commons. This is the largest majority in recent history with 230 MPs voting against the Government, including 118 members of the governing Conservative Party. Last night the Government defeated a vote of no confidence and so remains in office – but it is clear that they do so at the pleasure of the people and they are accountable to the will of the people.

As a result of this democratic maelstrom, Theresa May as the servant of the people, is actually in a very strong position. She cannot be challenged as leader of the Conservative Party for twelve months, her government has defeated a vote of no confidence and so will battle on and she can now go to the EU to state clearly that there is no deal on the table and they must renegotiate or risk the loss of one of their largest Member States without any plan as to how to respond.

In the current febrile environment it may be foolhardy to make predictions but here is mine for what it’s worth. Theresa May will survive, the British Government will not fall and the European Union will give the UK the deal it wants.

The UK will leave the European Union in March on the terms that the British people want. We will continue our positive relationship with our friends in Europe and we will widen and deepen our relationships with our friends around the world, including of course here in Malaysia and the rest of the Commonwealth.

This will happen because it is the will of the British people and because the full and awesome force of British democracy will deliver it.

Worry not, we will prevail.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.