When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his armies, in defiance of the Senate and to start a civil war against Pompey, he is supposed to have said: “Alea Iacta Est” or “The die is cast”. Of course, politicians like Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg (despite his Latin) are far from being Caesar, but they may have led Britain on a path of no return. British Prime Minister Theresa May’s consistent ability to disappoint but not surprise, whether it be in negotiating a deal with the EU, getting Brexit legislation through Parliament, or actually holding on to office, has destroyed all the fantasies Brexiteers sold and upheld all the nightmares Bremainers dreaded. So much so, that a petition to effectively stop Brexit has reportedly reached three million signatures whilst hilariously causing the government website to crash too! The big question is: should Britain really implement that referendum vote, especially after seeing the absolute chimera that has already emerged? Or has the die truly been cast?
The arguments made by those in favour of this petition or those demanding a second referendum are very compelling: The Irish border issue is simply too complicated to be resolvable after two years of worthless back-and-forth. Even notional agreement on a future relationship with the EU is hard to find, whether in Parliament or in government. The consequences of a no-deal Brexit will be severe and, with a weak government, it is bound to be more so. Clearly, staying on or asking the people again seem to be the least worst ways out of this mess. Moreover, Parliament is not technically bound by the referendum results. It is a Sovereign institution, as the UK Supreme Court so recently affirmed in the Miller case, and it can certainly choose to not make an Act of Parliament to implement Brexit plans.
However, as a patriotic foreign national having lived in this wet, grim, sad yet hauntingly beautiful country, I find this defeatist attitude hard to accept. Britain was once an Empire on which the sun never set, it was the country that ruled mine. This country has survived two World Wars and assisted in unleashing hell on Iraq and Afghanistan (read the Chilcot Report), it has a history of being aggressive and not backing down from a fight. So, sure, I may smile a little when I see its ignominious decline, but as someone who can’t help but love this country, I feel saddened too. How can Britain’s Parliament, which has been described as the “Mother of all Parliaments” ever seek to ignore the results of a referendum? How can a country that was once ready to find “Victory! Victory, at all costs” at the bidding of a drunk now find itself so easily losing? Have things really gotten so out of hand that even democracy finds itself being questioned?
While the British Parliament can certainly accept the demands of those who want another referendum or those who want Brexit stopped altogether, it would completely violate the ethos of what can be called Britain’s Constitution. Britain’s Constitution is ultimately political, it rests on tradition and time-tested conventions, and not on “Constitutional Acts” or the opinions of judges. The British Constitution reveals its core tenets through rituals and crowns and maces. It shows its fundamentally democratic nature through peculiar rituals like the House of Commons closing the door on the Black Rod’s face, when he (an official of the House of Lords) approaches the Commons to invite them for the Queen’s Speech every year at the first sitting of Parliament. Britain’s Constitution, in some senses, is an evolving agreement between its aristocracy and masses, from the Magna Carta, to the Petition of Right 1628, to the Bill of Rights 1688, and to the European Union Act 2011―which requires all big EU decisions to be put to a referendum. It is these ‘agreements’ that ensure the replacement of imperial authority with the rule of law and it is these agreements which ensure that Parliament simply does not “make or unmake any law whatever”. Through its age-old traditions and expensive rituals, the British Constitution ensures that the voice of the people is never ignored.
Now, one may contend here, and do so not in futility, that the people spoke in favour of Brexit due to severe misinformation and propaganda, (arguably) electoral malpractice and racism. One may also say that ignoring the 48% would be undemocratic too. But all of this simply ignores something very important about democracy: it is not supposed to give us the right answer all the time.Vox Populi Vox Dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God) does not mean God gets it right all the time, otherwise he would have made Eden snake-proof and without the Tree of Knowledge. But the fact still remains that when God commands you leave Eden (and the EU is far from Eden), you have to leave Eden. The nature of democracy is such that a popular vote on something can very well lead to bad decision-making. But one can do very little about that, this is a systemic flaw of democracy itself. One can seek to prevent misinformation or hateful propaganda before people step into the ballot box, but once the votes are counted and sorted according to all legal strictures, and the results declared, Caesar’s horse crosses the Rubicon. To try and go back is to threaten the ‘agreement’ on which British Constitutional Democracy rests, it is to say democracy shall only be sacrosanct when it is ‘right’.
The spirit of the EU Act 2011 was to ensure the public had the ultimate say in matters that majorly concerned the European Union. While it did not mandate Parliament be bound by what the public said, it seems nonsensical to assume it wanted umpteen referendums conducted in futility till the time those in power had the results they think they wanted. The EU Act does not imply anywhere that referendum results can ever be trivialised. Democracy has to be upheld. The referendum result has to be accepted. Britain has to leave the EU. Or else, it will tear itself apart, with chaos and anarchy―exactly the way in which it would fall apart in the event of no-deal. Those seeking to sabotage Brexit now will find themselves going from the frying pan and into the fire.
A student whose country fought the British in order to have democracy.
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