THIS is the conclusion reached by the Briefings for Brexit team in the days before the House of Commons votes on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement:
‘We see vastly more to fear from May’s deal, which could see us trapped in an inescapable backstop by international law, than from the probably minor disruptions of no deal.’
Not least of those fears is a constitutional crisis precipitated by the Government’s handling of Brexit. In a podcast exclusive to Briefings for Brexit (which we have their kind permission to republish) Professor Robert Tombs, one of Britain’s most eminent historians, reviews and deplores Mrs May’s autocratic approach to the Brexit negotiations, decries the sheer irresponsibility of Remainers’ drive for a second referendum and warns too of Parliament abusing its role.
Boni Sones, a freelance broadcaster (listen and learn, please, BBC interviewers), begins by asking him whether the demonstrable lack of consensus in Parliament about how now to respond does indeed constitute a constitutional crisis.
Professor Tombs’s responses are summarised with key quotes below the podcast which you can listen to here:
- It is Parliament’s job to vote out a Government, not to impose a policy on it. Until Gina Miller won her case it was unconstitutional for Parliament to decide on matters of international treaties. Yet Brexiteers should be grateful to her because without it Theresa May could have pushed her Withdrawal Agreement through.
- There would be an incipient constitutional crisis if Parliament decided to withdraw Article 50 in other words to override the results of the 2016 Referendum simply by saying ‘We, the House of Commons, are sovereign – quite new and quite wrong and not based by any political or historical common sense. Because Parliament after all is sovereign in the making of laws . . . but it is not sovereign against the will of the people. . . but (it is) never to say something you have voted for we will not do. That would be for Parliament, in this case the House of Commons to claim some sort of absolute sovereignty based on what? Well, on their superior knowledge? On their superior education? I don’t know. It seems to me that would be entirely to undermine the fundamentals of democracy as we have known it at least since the 19th Century and I would guess a lot earlier’.
- ‘The agitation for the “people’s vote” is one of the most irresponsible and damaging campaigns in the last hundred years . . . it is, certainly, inflaming tensions that already exist and doing it in a way that is either naive or deceitful.’ A second referendum would settle nothing, most likely leading to a third.
- ‘We have got to the point where many people in the country, including me, no longer trust the Government, no longer trust the House of Commons to behave in a way that is fair or democratic.’
- ‘We have seen that the EU is a really rather brutal and tough bureaucracy.’
- Political divisions over Brexit are not the consequences of a deeply divided country – at best a half-truth – rather it’s the politics that have aggravated the divisions.
- The EU does not work well for us. We are an economy based largely on services, with a structural trade deficit with the EU and a surplus with the rest of the world. Only 9 per cent of our companies trade with the EU, yet all are forced to obey EU regulations.
- ‘I think it’s really very serious that organs of the State . . . like the Bank of England and the Treasury have allowed themselves to be brought into this debate in an extremely partisan manner.’
- ‘It is clear the EU doesn’t want us to leave on any terms except its own.’ On the cost of this: ‘The £38billion we have agreed to pay in return for nothing equates to £2,000 for every family in Britain . . . MPs should think how they are going to explain this to their constituents . . . We’re doing the extraordinary thing of paying an awful lot of money in order to allow the EU to sell us an awful lot of goods. That doesn’t make any kind of sense at all.’
- Were we to follow the normal traditional parliamentary politics, Mrs May would be defeated by a large majority and would then resign: ‘I can’t think of a single case where the Prime Minister has been defeated on the major item of their policy and has remained.’
- ‘Theresa May . . . and Tony Blair have both led the country into pretty disastrous foreign adventures by taking decisions themselves without consultation, listening only to a small group, doing what they thought was right, not listening to what other people thought . . . (and) where as long as the Prime Minister [has] even a tiny majority in the Commons, she can act in a pretty dictatorial way, without consulting the Cabinet, without informing the Cabinet . . . by taking decisions in secret, refusing to publish legal advice, doctoring the information.’
- ‘We have to think how the Prime Minister can be brought within the normal confines of cabinet government and not be allowed to slip the leash in the way some recent Prime Ministers have done.’