Theresa May Admits Blocking Brexit ‘Would Be a Subversion of Our Democracy’

Brexit
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
JACK MONTGOMERY

Theresa May has admitted that overturning the Brexit vote or re-running the 2016 referendum “would be a subversion of our democracy” in the House of Commons.

Speaking to parliamentary colleagues ahead of the so-called “meaningful vote” on her divisive Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, the Prime Minister said that stopping Brexit would be “saying to the people we were elected to serve that we were unwilling to do what they had instructed”.

An overwhelming majority of MPs voted to authorise a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, as well as to activate Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and kick off the two-year exit process.

Moreover, as the Government observed in a response to a petition where it promised not to force a second vote on EU membership, “it was the stated policy of both major parties that the decision of the people would be respected” — as well as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which currently props up her administration.

The Remain-dominated legislature’s members seem set on abrogating the manifesto commitments most of them made ahead of the 2017 snap election, however.

Most seem neither willing to accept the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU — which is opposed by a large number of Tory Brexiteers and the DUP for failing to deliver a genuine break with the bloc and even appearing to surrender control over Northern Ireland to it in a number of important ways — or to countenance the “clean, sovereign Brexit” on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms implied by their pledges to take Britain out of the EU Customs Union, Single Market, and associated Free Movement regime.

Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister gave another set-piece speech at a factory in Leave-voting Stoke-on-Trent, where she stressed that “We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum.”

“In the run-up to the vote, the Government sent a leaflet to every household making the case for Remain. It stated very clearly: ‘This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.’ Those were the terms on which people cast their votes,” she recalled correctly.

“Indeed we have never had a referendum in the United Kingdom that we have not honoured the result of. Parliament understood this fact when it voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50, and both major parties did so too when they stood on election manifestos in 2017 that pledged to honour the result of the referendum.

“Yet, as we have seen over the last few weeks, there are some in Westminster who would wish to delay or even stop Brexit and who will use every device available to them to do so.

“I ask them to consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy,” she warned.

“What if we found ourselves in a situation where Parliament tried to take the UK out of the EU in opposition to a Remain vote?” the Prime Minister asked rhetorically.

“People’s faith in the democratic process and their politicians would suffer catastrophic harm.”

Despite these interventions, however, it seems highly unlikely her deal will pass, with the number of MPs who have declared against it — Leaver, Remainer, Tory, and opposition alike — suggesting she is heading for a heavy defeat.

As the European Union (Withdrawal) Act has already been passed, a clean, No Deal Brexit will become the default if the deal fails — but a majority of MPs now seem determined to stop this.

The Withdrawal Act does allow for a Minister of the Crown to alter exit day, currently set for March 29th 2019, and in theory Parliament could pass legislation to block or delay Brexit while a second referendum is organised.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister could easily stop MPs from derailing Brexit or taking the reins of the executive by having the Queen prorogue (suspend) the parliamentary session until after March 29th, causing the legislation already implemented to take effect — but whether she the former Remain campaigner is sufficiently committed to Brexit to use this “nuclear option” remains to be seen.

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