On Friday 2 December, the Liberal Democrats effectively launched their campaign to reverse Brexit. People in the Richmond Park constituency voted for Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democratic candidate, in the by-election triggered by Zac Goldsmith’s decision to resign as Conservative MP and stand on a point of principle as an independent, in opposition to the Heathrow Airport expansion proposals. Olney won 49.6% of the vote compared with Goldsmith’s 45.1%.

Sarah Onley enters Parliament. Source: BBC

Sarah Onley enters Parliament. Source: BBC

The LibDem candidate won the majority of the voters’ support, but there is very little else that’s democratic about Olney’s victory. They’ve honoured the democratic process in participating the by-election but the content of their ideas about the national Referendum vote is anti-democratic.

Sarah Olney’s manifesto states,  “She’ll vote against the government invoking article 50 if she is elected.” On the eve of their win, party leader Tim Farron declared the LibDem intention to overturn the majority national vote and to campaign for a second referendum. Farron claims to want to protect British people from hard Brexit: Brexit “must not now end up with a stitch-up, with a deal being imposed on the British people that absolutely nobody voted for”.

The LibDems disrespect for democracy is such that they decided to use a local by-election to express their rejection of the national majority vote to Leave the EU in the June 2016 Referendum. The LibDems and local groups representing the privileged remainers of Richmond Park, campaigned for Olney in an attempt to use a local vote as the springboard for overturning a national vote.

Let’s remember that along with the majority of other MPs in 2015, the LibDems voted to give the people sovereignty, the final say, over whether we should pull out of the EU or not.  But, not liking the majority decision, the not-Lib-not-Dems are desperately trying to find ways of overturning it.

They say Olney’s win was a vote against hard Brexit and will use it to encourage MPs to demand a Second Referendum on the details of Brexit. The Lib-Dems want to stitch up democracy by trying to tie the act of officially leaving the EU (triggering Article 50) to a set of “red line” conditions that effectively partially retain the UK’s ties to it.

Although their Constitution says: “We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people”, they are playing a dangerous anti-democratic game by refusing to honour the referendum result – which expressed the British public’s desire for sovereignty. The claim that people didn’t know what they were voting for is belied by the fact that people voted to Leave the EU despite the doom-laden threats of disaster perpetrated by the Remain campaign.

The LibDems perfidy as standard-bearers for the campaign to rescind (one way or another) the referendum results exposes them as the ant-democratic political party that they really are. Their delaying tactics, their attempts to throw doubt on what people voted for, creates confusion in place of the clarity of the people’s vote.

Fallon accuses Prime Minister Theresa May of “perverting” the vote by rejecting EU policies and working towards a complete withdrawal from the EU, but this is what the majority of the electorate voted for. This is not a perversion of the vote. This WAS the vote!

Farron and the LibDems are entitled to, and should, campaign for particular policies they want on the UK’s relationship with the EU, as well as its wider foreign and economic policies. But their attack on all attempts to push forward with Brexit reflects a total disrespect for the people’s will and an arrogant assumption that MPs know better than the people.

We can support democracy and recognise that people sometimes vote or support anti-democratic ideas. In Richmond, people voted for a candidate taking an anti-democratic stand on the June referendum results. So be it – the residents of Richmond Park have expressed their view. But these residents are still on the side of the minority, and though we should listen to their concerns, these concerns should not overturn the essential demand of the June Referendum, which was to take back control from the EU on a wide range of policies from control of borders to management of international trade relations.

INVOKE DEMOCRACY NOW! is here to point out the anti-democratic drift of our political times. If democracy is to mean anything in Britain, we must fight for it, not just assume it will remain without a struggle. Even actions and policies called democratic these days are not necessarily so.

Still think Parliament hasn’t been involved in Brexit?

In the wake of the High Court ruling (BBC, 3rd November) that the government does not have the power to trigger Article 50 – to start formal exit negotiations with the EU – without the approval of Parliament, here are the ways Parliament has already been involved in the processes of a Brexit fitting the wishes of the people. 

Here is some political context for the legal challenge:

  1. Parliament gave their sovereign mandate on whether to leave the EU to the people by approving the 2015 Referendum Act – in effect judges are ignoring the democratic will of millions of people who voted because MPs gave them the final say on whether we leave the EU.
  2. When judges focused on the 1972 law (that binds us to the EU), their conclusions imply it trumps the 2015 parliamentary act where MPs gave the people the deciding voice, regardless of legal issues binding us to the EU. 

Theresa May is not restricting peoples rights by using the Royal Prerogative (as implied by our  High Court Judges focused on the 13th century agreement where merchants demanded the monarch did not restrict their rights using the Royal Prerogative). She is simply using this executive power to honour the people’s vote – a rare use indeed of the RP, but nevertheless that’s what she’s doing: The People’s Prerogative!

For all her faults, it is also unfair to say that Theresa May has ignored Parliament since coming to office because:

  • It is widely acknowledged that MPs are to be given a vote to undo the 1972 Act that binds us to the EU. 
  • There have already been debates in parliament over what kinds of negotiations/policies the government should be pushing for with the EU

She could do better of course in raising debates (her team keep saying they’re not going to give a “running commentary” on negotiations) but that’s all part of politics and how it works in parliament – contestation over policies, leadership, debates, laws, motions, votes etc….

The MPs against honouring the nation’s decision

25 June 2016: David Lammy MP (Lab) called on MPs to disregard the vote and “stop this madness.”

26 June 2016: Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) says she would ask MSPs to refuse to give their “legislative consent” to Brexit.

27 June 2016:  Ken Clarke (Con) asked the Prime Minister in Parliament if MPs could decide if the vote was in the national interest and if the UK could join the European economic area to restore order.

27 June 2016: Angus Robertson (SNP) said “we have no intention whatsoever of seeing Scotland taken out of Europe.”

29 June 2016: A group of MPs including Catherine West (Lab), Daniel Zeichner (Lab) say they will “vote against Brexit” if they can in parliament. Geraint Davies (Welsh Lab) and Jonathan Edwards (Plaid Cymru) demand a Second Referendum.