Once upon a time there was a venerated institution in the not so distant land of Great Britain called parliament. In fact, it was called “The Mother of Parliaments” as countries around the world emulated its structures and system of representative democratic government.
Parliament became the legal and political platform on which the largest empire in the history of the world was built. Its members were respected and their opinions were sought in world councils.
But times change. The empire sank below the waves. If Britain was going to continue to prosper and retain political power than it needed to increase its voice by joining it with others—the European Union.
This made sense to many Brits, but not all. Some thought in terms of pragmatic economies of scale. Others felt with hearts which yearned for an imperial past and bridled at the thought of being told the size of their beer mugs by Brussels Eurocrats.
In a 1975 referendum “the metropolitan elite” (as they were later called) won the argument and Britain joined the Common Market. Thus began one of the most prosperous and stable phases of British history. Then Europe began to change. Other members wanted political as well as economic union and the Common Market morphed into the European Union with the reluctant agreement of successive British governments.
The reluctance of British politicians was down to the knowledge that moves towards European union would be interpreted as a loss of British sovereignty which was grist to Britain’s anti-European mill. This was especially true of the Conservative Party, whose members tended to view the days before EU membership through rose-tinted spectacles.
The party split between the pro and anti-EU factions. Then along came the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), offering a home for disaffected anti-European Tories. The party leadership was worried. So the conservative prime minister—David Cameron—called a referendum on British membership of the European Union. It was a clear-cut abrogation of parliamentary responsibility with the sole purpose of preserving conservative party unity.
The resultant campaign was long, bitter, and littered with character assassinations, misinformation, half-truths and lies. Immigration grew to rival sovereignty as a major issue as Brexiteers (as they became known) played on the latent xenophobia of an island nation. On June 23, 2016, 33.5 million British people voted by a margin of four percent to leave the EU. The new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, declared that Brexit was now the will of the people. The problem was that it was not the will of all the people. At least 48.1 percent of the electorate remained vehemently opposed to the referendum result and determined to overturn it. The result: A bitter national divide.
Theresa May called a general election to strengthen her hand in negotiations with the EU. She weakened it. Her slender majority disappeared and Mrs May became dependent on support from Northern Ireland’s far-right anti-EU Democratic Unionist Party which only strengthened the position of Tory Brexiteers and infuriated conservative Remainers. She spent most of the next two years negotiating not with the European Union but with the feuding factions within her own conservative party.
Eventually, a deal emerged which—because of the predicted problems around Northern Ireland—left the UK subject to EU rules for an indefinite period but without any say in the construction of those rules. Not surprisingly this was voted down by the House of Commons not once but twice—in overwhelming numbers. Mrs May’s government and her authority lie shredded on the floor of parliament. The British people are now faced with the unpalatable choice of the black abyss of a “no deal” Brexit,” accepting Theresa May’s bad deal with a third vote, remaining in the EU, or somehow or another cobbling together a mongrelised cross-party proposal that satisfies a majority of
The Mother of Parliaments has fallen from its pedestal and falling with is the British nation that it represents.
Tom Arms is editor of lookaheadnews.com