Edmund Burke told his voters in Bristol that an MP “owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”. His constituents agreed, they elected another candidate.
A majority in Parliament is intent on wrecking Brexit. It was asked by popular vote to implement the details, not to decide against it.
MPs are not ciphers to be bullied into betraying their principles and beliefs, they must use their judgement. But if this changes from their unambiguous promises when elected – perhaps honestly, in the light of changed circumstances or new information – they should resign their seats and ask their constituents whether they still want their changeling representative in Parliament.
Most Labour MPs and many Conservatives should resign their seats and offer themselves again on new promises. Any who want to vote for May’s deal, a Norway-style deal or no Brexit are breaking their party’s commitment to leave the European Union, including the Single Market and the Customs Union. Some MPs would get the backing they asked for, others wouldn’t, but we’d know the people’s current wishes. Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless had the honesty to ask for their voters’ support when they changed their allegiance from Tory to UKIP; Carswell got their backing, Reckless suffered the same fate as Burke; although he won his by-election he was defeated at the 2017 General Election, probably for different reasons – mostly May’s awful campaign.
Why not have a General Election?
Since this issue affects around half the House it might seem simpler and more appropriate to have a General Election but we’ve had one already and these MPs intend to renege on their promises so it’s pointless to give them the same opportunity. They need to stand again on this specific issue rather than hide behind other, less crucial promises in their manifestos.
What about another referendum then?
So why not another ‘people’s vote’? For the same reason – because that’s an instruction to Parliament which we now know isn’t binding even when that is what was promised. MPs who are standing by their commitments should see them through, those who can’t should ask for a new mandate.
The 2016 referendum on staying in or leaving the European Union asked a simple question on a complex issue. The largest number of UK citizens, ever, cast their votes to leave the Union but are clearly about to be overruled by those who think they know better what is good for them. The losers complain of lies by the Leave campaign, specifically concerning the £350 million it said we send to Brussels each week. Both sides exaggerated or told half-truths but this figure came from Treasury sources even though it may have been wrong. Furthermore it can be shown to be a lot less than the real cost of EU membership .
So the real argument should be about whether the economic gains of membership exceed the costs. That’s a fair question; we don’t think they do .