Patience Wheatcroft has rushed valiantly to the barricades to defend the British people against referendum result that they themselves delivered on June 23rd. Casting aside the record turnout of 72 per cent, and the irritating fact that 1.4 million more people cast their votes for Reave” than Remain, Lady Wheatcroft believes that there is a majority in the Lords to defy the British people.
So thank goodness for the bravery of unelected peers who – despite not having to be put through the tawdry exercise of seeking legitimacy from the electorate to sit on those red leather benches – are none the less able to use their exalted position to save the people from themselves.
Hold the mayonnaise for a second, though! I fear there is a weakness in her case.
Wheatcroft’s fellow peer, Lord Norton of Louth, is a constitutional historian who has earned great respect for his views. He has said that even if the courts rule that the Government needs Parliamentary approval to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, “it would be wholly inappropriate for either House to try to prevent the Government from implementing the result of the referendum”.
Referendums may well be advisory – but it would take a very brave, privileged few to part the people from their chosen destiny.
When the devolution referendum in Wales took place in 1997, it too was advisory. Let us reflect on the result and the actions that followed –
Yes: 559,419 – 50.3 per cent of votes cast.
No: 552,698 – 49.7 per cent of votes cast.
Valid votes: 1,112,117
Turnout: 50.22 per cent.
How stunning: on fewer than a 7,000 vote margin, when over a million people had voted, not only did we not have a recount, but the Government of the day said that the people had spoken. (Well, actually just over a quarter of the people had spoken, but the Government didn’t prevaricate, and nor did those who had voted No attempt to wage a losers campaign of resistance. We moved on.
If you want to find an even more glaring example of where the people might have had every reason to reject a result, look no further than the general election of February 1974 –
Labour: 11,645,616 – 37.2 per cent (301 seats).
Conservative: 11,872,180 – 37.9 per cent (297 seats).
Liberal: 6,059,519 – 19.3 per cent (14 seats).
But the vagaries of the electoral system meant that, despite 226,000 more people voting Conservative than Labour, the people accepted that other minority parties could keep the party with the largest vote out of power. They even accepted that the system delivered more seats to the Labour Party, despite it winning fewer votes than the Conservatives.
So I find myself a little uneasy to be on the receiving end of unasked-for protection from the vagaries of democracy. from those unelected members of the Upper House.
Our system allowed fDavid Cameron to form a Government with 36.9 per cent of the vote in 2015. It has even allowed him to resign and be replaced with Theresa May. There is no provision for the necessity of a fresh general election.
The system has allowed for the sacking or exiting from government of the Chancellor of the Exchequer along with a number of other notables – including Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan, Theresa Villiers, Mark Harper, John Whittingdale and Oliver Letwin. It has allowed for new departments to be formed, such as the Department of Exiting the European Union, and the Department for International Trade.
The last referendum on the European question took place in June 1975. Since that time, British governments have signed up to a number of EU Treaties that transferred powers from the UK to the institutions of the EU – including The Single European Act, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon. Not one of these was put to the people via a plebiscite (despite us being promised one by Tony Blair on Lisbon). Surely if there were ever a time to take to the streets, brandishing lighted torches and with our hair tied with bloodied bandanas, it was then.
June 23rd was a day when the people were finally asked their views. They answered with a clear voice. Theresa May and I spoke prior to her becoming Prime Minister and told me that Brexit means Brexit – and, since then, she has spiritedly added “and we will make a success of it”.
For me that includes 100 per cent of our laws being made in the UK without us having to ask 27 other countries their permission. Pure democracy via a referendum delivered that result – and any peer who wants to defy the decision of the people will surely have to face the consequences.
“Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the sounds of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.”
(From Les Miserables.)
Tomorrow came on June 23rd 2016.