Sir Edward Leigh is Member of Parliament for Gainsborough.
The reason why I backed Brexit, alongside so many others, was to bring power back to those who could be held accountable. For too long have we seen vast powers shifted to Brussels where laws of broad impact are passed with a minimal level of scrutiny and accountability. The Government’s recent actions over the Opposition motion on Universal Credit attack the very core of why Brexit was necessary.
This is not about Universal Credit. It’s a sensible idea, and once its kinks are worked out it will provide a great boost to this country, encouraging people off handouts and into employment. By every measure, employment is the single best weapon against poverty and the Universal Credit seeks to strengthen what is already a very strong record on employment since we Conservatives entered government in 2010.
But to abstain from and refuse to respond to an opposition motion denigrates the very institution of Parliament itself. If the Government is to ignore a motion passed by Parliament just because it’s instigated by the Opposition, will it ignore motions of its own inspiration? If not, why not? I happen to be an MP from the party of government, but what about when the tables have turned? What if Comrade Corbyn is the one wielding power? Do we naively think we create exceptions that only we are allowed to make use of?
The essence of our system of government is that power is exercised by those who are scrutinised and held accountable by a parliament of democratically elected representatives. This has been our gift to the world: this is why our country is the Mother of Parliaments. Our parliamentary traditions may seem anachronistic, but that is entirely the point. They are there to take us out of our time and place and thereby to act for the common good by the standards of eternal truth.
Worse, this threatens Brexit on a technicality. I have been arguing about the need for goodwill in our negotiations with our friends in Europe. Even more so is it necessary for the Government to maintain goodwill with our own Parliament. These actions, meanwhile, leave a bad taste in the mouths of all MPs of goodwill. The House of Commons cannot be reduced to a mere debating society, passing irrelevant motions while the executive is not held accountable. This is what Opposition days and backbench debates are for!
The Government is in an awful twist, but let right be done. Let the Government make a statement this week in response to the motion, and let us forget this as a minor episode, a mere blip on the radar screen of our democracy. Let us uphold the traditions for which we are famous and which have made us the envy of many. The only alternative is to stumble blindly down the road to tyranny, where those who wield power are left unchecked.