Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
The European Union is democratically flawed and vulnerable to corruption. Even some of the most passionate EU apologists would accept this. Instead, they have argued that it must be reformed from within, and that, by remaining in this failing institution, Britain can somehow radically change the culture and structure of its institutions.
British voters, however, disagree. A supranational bureaucracy, which assumes power over policy areas previously controlled by national governments, can never be free from corruption or accountable to voters. Those elected to represent Britain in the EU Parliament have so little power to influence the legislation put forward by the Commission that there is almost no point in writing to them about anything.
We voted to take those decision-making powers back to the British Parliament, so that the politicians that we elect, and that are held accountable at the local and national level, can take decisions on our behalf. We believed that our MPs would be free from corruption and, unlike the faceless bureaucrats of the European Commission, implement policies that are voted for in elections and referendums.
Were we wrong to assume these things? Were we naive to believe that Westminster was any less corrupt than Brussels? Last week has made many wonder if British politics is broken beyond repair.
The Speaker, who is supposed to be impartial, refused to select an amendment ruling out a second referendum which was signed by 127 MPs, including the entirety of the DUP and 13 members of the Labour Party. Naturally, however, he did select an amendment backed by Remainers calling for another referendum, leaving no one in any doubt about his political sympathies.
And whilst the vote on ruling out No Deal was not legally binding, since the departure date is already enshrined in law, it was an insight into just how many MPs are willing to put their names to weakening the UK’s negotiating position. If they had voted to reiterate their support for No Deal to remain the fallback position, EU leaders might indeed have some motivation to make provide legal assurances on the backstop. As it is, those MPs who voted against leaving with No deal simply voted to make a good Brexit more difficult.
This week, all eyes will be on a possible third meaningful vote, and I don’t envy Brexiteer MPs who must decide between risking a delay or no Brexit at all; or else signing up Britain to a deal which could make this country a permanent rule-taker. May’s deal gives the EU all the cards in the next stage of the negotiations, leaving Britain in a weakened position, and likely to be forced into signing up to a half in/half out arrangement.
Everyone knows that large-scale political change in Europe is all but impossible. As EU leaders push for further federalisation and less sovereignty for national governments, ordinary citizens in Europe will have little power to change anything at all. Their votes will count for less, and the threat of the ballot box will no longer be a consideration for those at the very top of the Brussels bureaucracy.
But we all believed that big political change in Britain was possible. There was a healthy scepticism about politicians but, at the end of the day, nobody believed they would mislead us all about their intention to implement Brexit. After the referendum, even the likes of Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry said that they would accept the decision and not try to reverse it. Then we had an election during which the Conservative and Labour Party manifestos both committed to implementing a clean Brexit. It would have been unprecedented, surely, for so many MPs of those parties then to turn around, and defy that election promise?
I believe that the actions of politicians over the last two years have seriously weakened trust in the political system. But I do not believe the damage is beyond repair. Voters still have the opportunity to fire those MPs at the next election. Meanwhile, Brexit hasn’t been stopped yet. There is still hope. Only 85 MPs voted in favour of a second referendum. The rest know that another public vote on Brexit would be damaging for democracy, not to mention damaging for their own careers.
If Brexit is halted, the ideals that we strived towards in that vote – the rights of every citizen in this land to elect those whom rule over them – will not disappear. Universal suffrage and the rights of the individual are both ideals that we will continue to defend and advocate.
One of the most condescending arguments I’ve heard of late is that because so many Leave voters had never voted before, they were politically disengaged and therefore won’t notice if we simply fail to leave. I don’t believe this to be the case at all. The fact that so many voted for the first time in their lives proves that those who had lost all faith in the system believed there was still hope for change.
The last two and a half years have vindicated all those who feared the political system was geared against the little guy. But unlike the European Union, this system can still be saved. Our politicians may yet deliver Brexit. And if they don’t, we will find a way to vote for politicians that will.
For those who say that all is lost, I understand. The response to EU referendum result has been deeply disappointing. But Westminster is not yet as elitist and undemocratic as Brussels. We must not allow our disappointment in politicians to override our determination for independence. Many reading this will be Conservative voters, in one form or another. You still have your voice, and you still have a vote. Use it.