Tim Farron: We now live in a dangerously divided society. MPs must bring the country together

Posted On: 
1st July 2016

It is now the duty of MPs to work together to mend these divisions. If we fail, we put at risk the whole democratic foundation of this country. 

Where does Parliament go now? The words ‘uncharted waters’ don’t quite capture just what uncertain times our country has found itself in since the early hours of last Friday morning.

With the prime minister resigning and Labour in leadership turmoil, much of the media focus has been on internal party politics, with the actual process of implementing Brexit completely ignored for the time being, but looming in the minds of most parliamentarians.

Matt Warman: Three-quarters of Boston voted Leave. Now promises must be kept

Ronnie Cowan: Expose Leave as the hotchpotch of chancers they are

Gisela Stuart: Brexit is the wake up call our political class badly needs

So what does Parliament do now? We’re not a country with much experience of referendums, and those we have had in recent years have opted for the status quo (though I know there’s a number of people who wished they’d supported AV now). The legislature does have a part to play, but perhaps not the one most people think.

First, the government needs to appoint a negotiating team to hash out an agreement with the other member states. Given EU funding touches every corner of our government, this would have to be cross departmental at the very least, and arguably could be cross party as well.

Once this team is established, Article 50 will have to be invoked before any formal negotiating begins. One thing that should be made clear is that Parliament does not have a binding vote on this. Parliament could vote against the adoption of any legislation linked to withdrawal – an amendment to or repeal of the ECA, for example – but this would not prevent Brexit if the UK Government had already notified the EU under Article 50.

During the withdrawal negotiations the UK is technically still a member and, alongside the negotiating business, would continue as usual until withdrawal took effect. This means existing EU law would continue to apply, but we also need to start thinking about which, if any, existing EU laws Parliament will revoke when our membership ends.

This may seem dry in comparison to the intrigue of party leadership coups, but it is absolutely critical we get this right. MPs already struggle to effectively scrutinise complicated legislation, especially when it’s related to finance, and this will add to the burden.

We now live in a divided country. Divided by region, by generation, by educational attainment. That level of division, especially when exposed for all to see in this way, is deeply dangerous.

It is a duty of Parliament to work together sensibly to start to mend these divisions. If we fail to do so, we put at risk the whole democratic foundation of this country, and will only serve to further distance ourselves from the people we are duty bound to represent. 

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale