Gisela Stuart: If parliament fails to implement Brexit, it will have failed as a democratically representative body
Delivering Brexit must be the first task of the new parliament - hung parliament or not, says Gisela Stuart.
It all seemed so straight forward. The referendum result was clear -take back control of borders, laws and taxes as well as trade. Trigger Article 50 to start the process of leaving the EU. Call general election to increase parliamentary majority as well as gaining an additional two years to allow for a period of transition before another general election in 2022.
And then voters thought otherwise. They returned to two party politics, gave the SNP a bloody nose, and went on to reduce the government’s majority. Indeed, it is a minority government that has to negotiate our leaving the EU and provide the proper legislative framework.
So, what happened.
First, it all started to go wrong with the manifesto. The electorate were looking for a way to ease austerity and begin the renewal of Britain outside the EU. The Conservative policy offer was the opposite and although the overall narrative had much to commend it, the perceived attack on the inheritance of the family home to pay for social care, the replacement of school lunches with breakfasts, fox hunting and other policies went down badly and are what people noticed.
Second, Theresa May had a dreadful campaign. Never mind what was in the manifesto – she could not tell a coherent story, made herself appear unpredictable with a number of sharp U-turns and looked like she’d rather run away from voters than establish a relationship with them. Her candidates went into battle putting her at the front of the campaign.
Labour on the other hand did the opposite. Sitting MPs not only made no mention of their party leader on their leaflets, they made Jeremy Corbyn not becoming Prime minister part of their offer to the electorate. Vote for me, you don’t want a Tory government and a Tory MP! Jeremy Corbyn himself ran a presidential campaign. He was driven by creating a personal momentum of support which would overcome his MPs reservations of his leadership abilities. The young liked the retail offer of his campaign. But let us not forget that this is the third general election which we have lost. And don’t be fooled by all the talk of “if only the MPs had been more loyal we would now have a Labour government”. The MPs who stood for re-election where disciplined and loyal, they didn’t mention Jeremy!
A divided House faces a generational challenge. It must negotiate our decision to leave the European Union. A decision which was accepted by both the major parties’ election manifestos.
And however difficult this may seem at the moment, if parliament fails to implement the decision then it will have failed in its basic function as a democratically representative body which reflects the will of the people.
The coming months must be guided by three basic principles. First, the broad outline of the referendum decision is clear. The people want their UK parliament to have the final say over its laws, its immigration policy, its taxes and its trade negotiations. And as John McDonnell acknowledged on the Peston on Sunday programme immediately after the election, that means that staying in the Single Market or a model like Norway’s relationship would not give effect to the referendum outcome.
Second, we enter the talks with the EU as equals. We are one of the world’s largest economies, we are a permanent member of the UN security council and we were the EU’s second largest net budget contributors. Trade with the EU is as important to the UK as it is to the EU. Free and frictionless trade is in everyone’s interest. The UK will have to accept that the cohesion of the eurozone will be the driving imperative for the EU27. The Commission will have to decide what it can and cannot do in future, as there seems little appetite by member states to increase their contributions to make up for the loss of the UK. There will be a bit of sniggering and condescension when the talks start, but our negotiators are there to implement the will of the UK.
Third it will be as simple or as complicated as we chose to make it. Parliament could sit over the summer to pass enabling legislation. Much of existing legislation can be taken over and changed as and when the need arises.
Those who still have not come to terms with the outcome of the referendum now talk about stopping a chaotic Brexit. This is all sophistry. The people have expressed their will to leave the EU and the broad principles are clear. Democracy demands that we implement the referendum decision. We are leaving the EU and that is the first task of this elected parliament – hung parliament or minority administration.