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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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MPs will continue to do what we think is right – whatever threats come our way

3 min read

MPs are not part of a ‘treacherous’ conspiracy against our country or ‘betraying democracy’ by scrutinising Brexit, writes Labour's Diana Johnson

Yesterday in the Commons I raised the abuse, threats and accusations of ‘treachery’ that MPs have been receiving on ‘social’ media and elsewhere for the heresy of carrying out our job of scrutinising the government.  

Along with many other MPs, I have been accused of being a ‘traitor’ and had Facebook postings calling for me to be shot and hanged. My fellow Yorkshire MP Paula Sherriff also told the House about the barrage of threats she had received, including that she should “have her head cut off”.

It outrages a few that MPs are taking seriously the role of scrutinising the Government’s Brexit proposals, and judging whether they honour the promises made in 2016, rather than just rubber-stamping whatever Theresa May puts forward. Some are equally offended whether MPs vote for or against the Prime Minister’s deal.

The same people cannot separate how MPs voted as private citizens in the referendum from our role as MPs. Some resent us trying to represent all our constituents, seeking to understand why many who felt ignored and left behind voted Leave, and reconciling the many differing views – from Leave voters alone – about the way forward and what Brexit should mean.

In 2016 I thought the potential to destabilise our economy just a decade after the global banking crisis was not a sensible step to take, but as an MP I accepted the referendum result and voted to activate Article 50 negotiations – on the Prime Minister’s advice.

Moreover, whatever the academic merits of ‘direct democracy’, the simplistic binary choice in the advisory referendum was an inadequate means of resetting our relationship with a complex list of international institutions in an increasingly globally inter-connected world.

That’s why Parliamentary representatives elected more recently than the referendum have been seeking a route out of what is widely seen as a quagmire.

It’s not merely the Prime Minister’s description of MPs using the democratic process to resolve differences as an “indulgence” that concerns me, but the right that some award themselves to question the patriotism of MPs who fail to act as delegates nodding through a blind Brexit or No Deal chaos.

This is why I called for a debate about what patriotism is – and what it isn’t – allowing Members to highlight what unites us rather than what divides us. We have neglected this lately.

The patriotism I know celebrates what makes us proud of our country rather than just being hostile to others, promotes Britain’s historic achievements and its contribution to human progress.

It is a story about hundreds of great Britons – not just William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill and various monarchs; but a multitude of very different individuals such as William Wilberforce, Amy Johnson, Prof Stephen Hawking, Emily Wilding Davison, George Orwell, Alan Turing and Bobby Moore.

It is also the story of groups who fought collectively for great progressive causes – such as the Bryant and May match-women of 1888, the Hull Headscarf Revolutionaries of 1968 and the Poplar councillors of 1921.

Our country was built on migration, trade and the gradual advancement of knowledge, culture, freedom and democracy. It was also about building alliances around the World – not inward-looking isolationism.

For MPs from all sides of the House of Commons loving our country is about wanting the best for our country. We are not part of a ‘treacherous’ conspiracy against our country or ‘betraying democracy’. Quite the opposite.

As Speaker John Bercow said: “None of you is a traitor and all of you are doing your best”. This is what we shall try to do – our best – whatever threats come our way.

Diana Johnson is Labour MP for Hull North


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