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UK, Brexit and majesty of democracy

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General Secretary of Unite the Union, Len McCluskey, speaks to the media after a meeting at 10 Downing Street in central London on January 24, 2019. – Britain has been in a state of political upheaval since last week when parliament rejected the withdrawal deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May with the EU, leaving the UK on course for a no-deal Brexit on March 29. The political crisis in London comes against a backdrop of growing economic gloom, with business leaders warning politicians of the effects of Brexit uncertainty. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

The British government is currently embroiled in a messy and rather untidy journey into exiting the European Union (EU) two and half years after the British people voted for leaving the regional body.

Politicking, intrigues, intra and inter-party maneuverings have dominated the discourse since Prime Minister Theresa May accepted the position in 2016.

She has survived by the skin of her teeth a vote-of-no-confidence motion in her party.

The Tory government has also managed to scrape through a no-confidence vote. She was not so lucky with her Brexit proposal, which she had negotiated with Brussels. Her comprehensive proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by parliament.

The defeat by as many as 230 votes is said to be the largest defeat for a sitting government in the history of the British parliament.

Stiff opposition also came from ex-members of her cabinet, Tory MPs, MPs from other parties and, of course, Labour led by the boisterous Jeremy Corbyn.

May has now reached out to other political parties to fashion out a deal that would be acceptable to parliament and Brussels.

On the same night that her government survived a no-confidence vote by a slim majority of 19, she announced her intention to hold meetings with leaders of other parties including Labour.

While others agreed to have talks Corbyn has given a pre-condition to talks: he wants the PM to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

This the PM has also declared as a red line. It is strange that May never seemed to deem it fit to carry parliament and the other political parties along while negotiating with Brussels.

In all of this, the people are left in a quandary. Those who thought it would be smooth-sailing after the voting are worried about the squabble in parliament.

There is now talk of a possible second referendum. A group of prominent and powerful billion-dollar businessmen has joined the second referendum refrain.

Prime Minister May has ruled this out and she is bent on delivering the ‘Brexit instruction,’ which the people gave on 23rd June 2016.

The Brexit Deal, which she negotiated with Brussels was doomed once its contents became public. But the resolute Prime Minister decided to press on resulting in a massive rejection the other day.

As of now, no one is certain what would actually happen to the Brexit negotiations. Although the PM has invited other parties for a discussion, the atmosphere is cloudy yet.

Will the knotty Irish backstop be successfully handled? What becomes of hard borders between exited Britain and Northern Ireland? Should a no-deal option be considered? What are the implications of crashing out of the EU? Is there need for a re-think?

There is a sense in which Brexit can be considered part of the rise in nationalism, as a rejection of regionalism, which was once thought to be the ideal.

Britain joined the EU in 1973 and reconfirmed its membership in a 1975 referendum. But sentiments and current realities nurtured by new dynamics have taken centre-stage.

The influx of persons of different nationalities into the UK seemed to have sparked intense feelings of cultural and economic invasion.

For reasons of culture, language, security and history, the United Kingdom became a preferred destination for a majority of migrants whose rights were protected and secured under EU arrangements.

The British from the outset retained use of its currency, the pound sterling in place of the Euro. But EU laws, which impinged on British sovereignty could no longer be tolerated.

It was against this background that then British Prime Minister David Cameron conducted the now historical Brexit referendum.

The task before the British government and parliament now is to hammer out a deal that would satisfy both Brussels and the British people as represented in parliament.

On its part, Brussels is keenly watching developments, devoid of sentiments. France and Germany are already putting plans in place in case of a no-deal.

Besides, the upsurge in nationalism in Europe could be a threat to the EU itself.

Nobody is excited about Britain having its cake and eating it. This could be a bad precedence to other countries where Euro-skeptics are pushing a breakaway agenda. But this is all about the survival of business and improvement of life in Europe.

There are indeed fundamental lessons for all. There have been principled positions maintained by stakeholders in the Brexit drive both in the executive and parliamentary arms of government.

The Parliament is the people’s voice. It is not and should not be an outlet for fat cats to plunder the nation’s patrimony through outrageous perks and allowances.

The issue of accountability of elected officials has been crucial. The voting pattern in the British parliament, in this regard, has been a reflection of the consultations with constituents.

May has made it clear that the will of the people is supreme. There has been no attempt to subvert the rule of law to achieve desired goals.

In this clime, it is perceived as an offence for a party member to vote against the mainstream position.

This has not happened in the Brexit debate, making democracy such a beauty.

Some ministers resigned their cabinet positions in expressing the views of their constituents. This is indeed democracy at work and its majesty at its most regal.

Prime Minister May has so far carried out her duties and responsibilities as a determined, resolute and committed leader. She has stressed the primacy of the peoples’ wish in all her dealings with the EU and British parliament.

She may not be a model in consensus building but she has shown the tenacity and single-mindedness required of a leader. It is on record that she was originally opposed to Brexit.

However, once she accepted the mantle of leadership, she has stuck to the script in a most defiant and firm manner.

Though her deal has been defeated, it is not for lack of patriotism.But the time has come for her to backtrack a little so that the suspense and uncertainty in the country may be lifted.

She must learn to balance all the various interests as quickly as possible so that the nation may get on.

Sadly the opposition has not provided a viable alternative to the May proposal.

Some rebels within parliament are scheming to wrestle power from the government to enable parliament drive the process.

This will be antithetical to many years of convention and separation of duties.

Finally, the lesson from this is that government is all about the people.

The people are the sovereign upon whom no elected leader has the right to impose a narrow vision. Routine consultations should be encouraged and practised.

Without due consultations and listening to a diversity of views, elected officials could become detached from everyday reality.

As the world waits for May’s Plan B, it is hoped that politicians in young democracies around the world are imbibing the lessons of placing national interest above petty personal consideration.

It is hoped that they are learning the most edifying thing about democracy: that the people alone matter.


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