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Parliament against the People

This past week (and the three years that preceded it) have graphically shown how remote and divorced from the lives of ordinary people members of the House of Commons have become. The outrage from some quarters over the removal of the party whip from twenty-one Conservative Members of Parliament is yet another indication of how out-of-touch MPs now are. And not just on the Tory side either.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson’s declaration that she and her party want a second referendum on the departure of the UK from the EU, and that they would ignore the result if it was for anything other than remain, shows that the Lib-Dems are neither liberal nor democratic. Swinson is also among those who has criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to expel those twenty-one Tories from the party. Yet what else could he do? What else would he do?

Cast one’s mind back to 2015 for a moment. However ill-advised it may have been, the calling of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU was supported by a big majority in the House.

The European Union Referendum Act 2015 was the Act of the Parliament that made legal provision for a pre-legislative referendum to be held in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, on whether it should remain a member state of the European Union or leave it. The bill was introduced to the House of Commons by Philip Hammond, then Foreign Secretary, on 28 May 2015. Two weeks later, the second reading of the Act was supported by MPs from all parties except the SNP; the Act subsequently passed its third reading in the Commons on 7 September 2015 and was approved by the House of Lords on 14 December 2015. Royal Assent was granted on 17 December 2015 and it came into full legal force on 1 February 2016.

This act required a referendum to be held on the question of the UK's continued membership of the European Union before the end of 2017. The bill did not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this was a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented, unlike, for example, the Republic of Ireland, where the circumstances in which a binding referendum should be held are set out in its constitution.

However, David Cameron’s government then sent out a leaflet to all households across the country which stated: ‘This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide’.

That principle was then followed by all parties and innumerable MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Dominic Grieve and others, all of whom said very clearly (more than once) that the UK would leave the EU in accordance with the will of the majority of votes cast.

As to what type of referendum it was, there is little point on having one if the result is to be ignored. To do anything other than as the majority of people voted would be a betrayal of those people as well as democracy itself.

So why hasn’t the UK left?

It hasn’t because a core of MPs have indeed betrayed the country by not following the referendum result and they have further betrayed the country by seizing power from the government with their parliamentary machinations to secure that power for themsel