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11 September 2017

MPs get to vote on Theresa May’s £1bn bung to the DUP – so let’s hold them accountable

The hard right of the Tory party is too often indulged. 

By Gina Miller

Theresa May once used to take pride in being regarded as a ”bloody difficult woman”. If that phrase means an individual who is concerned with putting her country’s interests above all else, an absolute stickler when it comes to the details and never giving up when right is on her side, then I’m afraid she isn’t remotely difficult. On the contrary, for the hard right Brexiteers around her, she is a pushover. 

I care about our laws and our constitution, because I recognise they keep us free and indeed define us as a great nation. A lot of individuals seem to think mob rule is preferable – Rhodri Philipps, the 4th Viscount St Davids, was jailed for going online to incite someone to kill me – but I refuse to be intimidated by him, or, for that matter, the right-wing pro-Brexit press. Upholding the law is more important than any of them, or me, or even Mrs May.

Those who oppose me resort to name-calling, threats and, depressingly often, overt racism only because they know they cannot engage with my arguments on a rational basis. If they could only see it they are not arguing with me: they are arguing with the laws of the land.

The rule of the mob must never prevail and that’s why – along with the  Independent Workers Union of Great Britain who stand shoulder to shoulder with me – I am determined to see that Brexit is implemented in a way that bears close inspection.

There was of course a sense in parliament and beyond that the £1bn Mrs May agreed with the Democratic Unionist Party to put the way of Northern Ireland didn’t feel right. There were darkly comic jokes at time about how the country would soon be labouring under a ‘”bung parliament”.

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It was no use just moaning about it, however. I took the view, with the union, that the legality of it had to be tested. We could not be vague about this.

The government’s lawyers have confirmed that the payment will be made with parliament’s consent, but the lack of explanation up to this point reveals a lot about how little transparency we are being afforded during this whole Brexit process.

The payment will be included in the government’s estimates for the Northern Ireland office, which must be approved by the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  A more challenging question then occurs for our elected representatives in the House of Commons. When, eventually, this matter comes to be debated, will they allow it to pass without challenge? 

First, in the High Court and, then, after the government’s appeal in the Supreme Court, I fought for parliament to have its say on whether Article 50 should be triggered. But I will be honest: I despaired as I watched the debate that followed and saw MP after MP vote not according to their consciences but the demands of their party whips.

I hope against hope that, this time, MPs will dare to do what they feel is right when it comes to the vote. I want them to be themselves. They must understand that a dangerous precedent will otherwise be established if this “bung” – which so obviously flies in the face of everything we should hold dear in our democracy – is once again just nodded through. 

There is perhaps an even more fundamental issue at stake here which is: if the government cannot be relied upon to keep to the law, then who honestly can? Already, the Lords constitution committee has accused the Prime Minister of ignoring its clear criticism of the Brexit legislation she is trying to introduce.

Worse, the Lords committee has claimed that May and David Davis, the Brexit secretary, selectively quoted its very clear warning to them, in order to give the public the impression it was, on the contrary, somehow endorsing their actions. 

In an ideal world, it should of course be the government rather than a private citizen or a trade union that is on the side of law and order. I yearn for the time I can bow out of this, and leave the powers that be to it. I will, however, only do so when I am convinced they will do this according to the law and the constitution.

For all that, I do not believe that May is a fundamentally dishonest person. I do believe, however, that she is paying far too much heed to the hard right in her party and allowing them their every wish when it comes to Brexit.  It wouldn’t do the country any harm at all if, just for once, May did actually become that bloody difficult woman. So far as the law and the constitution is concerned, it doesn’t do to be easy-going.

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