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22 January 2019updated 25 Jul 2021 3:42pm

Layla Moran: If the Prime Minister cannot compromise, then parliament must take control

Brexit has exposed weaknesses in our democracy – but that doesn’t make us any less democratic.

By Layla Moran

Brexit is a clustershambles and public opinion of politicians at an all-time low. And when we have people like Boris Johnson outright lying about having not mentioned Turkey during the Leave campaign in a recent speech, I can see why.

But, I take a more positive view. Brexit is the most complex and difficult political decision our country has had to take in mine and many other lifetimes. It has exposed weaknesses in our democracy and deep divisions in our society. Yet, while tempers are high and rhetoric emotive, we are disagreeing transparently, and in a largely peaceful way. Despite it all, I believe that we should be proud of our country and that we will find a way through.

It is no recent phenomenon for MPs to take differing viewpoints on what constitutes national interest and how best to get there. Luckily for me, my views align with those of my constituents and party; the Liberal Democrats are unabashedly pro-European and are unapologetically up-front about our pursuit of a democratic way to stay in the EU.

But those seamless alignments do not apply to many, or most MPs, and that, combined with the enormity of the decision, an unusually fractured government, a hung and highly frustrated parliament and the five-year fixed term Parliament Act, means we have drifted into uncharted waters.

With the deal defeated by a whopping 230 votes last week and an inflexible PM wedded to her red lines, relationships between government and the legislature are in danger of breaking down. 

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Personally, I believe it was right for Speaker Bercow to bend the rules to give the reigns to MPs. But if parliament is to remain sovereign over the executive – something fundamental to a properly functioning democratic system – we must challenge this government at every opportunity. For many, evolving parliamentary procedure to redress the balance, as Bercow has, is bound to be uncomfortable; but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be challenged.

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Brexit has certainly exposed an ugly underbelly of our democracy. It is clear to me that we must ensure that the many Leave voting communities must never be left behind again.

You’ll be unsurprised to read that I believe many of the answers lie in Liberal Democrat values, founded on a belief in a democracy that truly reflects, responds and represents the concerns of its citizens.

I’ve never been more passionate about fighting for a fair, proportional voting system. Swathes of the electorate cannot continue to be systematically ignored as they are now, and we must acknowledge that not all decisions are best made in Westminster. Now is the time to reignite the debate about full-scale devolution and introducing regional assemblies in England with real power.

Finally, I don’t believe we can put the referendum genie back in the bottle – but I do think it is not immutable. I like the idea of a Citizen’s Assembly that has been used in Ireland, providing a forum in which to discuss the nuances of an issue before deciding if and how it should be put to the people.

What next for the current saga? We are certainly entering a new phase, one where frank discussion and pragmatism must prevail over ideology, in the time-honoured British way.  Now is the time for the Prime Minister to listen and compromise. And if it cannot or will not do that, parliament must take control.

Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West & Abingdon.

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