MPs should be applauded as heroes for saving our democracy

By defying the lies and bullying of Boris Johnson’s shameless government, members of all parties have done their duty. 

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British politics is broken, we are told. Its institutions have failed. I beg to differ.

Before this week Boris Johnson’s plan was to suspend parliament and, while pretending to negotiate with Brussels, run down the clock to October 31 when Britain would crash out of the European Union by default.

It was a damn close-run thing, to coin a phrase, but he has been thwarted. Parliament has done its job. It has seen off his attempt to circumvent the very body whose sovereignty the Brexiteers have always claimed they want to restore.

Thanks to 21 courageous Conservative MPs who put their country before their careers, and the diligence of those senior Labour MPs who managed to keep Jeremy Corbyn in line, Johnson has lost all of his first three parliamentary votes since becoming prime minister.

The Commons first seized control of its own timetable. It then passed legislation obliging Johnson to seek a three-month extension of Britain’s EU membership should he fail to secure a withdrawal deal by 19 October. Lastly it has rejected Johson’s demand for a snap general election before that legislation becomes law.

But whether, in private, Johnson and his sinister Downing Street svengali, Dominic Cummings, are downcast is another matter. It may turn out that parliament has unwittingly played into their hands.

The government has lost its majority. An election is inevitable, sooner rather than later. And when it comes Johnson has made no secret of his strategy. Aside from attacking Corbyn as a Marxist, and bribing voters with billions of pounds of their own money, our rabble-rousing prime minister will cast a Conservative party purged of its Remainer rump as the champion of a people whose will is being flouted by a treacherous, undemocratic parliamentary establishment.

That way he will hope to neutralise Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, and to offset losses to the SNP in Scotland and the Liberal Democrats in the south by stealing dozens of Leave-supporting Labour constituencies in the north and Midlands.

That will be, of course, another grotesque distortion of the truth from our congenitally mendacious prime minister, so it is important to set the record straight. There is a reason why parliament three times blocked Theresa May’s divorce deal, and that is because it bore no relation to the swift, easy, cost-free Brexit leading to a land of milk and honey that Johnson and his fellow Leavers promised in the 2016 referendum. It would have taken us out of the EU’s single market and customs union and caused great harm to the economy.

A no-deal Brexit would be even more catastrophic — so catastrophic, in fact, that the government is concealing the likely consequences from the “people” it professes to champion: shortages of food and medicine, rising prices, bedlam at airports, miles-long queues at sea ports. And those are just the immediate economic consequences. The wider price for Britain includes impaired international trade, pariah status almost everywhere except Donald Trump’s America, and the potential disintegration of the United Kingdom.

Contrary to the mantra endlessly invoked by Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith and their ilk, a no-deal Brexit is not the “will of the people”. They have absolutely no mandate for a course of action far more extreme than any policy ambitions Corbyn may harbour.

The possibility of a no-deal Brexit was mentioned in the 2016 referendum only in the context of leading Leavers dismissing it out of hand. The Conservatives’ 2017 election manifesto promised a “smooth and orderly” Brexit that would result in a “deep and special partnership with our friends and allies across Europe” — the polar opposite of a rancorous, chaotic no-deal Brexit. 

Even with that promise, the Tories failed to gain a parliamentary majority. And Johnson himself has no popular mandate. He was elected leader of the Conservatives, and thus prime minister, not by the people, but by a mere 92,153 predominantly white, old, southern, wealthy and right-wing party members.

The average of the latest opinion polls shows 38 per cent support for a no-deal Brexit, according to the psephologist John Curtice. But 44 per cent oppose one, with another 21 per cent in neither category. That is a much wider gap than Leave’s supposedly “overwhelming” margin of victory (52 to 48 per cent) in the referendum.

We still live in a representative democracy, though Johnson is doing his best to destroy that notion. MPs are elected to represent the best interests of their constituents, and to hold the government to account. That is what the majority of them have been doing — bravely resisting, in the face of vicious abuse, the lies, bullying and unconstitutional chicanery of this shamelessly populist government. They should be applauded as heroes, not denounced as traitors. 

Martin Fletcher is a New Statesman contributing writer and a former foreign editor of the Times