Flat White

Boris Johnson must find his inner Pericles and restore power to the people

5 September 2019

12:59 PM

5 September 2019

12:59 PM

It’s mind-boggling that we are still talking about Brexit three years after the British people voted to leave the European Union.

Boris Johnson, Britain’s new PM, has pledged to end the “dither and delay” by finally taking the country out of the EU on 31 October.

In recent days, however, we’ve seen the Mother of Parliaments find itself in the mother of all messes. Rebellious MPs have wrestled control of the parliamentary agenda and lawmakers are refusing to work with the government.

This week, the PM has struggled to command the confidence of the Commons. He is right to warn MPs that banning no-deal Brexit is tantamount to thwarting the will of the British people and that an election may have to be called if it means the people, not politicians, get to decide their nation’s future.

You could almost sense the air of arrogance in the house. Arch-Remain Speaker John Bercow’s disdain towards the PM was on full display the other day, as was rebel backbenchers’ faux outrage about the ‘undemocratic’ and ‘dictatorial’ prorogation of parliament. Totally lost on these remoaners is the irony that they are impeding democracy by vying to stop Brexit. Still in denial over the 2016 referendum result, they are flipping the bird at the British people. Here is a House of Commons which has abandoned the common folk.

Boris’s stern words about respecting democracy reminded me of one of his recent interviews on Pericles. In it, the PM described the Athenian statesman as one of the most “powerful articulators of democracy” who “believed in the importance of the many, not the few”. In Pericles’ pursuit of democracy, he clashed with a powerful group of political elites in Athens’ governing body, the Council of the Areopagus. Eventually, he helped return many of the powers of the Council to the people. As in Pericles’ time, Boris’s battle against the Brussels bootlickers shows the country’s biggest divide is in fact between ordinary folk and the scornful elites who inhabit the corridors of power. And it is time to put the people back in charge.

It won’t be easy; especially as rebel Tories have sided with Labour to undermine the Government’s negotiating position — which in turn may put Corbyn in No. 10 (a truly horrifying prospect).

They say they want the PM to request an extension in order to seek a better deal from the EU. This is nothing but a smokescreen. Parliament has voted for a number of extensions over the years and negotiations have gone nowhere. At any rate, rebel MPs would certainly oppose any new deal if the government secured another extension. This is because their aim is simply to kill Brexit and bury Boris with it.

Let’s face it: a ban on a no-deal Brexit is a ban on Brexit altogether. This ‘surrender bill’, as it was christened by the PM, puts British democracy in the hands of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. The aim is to delay Brexit indefinitely in the hope that the tens of millions of people who voted for it will simply forget and move on. This bill was introduced by elitists who would prefer that Britain remain under the yoke of Brussels than be a truly independent, sovereign, free-trading nation. To make matters worse, EU officials reportedly had a hand in drafting it. If true, this amounts to foreign interference and is nothing short of treason on the part of British MPs.

So where to from here?

A fresh mandate from the public may be the only way forward for the PM. Current polling points to a modest Conservative majority if an early general election were to be held on 15 October. Further, Boris’s policy platform has proven to be popular with the public, having pledged more funding for police, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, and to strike free trade deals with countries including the United States and Australia.

Even if Boris wants an early election, there is little guarantee he will get one. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA), introduced in 2011, put this power in the hands of parliament. With a parliament contemptuous of the people and fearful of a Brexit-based election, MPs certainly aren’t going to want to risk the chopping block. That’s why they blocked the PM’s recent bid for a snap election, albeit by a small margin.

This leaves one of two courses of action for the government to take. First, it may amend the FTPA to require that an early election would only need a simple majority, rather than a two-thirds majority, to be called. Alternatively, one is also called if the government lost a confidence vote and Parliament were unable to find an alternative government within two weeks. This is certainly the riskier option of the two, as Britain may well end up with Jeremy Corbyn as PM.

It’s clear that the sooner Britain goes to the polls, the sooner this crisis in democracy will end. Meanwhile, parliament has shown nothing but contempt for ordinary Britons. Those derailing a no-deal Brexit want to remain in the customs union and single market, and under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – but this isn’t what 17.4 million people voted for. Boris must now model himself after Pericles and put people back in control of their democracy.

Christopher Kounelis is Chair of the Victorian Liberal Students’ Association

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