Finance: Research, Policy and Anecdotes

Brexit soap opera - ready for the next season?

If Brexit were a soap opera, yesterday’s historic defeat of Theresa May would have been the season finale. But the new season is starting almost immediately and – maybe, just maybe – might become quite innovative and original. Two quick observations.

 

First, on popular (populist) vs. representative democracy. The referendum of 2016 was odd in many aspects, as not really in line with the parliamentary tradition of the UK. And unlike many previous referenda on EU issues across Europe, it did not offer a choice between status quo and further integration but between status quo and something unknown (aka unicorns) – where the unknown won. The Prime Minister took it on herself to interpret the findings without any consultation or consensus-seeking within government, party or country – so not really surprising that she failed!  Step by step, over the past two years parliamentary democracy has fought back, first gaining the right to a meaningful vote (which took place yesterday) and by forcing the government to show its cards (and thus calling its bluff). Now, that the referendum politics has failed and Theresa May is in the weakest position of any prime minister over the past generations, it might be the moment when parliament finally takes back power and does what it is supposed to do in a representative democracy like the UK: legislate – in this case, legislate the future relationship between the UK and the EU. It would be ironic if after two years of everyone being fixated by the referendum result, parliament comes out stronger than before!

 

Second, Brexit has been mainly and predominantly an intra-Tory discussion. David Cameron triggered the referendum to settle an intra-Tory conflict; Theresa May initially tried to mollify hard-line Brexiteers in her own party, and even now the tendency is to first look for a consensus on Brexit within the party rather than within the House of Commons and the country. This “party before country” approach has brought the Prime Minister and the Tories to the brink of complete failure (and has allowed Jeremy Corbyn a home run by not forcing him to take any realistic position). Maybe, just maybe, it is time to put country first!  This relates directly to my first point – maybe it is time for some sensible people in the House of Commons from all sides of the political spectrum to take charge of the process and come to a solution! Make the whole political class and the whole country own its future, not the kitchen cabinet in 10 Downing Street!