Westminster’s rebellion against the people

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This article originally published on The Commentator 

Talk of rebellion has been all the rage since the 2016 EU Referendum. The vote itself was a momentous one, as the 17.4 million proud Britons who voted Leave did so against the advice of all the elite political classes in Westminster and Brussels.

The result certainly took Westminster by surprise, and ever since politicians from all parties have made transparent attempts to turn back the clock, seemingly without caring if it means rebelling against their own electorate.

After the 2017 General Election, Prime Minister Theresa May was left with an uneasy coalition of divided Tory MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party.

Having no majority unfortunately empowered disloyal Remoaner parliamentarians, and Theresa May has battled with this reality for a year now. This has no doubt driven her many concessions and capitulations so far in the negotiation process with Brussels.

But election pledges cannot simply be tossed out the window. In the Conservative Manifesto, published for the 2017 General Election, specific commitments were made in black and white: ‘As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the Single Market or Customs Union’.

Theresa May is still in Number 10 in no small part because of these promises. Every single Conservative MP elected in 2017 therefore takes advantage of their constituents if they vote in Parliament for amendments which seek to keep us tied to those central pillars of the European project.

With such a slim working majority in Parliament, the Prime Minister — and her army of Whips — spend an inordinate amount of time desperately hoping to keep the number of potential rebels in the low single digits, as crucial legislation like The EU (Withdrawal) Bill meanders through Parliament. So far, they have succeeded in avoiding outright defeats – but at what cost?

All the last-minute politicking and deal-making being forced onto Number 10 by those disloyal and antidemocratic rebels seems to have succeeded only in weakening our negotiating hand with the European Union. The ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ mantra has been side-lined in favour of a deal at any cost, and potential concessions on free movement and customs arrangements are on the table.

Frankly, this isn’t good enough, and both the Conservatives and Labour – for the sake of keeping their promises to the British electorate – should use more discipline on its members.

Rebellious MPs have a long and vibrant history in our democracy, and it would be disingenuous to decry every single rebellion against any Government Whip without a consideration of the merits. We celebrate, proudly, the legacy of the Maastricht Rebels as they fought against then-Prime Minister John Major’s disastrous decision to ratify the Euro-federalist Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

That rebellion rightly put British people first, when the Government was intent on ceding everything to Brussels. The exact opposite is true today, as Theresa May’s Government delivers on the mandate 17.4 million Britons gave in the 2016 EU Referendum.

Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) rules have centralised control over the candidate selection process. Local associations can only approve candidates on the CCHQ-approved list, and the central Conservative Party reserves the right to deselect prospective candidates without local consultation, or by removing the Whip from an existing MP. These are worthwhile tools to be wielded, tools which are used when a particular individual is under investigation, for example. Why none of this has been put to use so far against rebelling MPs, and indeed Ministers, is astounding.

It is therefore refreshing to hear Bracknell Conservative Association voicing its concerns over their MP Dr Philip Lee’s grandstanding this week. The junior Justice Minister resigned from Government because he believed he knew better than his constituents – who voted 53% to Leave in 2016. Also revealed were his sympathies and frequent correspondence with George Soros’s Best for Britain outfit, who openly deride the Great British Public and seek to overturn Brexit fully.

For a Government Minister to seek advice from such a group amounts to nothing less than a betrayal. Whilst the Chairman of Bracknell Conservatives reminded Philip Lee his theatrics didn’t change the opinion of the majority of his constituents – and the majority of the country – and his ‘actions would count against him’ in the next election, there was no rebuke from either Number 10 or CCHQ. Whilst we hope Bracknell Conservatives show more backbone than the central party, this is all surely far too little much too late.

Philip Lee is not alone in ignoring the views of his own constituents.

These last weeks the sheer contempt many MPs show to their voters came into clear view as Antoinette Sandbach MP, of Eddisbury, reported a constituent to the police for what Sandbach called ‘harassment’ after writing a perfectly reasonable letter to her MP, about her continual Remain stance.

The people of Eddisbury voted 53% for Leave in the 2016 EU Referendum, and yet Mrs Sandbach continues with her shrill support for the Remain campaign, and has begun threatening legal action against people in her constituency who contact her – righty – to question her loyalties.

What is more repugnant is the refusal, unlike in Bracknell, of her constituency Association to reprimand this conduct. In fact, Eddisbury Conservatives and CCHQ have been obstinate when Get Britain Out requested contact details for the Chairman in order to publicise our anger at Sandbach’s actions on behalf of our supporters.

This astonishing affront to democracy is by no means limited to the Government benches. The Labour Party – once a bastion of working class values – has all but abandoned the millions of hard working, patriotic Britons who previously trusted them.

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was an infamous Brexiteer up until when it really mattered – in the Referendum campaign and its aftermath. Under his leadership, Labour are refusing to truly acknowledge the will of the people. Every other week a new Labour Brexit policy springs up in the press, despite the reassurances of its 2017 General Election Manifesto that, if in power, Labour would ‘accept the result of the Referendum’ and leave the Single Market and Customs Union.

A stark illustration of Labour’s indecision arose this week as just shy of half a dozen MPs resigned from the opposition frontbenches to rebel – in different directions – against a Lords amendment to The EU (Withdrawal) Bill which sought to keep UK membership of the European Economic Area, and thereby the Single Market.

Only 15 Labour MPs remembered the result of the 2016 Referendum and voted down the ‘wrecking’ amendment from the bloated and unelected Upper House. The vast majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, therefore, either voted for an amendment to make us a rule-taker from Brussels or abstained entirely. This is nothing short of a slap in the face of the millions of Labour voters – and the nearly 200 Labour constituencies – who voted to take back control in 2016.

For any major political party, let alone the party of Government, to threaten and patronise voters is an affront to our democratic tradition.

The majority of Britain voted twice – in the 2016 EU Referendum and the 2017 General Election – to Get Britain Out of the Single Market and the Customs Union, and the job of our parliamentary representatives is to fulfil the public’s wishes, not climb on their high horses and refuse to come down.

Stephen Mitchell is a Research Executive at cross-party, grassroots campaign Get Britain Out

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