Today was a very dark day for British democracy

The political class has taken back control – from the people.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill

Topics Brexit Politics UK

Today has been a very dark day for democracy in the United Kingdom.

Don’t believe for one minute the self-aggrandising claims of the Remainer establishment and its noisy cheerleaders in the media. Tonight’s vote by MPs to seize control of the parliamentary agenda in order to prevent a No Deal Brexit is not, as they claim, a wonderful assertion of parliamentary sovereignty against a dictatorial executive led by Boris Johnson.

No, it is an assertion of the political elite’s arrogant authority over the people. If MPs have seized power from anyone this evening, it is from us, the public, the millions who voted to leave the EU. This is not parliament vs the executive – this is parliament vs the people, and it opens up one of the greatest, most troublesome constitutional crises of modern times.

In essence, this evening MPs have gone some way, almost all the way, to achieving the terrible thing they have been agitating for since June 2016: stopping Brexit. That is their fundamental aim. It is essential to understand that when they talk about ‘blocking No Deal’, they mean ‘blocking Brexit’.

For more than three years they have hampered, frustrated and foiled Brexit, tying it in legal knots, ‘softening’ it beyond recognition, and constantly sending signals to the EU that we will accept whatever ridiculous, Brexit-thwarting compromises they demand.

Now a further, possibly interminable delay will be secured as the newly in-charge, newly emboldened Remainer Parliament votes on the Benn Bill tomorrow. The government was defeated by 328 votes to 301 this evening. Twenty-one Tory MPs joined the ‘revolt’ against Boris’s government. And now MPs, the majority of whom voted Remain, many of whom despise Brexit and fear and loathe the masses who voted for it, will push through the Benn Bill and prevent the UK from leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October (unless parliament consents, which it won’t) and requesting yet another extension to the Article 50 process.

They are killing Brexit. It has been a slow-motion guillotine, with the blade falling for more than three years now, but that is what they are doing. The majority of the establishment has never made any secret of its elitist disgust for Brexit and its facilitators – all 17.4million of us – and they have longed to reassert their presumed wisdom and reason over the idiocy of the masses. Tonight they took a very significant step in that anti-democratic direction.

Probably their most perverse and insulting claim is that they are standing up for parliamentary sovereignty. This is the opposite of the truth. They are ravaging parliamentary sovereignty. These are the people who over the past 40 years have green-lighted the outsourcing of huge swathes of parliament’s authority to Brussels, and whose very efforts to destroy Brexit run counter to parliament’s own handing of that decision to us, the people, and its insistence that it would respect the decision that we made.

It was the vote for Brexit, the vote to take back control from the EU, that was a genuine expression of faith in the institution of parliamentary democracy. In contrast, the elite’s ceaseless war on Brexit is a war on parliamentary sovereignty too, since the ultimate aim of this war is to retain the law-making authority of foreign institutions at the expense of our own institutions.

The elite’s claim to be defending democracy is a brazen lie. It is crushing democracy. It is revolting against the people and the decision we made in 2016. How grotesque for Jeremy Corbyn to say this evening that parliament has struck a blow for the idea that ‘sovereignty rests’ in the people. It has done no such thing. In fact it has elevated the political authority of an out-of-touch and increasingly hysterical elite over the largest democratic decision ever made by the British people.

Brexit is now seriously, perhaps irreversibly, wounded. Whatever comes next, including the General Election, must be used by democrats across the country to remake the democratic cry of 2016 and to reassert the sovereignty of the people and our parliament over the presumed wisdom of Britain’s own elites and the alleged expertise of foreign technocrats. If they void the millions of votes cast in 2016, they void the right to vote itself. We cannot let them win.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Marvin Jones

10th September 2019 at 12:06 pm

Just a little thought for all you intellects who participate in this superb magazine. How about a referendum that is binding, which is if leave win we leave on no deal, but if remain win we join the Euro!

Fred Shred

9th September 2019 at 1:41 pm

Brendan’s problem is a modern one – he doesn’t understand the difference between a representative democracy and a plebiscite democracy. His anger is real. He genuinely believes that an elected representative is bound to implement the result of a popular poll without delay or reflection. That’s a nonsense position and reveals a startling level of ignorance about how a representative democracy works. It’s ridiculous to have to spell this out, but, for all you angry folks, deep breath and read on:

1. The UK, like many Western democracies, is a representative democracy. That means that individual voters entrust elected representatives to act in our best interests and to make decisions on our behalf. *The important point is that they do not do our direct bidding.* They never have done. We expect (or at least hope) that the decisions they take will be aligned with their manifesto or their general economic / social values and opinions. If the decisions they take contradict their manifestos / pre-election promises, then our primary remedy is to vote the baftards out at the next election. The critical point here is that elected representatives are not mere puppets / ciphers who blindly and uncritically do our bidding. Once elected, the very nature of a representative democracy is that they can pretty much do what they like (within reason and within the bounds of the law) until we next get a chance to boot them out at the next election. See:

2. By contrast, in a direct democracy, people call the shots directly. See:
This is what Brexiteers want; which is fair enough. However, many of you seem to assume that we already have that variant of democracy. We don’t.

3. Both types of democracy are valid; both have pros and cons.

4. Nowadays, so used are we to Bake Off, Internet polls etc, that this fundamental distinction has been lost. Brexiteers are genuinely outraged at what they see as a “denial of democracy”. It’s no such thing. It’s just how a representative democracy functions.

5. Brexiteers are outraged that a representative democracy isn’t functioning in the manner of a direct / plebiscite democracy. Essentially, they wish to scrap the current system and move to a form of direct democracy. That’s fair enough; but please let’s all calm down and understand the basic differences before getting knickers in an uninformed twist.

As John Harris noted:

“But there is also something deeper at play. For all that it remains the best model of government and politics human beings have yet come up with, in the 21st century, representative democracy is a very tough sell. When people spend half their lives online and can experience at least the sensation of agency and instant gratification, the idea that we elect MPs to exercise their own judgment and then eventually submit their record for approval or rejection can easily seem woefully old-fashioned. I have lost count of the number of people I have met over the last few years who have angrily told me that the function of the Commons was to simply “do our bidding”.

In a recent YouGov poll, 63% of respondents agreed that MPs must “act according to the wishes of their constituents, even when this goes against their own judgment”, a figure that reached 78% among leave voters and – at which point Edmund Burke spins in his grave – 81% of Tory supporters. It is no accident that, like so many populist forces, Nigel Farage’s Brexit party claims to be in favour of direct democracy.”


I blame the Internet. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see a new TV show – “Nigel’s Great British Vote-Off” wherein all the great national issues of the day – politics, defence, economics – would be decided by viewers online or via their mobiles: “option 1 to cancel the dole in Liverpool; option 2 to bomb Palestine; option 3 to sell N Ireland – nice to screw you, to screw you, nice!”

Clueless. Ask yer average voter what they understand by the separation of powers and why the separation of powers (between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary – and supported by a civil service which, at the higher levels, attracts very bright people and further supported by a free press, free from state and /or oligarch / Russian-bot interference) is the bedrock of political freedom and you’ll just get a blank look.

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