Brexit: A rerun

by
15 March 2019

“AS I have said on many occasions before . . .” The Prime Minister’s rejoinder summed up most of the Brexit debate on Tuesday, as members of the two main parties thrust and parried with phrases blunted by over-use in many previous debates. It is not surprising that many in the electorate simply wish the matter to end, seemingly without a thought to the consequences — though this attitude of indifference might change once they experience some of those consequences. Despite the assertion by the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, that the legal “context” of the Withdrawal Agreement had changed materially, supposedly allaying fears about the Irish backstop, his reassurances were insufficient for the Democratic Unionist Party MPs or the hard Brexiteers in his own party. Dominic Grieve, Mr Cox’s predecessor as Attorney General, and by no means a Brexiteer, was one of those who voted against. “I do worry that we seem to be obsessed with avoiding the electorate at every conceivable turn now.” To deny the electorate the choice to change its mind in response to the current crisis was, to his mind, “an unacceptable way to proceed”.

It was left to members of the minority parties to deviate from the script. The Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru, Liz Saville Roberts, tackled the Government’s insistence that a second referendum would be a betrayal of the “clear wishes” of the electorate and would undermine democracy. The Government, she said, “took the country to General Election only 25 months after the 2015 General Election. We are now 32 months and more since the last referendum. Democracy is a resort it suited the Government to use in that short period of time. I would beg the question why it’s not suitable now. . . Democracy is not a one-off event. Neither is democracy the privilege of only one generation.”

Fears of unrest were expressed once again this week should a second referendum be called. It would be perverse, however, of sections of the public if they objected to an opportunity to revisit the 2016 decision with a far greater knowledge of the consequences of a vote than they were granted three years ago. An informed vote must surely be seen as preferable to a misinformed vote.

Equal partner 

IT IS a sign of John Habgood’s greatness that a 5000-word obituary is forced to skate over his achievements. He never became Archbishop of Canterbury, but life at Lambeth was eased considerably by his capacity to take on large sections of the portfolio. One reason that Archbishops Runcie and Carey could devote so much time to the Anglican Communion in the late 1980s and early 1990s was because they could leave domestic affairs, political responses, and relations with other Churches in competent hands. He may not have achieved the highest office, but he was content to remind the Church of England that it had a use for two archbishops.

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