The Brexit obsession has brought out the worst in too many Tory MPs – lies, backstabbing, scurrilous briefings and perpetual goading have become the norm. Politicians who should know better have succumbed to the worst kind of tribalism, slicing across parties at a visceral level.
Today, we are presented with the outline of a deal which appears to have the support of few outside of the Prime Minister’s office and which has pulled off the remarkable trick of being rejected by people at every point on the Remain or Leave spectra. Let me make it clear: I will be voting against the Brexit deal. It does not give back the sole power to make all of our own laws and it does not meet my party’ssix tests.
Furthermore, the deal is not what the people who sent me to Parliament voted for hence to support it would be to betray the promises which I made to them. What kind of MP would I be if I signed up to a manifesto which promised to respect the referendum result and then worked to frustrate it?
Cards on the table, I voted to remain in the European Union. I did so in good conscience,
believing it to be in the best interests of my constituents and my country.The point, however, is that neither agreed with me. During the referendum campaign, I went door-to-door and meeting-to-meeting every single day. Today, many of those who campaigned with me are calling for a People’s Vote. I understand their thinking but find it hard to see how I could support it. It is a strange concept; an apparently democratic way of overturning a previous, also democratic decision which, in turn, supplanted the democratic decision taken fortyyears earlier. It is a chimera, a promise of democracy concealing the wrongheaded notion that people made a mistake two years ago and will be so much happier once they have voted the right way.
People whom I have met on the doorstep in South Shields tell me they find the idea patronising. And here is the crux of the matter: I do not subscribe to the mantra that those people who voted to leave did so from ignorance, or racism, or some primordial desire to kick the political classes where it hurts. It was not like that in my constituency. People wanted to leave. They did not want to leave because they do not like foreigners, or posh people or garlic. They weighed the pros and cons, as put to them, and made a fully-formed, intelligent decision. And from what I can see, they have not changed their minds one tiny bit, and I understand precisely why.
In a representative democracy, it is my job to do what I think is best for the people who elected me, unless they have already made their opinion on the subject perfectly plain. They have, and now it is up to me to see that they get what they want. I trust the people who voted to send me to Parliament. I believe they know what they are doing. It is my job to thrash these things out in Parliament and I cannot just pass the buck back to them when things get a bit tricky.
There was considerable sound and fury surrounding the latest YouGov polls on the People’s Vote. They tell me my constituents have changed their minds. I do not know who they have been talking to but I spend a lot of my time on doorsteps and at surgeries and other local meetings and I see no evidence, whatsoever, that people have shifted their position.
There is a depressing inevitability. The meaningful vote, so begrudged by the executive and so couched in deceitful words, as it will undoubtedly be, could have been a final opportunity to present Parliament as a dignified, serious place where powerful argument is given fair hearing. Instead, with the Tories at the helm, Parliament will be subject to underhand, procedural and legalistic manoeuvres to minimise any impact that MPs can have on the outcome. The spectacle will be deeply unedifying, and the public will, once again, turn their collective faces away from us in disgust.
And this is the most important argument against the People’s Vote. Whatever the numbers, the result will be even greater division than we currently face. The nation is just too fragile to withstand a further gaping rent to its soul. What little trust remains in politics and politicians will evaporate. We have to try and sort the mess out in Parliament to salvage what we can of our public standing and the nation’s faith in our democracy. Failing to do so could have consequences far greater than the worst Brexit predictions.