Our papers and TV screens are filled to the gunwales with tripartite Remainers riling against no-deal Brexit and promising to stop it by hook or by crook (mostly the latter).
This is an emetic lie. It’s not no-deal Brexit but Brexit that they want to stop. And they think, perhaps correctly, that they can pull the wool over people’s eyes.
Besides delivering fiery speeches and comparing Mr Johnson to some of the least savoury historical personages, they’ve instigated a petition against the prorogation of parliament that has already attracted more than a million signatories, each doubtless a constitutional scholar.
All this in the name of democracy of course, that bull’s head perched on the totem pole around which the masses are supposed to perform their song and dance routine. Scream democracy loudly enough, and everybody will jump up and salute, or else go down on his knees in a paroxysm of religious frenzy.
Applying reason, or for that matter morality, to modern politics is a thankless task. However, I’m willing to give it a try, for old times’ sake.
Democracy was served in 2016, when a comfortable majority of Britons voted to leave the EU, and when parliament subsequently activated Article 50. That means trying to keep Britain in the EU is tantamount to contempt for democracy, not totemistic worship of it.
When Remainers insist they affirm democracy by subverting it, they find themselves on shaky ground both morally and intellectually. However, if they were honest, they could make a valid argument. I’d still disagree with it, but I wouldn’t be able to deny its validity.
There exist various versions of democracy, they could say. The kind that delivered the Leave vote is called plebiscitary, wherein people bypass the institutions of the state and make decisions directly.
They could argue that plebiscitary democracy is at odds with the spirit, if not necessarily the letter, of the British constitution. That spirit, as postulated by perhaps our greatest constitutional mind, Edmund Burke, calls for MPs to act as representatives of people’s interests, not delegates for their wishes.
This is how Burke put it (concision wasn’t one of his many admirable qualities): “To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgement and conscience, – these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.”
To fast-forward the language a couple of centuries, Remainer MPs could take their cue from Burke and say something along these lines: “Yes, the people have expressed their wish to leave the EU. However, our remit is to act not according to the people’s wishes, but according to their interests. And in our view, acting on the people’s wishes in this case would be against their interests.”
Then they’d have my respect and attention: the position sounds solid. I’d object that they get the people’s interests wrong, and I’d argue why.
But at least an honest, reasoned argument would be possible. As it is, their references to democracy of people’s will as the ultimate political virtue sound as mendacious as they are intellectually feeble.
Mr Johnson’s decision to put parliament on hold for the subversive annoyance it has become communicates in no uncertain terms that no serious argument on this issue is taking place, nor can ever do so.
What is indeed taking place is a group of parliamentary saboteurs trying to derail democracy in the name of democracy – while accusing their opponents of doing just that. They are like a thief who runs away from a pursuing crowd and screams “Stop thief!” louder than anyone else.
Those MPs do nothing to dispel the suspicion that all they really want is to paint their careers on a broader canvas than that afforded by our narrow island. Bono publico be damned; it’s their own bono that occupies what passes for their minds.
Mr Johnson’s action is brave, intelligent and moral, and I thought I’d never use these adjectives when talking about a modern politician. It’s brave because he puts his political career on the line. It’s intelligent because he realises the option he took was the only one on offer. It’s moral because he has kept his promise.
Mr Johnson promised to deliver Brexit, and, uncharacteristically for today’s politicos, he seems dead-set on doing just that. He’d rather part from the EU amicably, but if he can’t, he’ll part from it anyhow.
The EU has made it clear that it won’t accept any ‘deal’ that would mean Britain leaving de facto, not just de jure. Parliament has made it even clearer that, if such a ‘deal’ came before it for a fourth time, it would vote it down – just like it did on the three previous occasions.
Thus the choice before Mr Johnson is stark: no deal or no Brexit. However, parliament has made it clear it wouldn’t allow the no-deal option, effectively keeping Britain in the EU against the express will of the people – by which our MPs claim they swear.
Hence Mr Johnson has done the only thing he could do within the guidelines of our law and constitution – he has prorogued parliament for a period he hopes will be long enough to defang parliament’s jaws.
Well-done, Mr Prime Minister. Godspeed.