Parliament contracted out to the people of the UK the decision as to whether the UK should leave the EU or remain a member of it. The promise to hold that vote was in the Tory manifesto for the 2015 election. When they won that election, Cameron duly delivered, and the referendum was held on June 23rd, 2016, exactly 3 years ago. Political leaders on all sides pledged to deliver the result that people voted for.
The electorate was given a clear choice, to Remain in the EU, or to Leave it. On the day of that people’s vote, the people voted by a clear margin that they wanted the UK to leave the EU. According to the pollsters, immigration was an issue in that campaign, with even those who support a generous immigration policy unhappy about having to accept unrestricted immigration with no choice in the matter.
Sovereignty was the most cited issue, with people preferring the laws that apply to the UK being made in the UK by people answerable to the electorate. Brussels was seen as remote, bureaucratic, and prone to have its agenda too easily captured by lobbyists and special interests. Furthermore, people pointed to a democratic deficit within the EU, with too many powers exercised by non-democratic bodies, and with unanswerable officials setting its rules and regulations.
The UK political establishment was shocked by the result. The élite who thought themselves enlightened shared a pro-EU outlook. The CBI, the BBC, and the majority of MPs and Lords all took the view that the EU was our comfort zone, and couldn’t imagine a life for Britain outside it. The government spent £9.3m printing and distributing a leaflet on why it recommended staying in the EU. This did not count as campaign spending by the Remain campaign, because it was “government.”
The feeling among the élite was that the people who voted Leave were “stupid,” “uneducated,” and “lacked knowledge of the issues.” A more likely alternative, and one borne out in polls, is that they were fed up of being bossed around by foreign bureaucrats in Brussels. In the words of the Leave campaign slogan, they wanted to “Take Back Control.”
Despite promises to respect the result, a significant number of MPs, probably a majority, want to subvert it by any means they can. With a biased Speaker on their side, they have deployed, and are deploying, every Parliamentary trick of procedure to make sure the UK remains within the EU, despite having voted to leave it. Calls for a second referendum show how much they have absorbed the EU culture of making people vote again if they got it wrong the first time.
Trust in Britain’s political process, and respect for it, has diminished since people see their elected Members of Parliament trying to thwart the clearly-expressed opinion they were asked to give. Whether it’s leave with a deal, or leave on WTO terms, people do not want any more dithering, prevarication and uncertainty. Three years after that historic vote for independence, they want the UK to leave that narrow protectionist trading bloc, the one that tries to protect its industries from world competition by tariff walls. They want to step into a wider world, and will reward anyone who shows the leadership to do just that.