Parliament versus the people: Yet another vote to delay Brexit

There is substantial public support for Boris Johnson’s deal, for leaving on October 31. A YouGov poll found that, by 41 to 24 percent, Britain wanted Parliament to pass the deal and leave the European Union. That might well have played on the minds of Remain-supporting MPs in strongly Leave constituencies. If the deal had been put to a genuine vote, it might well have passed. The atmosphere was tense.

At first, it had seemed that the mood of Parliament was different today. Parliament had not sat on a Saturday for 37 years, since the Falklands War. Amongst the bluff and bluster, the grandstanding and soundbites, something had changed. The numbers were tight. MPs were listening, trying to persuade each other in their speeches.

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Then, Oliver Letwin’s wrecking amendment passed, in an attempt to force an indefinite delay to the deal. The masks slipped, the nastiness was back, and we were back to the usual circus. Conservative MPs walked out of the chamber in disgust, refusing to take part in the sham. As the Government announced, we’ll be back to the same debate on Monday. We keep going round in circles, but nothing is ever delivered. Ever-more-arcane Parliamentary procedures are being used.

Parliament had an opportunity today to bring much of the nation back together, but it declined to do so. It pitted itself against the people: poll after poll has shown that people want Brexit to be done. For all the Remainers talking about a hypothetical second referendum that couldn’t take place until the summer of next year, the reality is that when people are asked about what should happen now, they say we should get on with it. Polling about practical questions matter more than the hypothetical ones.

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In theory, the Benn Act requires the prime minister by law to send the EU Council a letter requesting an EU extension. Once again, the prime minister has hinted that he has found a way around it. We are still none the wiser as to the government’s plan, at the time of writing, but matters are proceeding at a fast pace.

Many viewers watching today’s scenes will think that they reflect badly upon all politicians. It seems that they have lost sight of any desire to represent their constituents. We’re left closer and closer to the October 31 date, and still there is no certainty as to what will happen: Deal, No Deal, or yet another Brexit extension.

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Three and a half years on from the referendum, it feels like the film Groundhog Day. This impasse must be broken, but the only way that our politicians can be changed is through a general election. Yet repeated motions for a general election have failed to pass, too.

The overwhelming feeling of the British people right now is one of utter frustration. Whenever there has been a choice between further infighting, and reuniting the country, politicians have chosen further infighting. They have ensured their own continued – and increasing – unpopularity.

By Jonathan Arnott, a former independent Member of the European Parliament

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