The resignations of Ministers Sam Gyimah, Dominic Raab, and Shailesh Vara have unnerved the parliamentary Conservative Party. This mass defection is of such proportions that it might have impressed the author of the book of Exodus; the Prime Minister’s cabinet has become a material representation of her fractured credibility. Gyimah’s resignation on the first of the month has left the 23-person Conservative front bench with only one remaining person of colour; fitting, perhaps, when we consider the voting dynamics which precipitated the triggering of Article 50.
These defectors abandoned their Cabinet positions in protest against the Brexit deal. May even lost most of an entire familial generation in the resignations of the Johnson brothers. Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, who, as a man of the people, has wisely elected to go by the second of his many names, said of the Brexit deal: “We have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution and handed the detonator to Michel Barnier.”
Characteristically, he muddled understanding of the apparatus of martyrdom, the detonator on a suicide belt being customarily operated by the wearer. However, the sentiment behind this statement rings true, if not exactly as intended. The detonator, in this instance, is in the hands of a cross-bench coalition of both Remainers and Brexiteers. The vest is not worn by the British constitution alone; perceptive viewers will spot it under the Prime Minister’s jacket in the upcoming debate.
Across this fractured political hell-scape, cross-party calls for a ‘people’s vote’ are increasingly audible. Yet the line of argument used to support a second referendum is as hyperbolic as that which won the initial vote for the Brexiteers.
This argument states, correctly, that the referendum result was built upon lies, but this is a trait shared with every other electoral process in recorded history. Electoral mistruths do not preclude democracy, rather they constitute its foundation. Is this system flawed? Clearly, and so to challenge the referendum result is to decry the continued fitness of the system itself.
The SNP accused pro-unionists of running a radically dishonest referendum campaign in 2014. Pro-unionists levied identical charges in return. Yet where were the appeals for a second ballot then?
One difference between these two cases lies in their relative effects. Brexit will be an economic catastrophe. Scotland’s failed secession, at least until 2020, will not. Yet when Theodore Parker coined the idea of a society ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’, he sensibly omitted to qualify that statement by adding, “as long as our majoritarian decisions make sound economic sense”.
Or perhaps the scale of deception is the central difference. If so, take a moment to recall the 8th November, 2016. Trump’s electoral victory was incontestably built on lies, not least the unconstitutional pledge to ban all Muslim immigration, and allegedly involved unprecedented illegality. The conduct of British political actors in 2016 was pious by comparison. Worse still, Trump lost the popular vote; his victory was ensured only by bureaucratic technicality.
Where were the British media’s calls for a US re-election? Where were the outraged backbenchers demanding democratic justice? The answer, it seems, is that their silence signified an understanding that democracy is democracy, whether its exercise delivers a result we consider palatable or otherwise.