Four Hundred and Sixty years ago this year the Elizabethan Settlement was born in “The Revolution 0f 1559”. Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne of a country riven by political and religious division. The divisions split the great political families and divided every hamlet, village, town and city. The divisions had been caused by the breakdown in the relationship between the Pope and King Henry VIII and they persisted through the reigns of King Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, and Queen Mary.
Then, as now, politics had become toxic, with disagreement threatening to destroy the state itself. Through cunning, guile and force of personality – the Queen brokered an agreement among her leading subjects and councillors which has lasted to this day. It was, and is, a model of compromise and fudge. What Elizabeth pushed through secured her throne and set her country on the path for unprecedented political stability and economic prosperity. What the Queen did then, ably assisted by her Chief Minister William Cecil the first Lord Burghley, was a model of the combination of ruthless statecraft and power politics. It is, in its way, a model for what we need now.
Important as it is the UK’s membership, non-membership, relationship to, agreements with the European Union is not the bee-all and end-all of the history or the future of our country. The current Parliamentary impasse will, in the end, be resolved. It may take a number of Prime Ministerships, it might need several General Elections, it could well change the political parties as we have inherited them, it is certainly causing, and will continue to cause, change in the substance our political debates. What the current hiatus around Brexit is not is the end of our nation’s history, betoken a broken Parliamentary process, or mean our democracy has somehow suffered an irreparable rupture.
What we are currently witnessing is the fundamental incompatibility of referendums with our precious system of Parliamentary democracy. David Cameron was foolish to call the referendum and no matter how much good his governments did in other areas, as they certainly did, it is for this that history will judge him. It will judge too every Member of Parliament who voted to hold the referendum and every Member of Parliament who voted to trigger Article 50, and every Member of Parliament who cast those two votes and who will not vote now to enable it to happen.
In the fraught days, hours and weeks that lie ahead we will hear much vaping and vamping where what really need is cool rationale action. At stake is the welfare of our country and the integrity of how we govern ourselves. There is no easy or comfortable way forward. There is no perfect answer for anyone inside Parliament or in the country. Everyone knows what it is to be dis-satisfied with the current turn of events. Now what we need is the resolution, cunning and adroitness of Queen Elizabeth I to forge a new national settlement.