As we stagger out of another week of Brexit drama, and before we stumble into the next one, let’s take a step back, take a deep breath and consider the scene.
First and foremost we need to establish some sense of perspective. Our lives, liberties and safety are not at stake, whichever course of action we take. To anyone who has to deal or has had to deal with such issues the debate and commentary around Brexit can often sound trite and shrill.
Brexit is not an existential issue. The continued existence of the state is not in doubt. Our country has and will continue to exist before, during and after membership of the European Union. Parliament took us into the EEC and it is taking us out of the EU. We are, have always been and will continue to be, a strong sovereign and independent nation.
For these two reasons we can, with confidence, say Brexit is not in fact a first order issue.
What then is Brexit all about and why is Parliament finding it so difficult to agree a way forward? Brexit is several things. It is an argument partly about sovereignty – who governs us and how we are governed. It is partly about economic opportunity. It is partly about how we see ourselves and what, if any, role we think we should take on the world stage. It’s in part an expression of substantial dissatisfaction with the prevailing political and economic settlement. For the entire length of our membership of the EC/EU we have only ever been half in – or half out. Not even Tony Blair in the full flood of his pomp and popularity was able to do much more than nudge us in just a little bit more. For a succession of Conservative leaders and Prime Ministers all things Europe have been the Bermuda Triangle of politics.
Theresa May, being the Prime Minister, can of course be blamed, praised or held responsible. Mrs May is our national political leader and the leader, being the person in charge, must shoulder the ultimate responsibility for failure and success alike. Having said that, however, a Prime Minister is not a President let alone a Monarch. A Prime Minister is first among equals in the Cabinet. They are, in the end simply one of a number of Members of Parliament. The Cabinet has kept the Prime Minister in office. The Conservative Parliamentary Party has kept the Prime Minister in office. Parliament has kept the Prime Minister in office. At the 2017 General Election we, the electorate, kept the Prime Minister in office. Mrs May is therefore entitled to feel she is the Prime Minister because more people more of the time want her in No 10 than not. This is a fact Parliament as a whole and the parliamentary Conservative Party in particular, is going to have to accept.
Mrs May is her Brexit Deal. The Brexit Deal is Mrs May’s Premiership. It is the expression of her view, her politics and represents the best she could deliver in the political context in which she operates.
What we are now witnessing is not a sudden breakdown of politics or our democratic processes collapsing. What we are in fact seeing is just how robust and effective our system of democracy actually is.
Inside our parliament our democratically-elected leader and representatives are sorting out the future of our nation.
A resolution will be found, a way forward discerned. We are witnesses, and participants, in the glorious and magnificent process and spectacle that is our democratic process. If Brexit is about anything fundamental at all it is about this – the representatives we elect determining the future of our country. When they have done this we will all have the chance to express our view in a General Election – the way we have long done and hopefully the way we always will be able to.