Trust in politicians takes a heavy blow
In fewer than 48 hours, both of Britain’s main party leaders have announced they will do exactly the opposite of what they had recently promised never to do. Have they betrayed democracy?
“The great Brexit betrayal,” proclaims The Telegraph today, speaking of Theresa May. “Labour’s Brexit betrayal,” thundered The Express yesterday, speaking, of course, of Jeremy Corbyn.
Rarely has the word betrayal been used more often by so many about so few.
Yesterday, under pressure from rebels, Theresa May announced that MPs will get the chance to delay Brexit and extend Article 50. And Jeremy Corbyn is facing the wrath of Labour supporters who won’t accept his decision to back a second Brexit referendum.
Let us examine the evidence of their own words.
11 July 2016: “Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it.”
17 January 2017: “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”
31 October 2018: “I am happy to give that assurance, we are leaving the EU on 29 March, 2019.”
25 November 2018: “Before Christmas, MPs will vote on this deal.”
10 December 2018: “If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin. We will therefore defer the vote.”
7 February 2019: “I will deliver Brexit on time for the British people.”
24 February 2019: “It is still within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on the 29th of March and that is what we are working to do.”
Yesterday: “The government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short, limited extension to Article 50.”
24 June 2016: “Labour will accept the [Brexit] vote and move on.”
18 February 2017: “The referendum happened, let’s respect the result. Democracy happened, respect the result.”
14 January 2018: “We are not supporting or calling for a second referendum.”
18 November 2018: “I don’t think you call a referendum and then say you don’t like the result and go away from it.”
Monday: (If MPs reject Labour’s alternative deal) “We are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”
Have May and Corbyn really betrayed democracy? It is a delicate judgement.
If you are a purist and you believe a commitment is a commitment no matter what, then you could argue that they have.
But if, like Otto von Bismarck, you believe that “politics is the art of the possible, the attainable, the art of the next best” then you might be more forgiving. After all, haven’t some of the worst tyrants been leaders who rarely changed their minds (Stalin) and some of the best leaders those who changed them almost by the day (Churchill)?
- Should Brexit be cancelled?
- Do you think politicians are trustworthy?
- Write down all the qualities you think of when you hear the word “leader”? Do you think Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn possess these qualities? Why/why not? Discuss these questions in groups and then as a class.
- Write your own news article about yesterday’s events. In your own words, explain what Theresa May has promised MPs with the votes in mid-March. Include quotes from important figures.
Some People Say...
“Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”Charles de Gaulle
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- According to Theresa May, Parliament will get a meaningful vote on her Brexit deal on or before March 12. If MPs reject her deal, by March 13 there will be a vote on whether to reject a no-deal Brexit. If no-deal is then rejected, the government will let MPs vote on extending Article 50. Any extension would be a “one-off” and it would not go beyond the end of June.
- What do we not know?
- Yesterday in Parliament, May refused to say how the government would vote if it comes down to a vote on no-deal, and then on extending Article 50. It is still very uncertain whether MPs will accept May’s deal, or if there is a majority in Parliament to delay Brexit. Many MPs do not wish to be seen as going against the “will of the people”.
- A number of ministers including Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Business Secretary Gregg Clarke have this week threatened to vote against the government or resign unless Theresa May ruled out a no-deal Brexit or promised to extend Article 50 if one looked likely. Despite offering the extension vote, May insists that no-deal cannot be taken off the table.
- Article 50
- It is the mechanism that Britain uses to leave the EU. It was activated in March 2017, giving the UK two years until Brexit.
- Won’t accept
- Labour MP John Mann, who supports Brexit, said yesterday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “voters won’t have it. The last person to renege on their manifesto was Nick Clegg. It didn’t end very well for him on tuition fees.”
- Alternative deal
- Labour has its own proposed Brexit plan, which would keep the UK more closely tied to Europe through the customs union and single market. It has proposed a motion in Parliament to test whether MPs would back its plans — although it is not at all binding. The motion is very likely to be rejected.