The British Parliament stood firmly opposed to the British people, as 21 Conservative Party members of Parliament (MPs) defected and joined the Liberals-Democrats to damage the new Boris Johnson government and oppose a No-Deal Brexit on October 31. In a win for the European Union, keenly being watched from the Americas and the European continent, the British government is now paralyzed, with no majority for any Brexit, even a diluted one; no mandate for another election; no unified opposition to win in an election; and no government strong enough to push through.
Modern Western democratic societies, whether parliamentary or senatorial, have never faced a situation where the declared majority result is straddled against the checks for majoritarianism. The British parliament is nominally more powerful than the monarch or the prime minister. Ever since Brexit, it is aspiring to be more powerful than the people. And the outcome and direction of this will be a lesson for the entire English-speaking world.
A bit of background is necessary. The British system was a compromise from the chaos in the continent, and miraculously has managed without a written constitution, or a revolution, since the end of the Cromwellian Tyranny. The power lies in Parliament, which is the supreme authority in the country.
The supreme authority is not the monarchy, which is basically a symbolic figurehead, and which, despite what leftists might say, earns Britain a lot more than the cost to upkeep it (an estimate found it is around 69 pence per resident per year, far less than the security of any politicians in the West, and less than what it earns from tourism in its name and estates). For example, it is almost compulsory for the monarchy and the aristocracy to serve in active combat and line of duty, a better day’s work than the majority of the elected politicians in the entire West.
Nor is the prime minister the most powerful person, as his power runs on his control of the Parliament. This adversarial system is by definition designed to stop the consolidation of power in the hand of one single man, or the consolidation of power in the hand of the masses led by one single leader, left or right. Regardless of what one wants, if anyone hates the parliamentarians, and they have to move politically forward, they have to elect a new House to represent their will. That is the system, and those are the rules.
So far it was working well, until it didn’t. The British system was not made for direct democracy, as most modern political systems are not. We do not live in the times of agrarian Greek city-states, with 60,000 people coming together to decide on fertilizers for potato farming. Naturally, this created a situation where the people have been given a voice about something, and they decided against the elites.
In reality, as I wrote before in a cover story, Brexit was revolutionary, and it was a very British democratic revolution in the ballot boxes. The majority of the people of the United Kingdom, on the whole, in the largest direct democratic mandate in the history of humanity, voted to “take back control” from the ever-growing European Union. Except the elites of the country never wanted it, never expected it, and didn’t prepare for it. Even the Brexiteers never expected to win and weren’t ready when the spotlight of history was bestowed upon them.
The bipartisan British ruling elite rightfully understood in the 1950s that their nation had lost superpower status. Ever since then, it has been a battle between those wanting a diminished status but with supreme sovereignty, and those who wanted a great power status but without complete control over decision making.
Now there are of course pros and cons for both arguments. But the logic was this: Either to maximize power by ceding political sovereignty to the European Union and military decision-making and leadership to the United States, or having a diminished power, but independence.
Two things changed since then. One, the EU and the United States are increasingly, due to structural reasons, bound to stand opposed to each other, forcing Britain to choose a side. The second thing that changed has been direct democracy and giving a say to the people. While there are arguments against direct democracy, nothing is more egregious a betrayal of people than giving them a voice and ignoring it. That is where we are now.
The current Parliament reflects that political realignment. A significant chunk of the current Conservative Party bench were social liberals and historic Europhiles, who joined the right under David Cameron’s bid for a big tent party in 2005. Those are the same conservatives who are now defecting and supporting the Liberals, opposing Brexit, which they claim to be reactionary.
The majority of these liberals, such as MP Sarah Wollaston, won elections from a Conservative ticket and changed after the election to Liberals, or even “vote independent,” like, say, former U.S. Republican Justin Amash. The Liberals are quite clear that they not only want to stop a crashing out of the EU, but to stop Brexit in totality.
The resulting impasse gave PM Johnson his first defeat in the Parliament. He is now stuck with a Parliament that refuses to go out of the EU, and refuses to be honest about the fact that it wants to cancel Brexit and remain in the EU, as that would mean a new election, where the anti-Brexit vote would be divided and Boris would win a landslide.
The original Liberals will possibly hold onto their seats from liberal pro-Europe bastions like London. But the closet liberals, who pretended to be Conservatives for the last 15 years, like Wollaston and Anna Soubry, would be electorally massacred in the British heartlands. No wonder they are worried about the prospect of a general election. Regardless of whether Brexit happens, an election will at least cleanse the British Conservatives of closet liberals.
This is the reality where we stand. As I have written here before, Britain can either choose independence from the EU and subservience to the United States, and more trade with the Anglosphere, or diminished status under the EU. It cannot have both. And the battle for the soul of Britain is on. Americans should take note, and be thankful to the foresight of James Madison, as the Senate saves them from this paralyzing madness.