Parliament and “The Will of The People”
Since the referendum the Government (or the hard Brexit elements of it) have found a new “respect” for “The Will of The People”. A respect so strong that they seem to be completely enslaved to it – provided of course that the “Will” in question is the Will expressed on 23rd June 2016.
It raises some interesting questions about The Primacy of the House of Commons.
Today (14 June 2018) we have seen indications that the Government is going to relax its immigration restrictions in respect of non-EU skilled workers – particularly Health Service Workers.
The cap limited immigration for all non-EU skilled workers to 20,700 a year and was introduced by a Home Secretary called Theresa May.
The BBC News Bulletins today have included an excerpt from a speech in November 2010 by that Home Secretary in which she says:
We will reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. It will not be easy; it will take hard work and a great deal of political courage; but the British People want us to do it and it is the right thing to do so we will do it.
So back then “The Will of The People” was making itself felt and the NHS has been driven into the buffers with about 35,000 unfilled nursing vacancies and a shortage of almost 10,000 doctors. (ref NHS Improvements Report quoting figures for February 2018).
So apparently if the British People want something, no matter how un-clearly they expressed that wish, they must have it no matter the consequences.
Back in 2010 the political atmosphere towards migrants was being poisoned by the political right so it is quite likely that if “The British People” were asked a simplistic question:
- Do you want fewer migrants?
they may have said they wanted fewer migrants. But if you asked:
- do you want fewer migrants, if that means
- the NHS will be short of staff?
they may have equivocated.
Anyway, now the NHS is short of staff the only way to give the government a “quick fix” is by means of immigration. (They cut training back in 2010, so they have to poach trained staff from elsewhere.) It appears that “The Will of the People” is not as sacrosanct as previously claimed – at least in respect of immigration. It needs to be nuanced in the light of the consequences. With “dog whistle politics” the consequences are often not realised (or even considered) until after the promise has been made.
Spin forward to yesterday’s notorious Prime Minister’s Questions (the one where the SNP were thrown / walked out) and what do we find the same politician saying?:
I cannot countenance Parliament being able to overturn the will of the British people. Parliament gave the decision to the British people, the British people voted to leave the European Union and, as Prime Minister, I am determined to deliver that. (Ref: Hansard 13 June 2018 to Jacob Rees-Mogg)
The Will of the People is again trumping Parliamentary consideration of the consequences.
Was this will expressed through a fully qualified question or was it a gut reaction to a simplistic question with unspecified consequences? Will government again realise that simplistic implementation of the Will of the People is unrealistic and may have to be more nuanced – or even reversed once the consequences are fully realised?
So if you have made the country Euroseptic and ask:
- Do you want to Leave the European Union?
You will get one answer. But if you ask:
- Do you want to Leave the European Union and
- make the Irish Border Question vastly more complex
- make cross border supply chains (as seen in the motor industry amongst others) slower and less reliable
- see the UK shut out of many EU organisations
- see EU citizens working in the NHS, the care sector and in agriculture leave to go home
- have to try to negotiate replacement trade deals as a market of 60M rather than rely on trade deals done as part of a market of 300M+
You might get a different answer.
The place where all these consequences are worked out is of course Westminster, but the Prime Minister seems to think Parliament should not overturn The Will of The People – any deal that takes us out is better than remaining.
Apparently a consequence free exit is what “we” voted for and no matter what the Prime Minister will take us out.
But unlike with immigration and NHS staffing a swift U-turn will not be possible.
The Brexiteers will say that in trying to sort out the consequences the “Remoaners” are trying to sabotage Brexit. The Remainers will claim that the Brexiteers are intent on taking us over a cliff to a hard Brexit.
By asking a simplistic question, “Do you want to Leave”, the country has been split in a way quite unlike any post war split.
So who was the idiot who decided to ask such a simplistic question?