The British Conundrum

Kind readers from the United States have asked me to explain what precisely is at stake in the forth-coming UK Election. Though the presenting issue is Brexit – as everybody can see – the election goes deeper than that.

Ultimately it is about the nature of British democracy.

How, in our system, does representative democracy (Parliament) relate to direct democracy (referenda). Are referenda (which some have claimed to be binding) merely indicative (and so subject to Parliamentary confirmation)?

The question is made the more acute when one party standing does so on a pledge to overturn the consequence of the Brexit referendum (Article 50 of the EU Constitution, initiating the process of withdrawal). It is further complicated by another party (the Scottish National Party) which proposes to use its position in a hung Parliament to seek to overturn another recent referendum (that on Scottish independence). Can the majority in a referendum ever be deemed to be conclusive? And if not, why not?

Better, you will say, to abandon referenda altogether. But the past cannot be undone.

Britain entered the EU by means of a referendum*, so logic would seem to demand that we would leave by one. But since the vote in 2016 has been undermined by Parliamentary means, it has been argued that the only way to ensure that Government is acting with the full consent of the governed is an election which delivers a Parliamentary majority to one side or the other. But what if that is not achievable?

Then God only knows.

*The confirmatory referendum undertaken by Harold Wilson  

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