Last Friday, 4th November 2016, one of the Remain supporters in an anti-Brexit Facebook group, had a 15 minute meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mrs Theresa May, to discuss our concerns.
During a conversation in which Mrs May basically dug her heels in and repeated her own mantras about the will of the people etc., she let her guard down about a very important constitutional principle concerning Members of Parliament.
I quote from the report of the conversation:
“I asked her that given Maidenhead [Mrs May’s own constituency] had voted overwhelmingly Remain would she vote against Brexit should she lose the Supreme Court case? She then said she was a representative not a “delegate” and was not obliged to be the voice of her constituents…………….. I said I thought the people of Maidenhead may find this interesting in the next election. She said anyone who didn’t understand this, doesn’t understand the role of an MP.”
Now, for a change, the Prime Minister is constitutionally exactly right. MPs are elected to use their own consciences and judgment when voting. They are not just cyphers of their constituents’ views and preferences.
The famous statement of this principle was given in November 1774 by Edmund Burke, the great Irish statesman and MP in the Westminster Parliament. When addressing the electors of Bristol, he said:
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion”.
His full speech can be read here:
The reason why the Prime Minister’s unguarded comment is so important is that, since shortly after the referendum, many MPs who are known to be anti-Brexit have been talking of “the will of the people” and having to “respect the referendum”, so that they are not prepared to block Brexit even though they know it will be extremely damaging to Britain’s interests and welfare.
The Prime Minister has now effectively told them otherwise. She has confirmed that an MP’s conscience and judgment are more important than the opinions and desires of his or her constituents. It will be interesting to see how they will react to this once they are told. In effect, if they believe Brexit is wrong, they must block it despite the referendum result. Mrs May said so.