The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Britain’s Ongoing Brexit Drama

The situation is as follows: Parliament has passed a law requiring Prime Minister Johnson’s government to seek a three-month extension for Brexit. Johnson no longer commands a majority in Parliament, but MPs have refused to offer an election before November (October 31st is the date of Brexit without an extension.)

Johnson wants an election. He’s riding about 12 points ahead of Labor, though the numbers aren’t enough to guarantee him a majority. He has said he’d rather be dead in a ditch than avoid Brexit and appears to be trying to avoid doing what the law says, with lawyers on both sides preparing for a court case.

There are two principles here.

One: People did ask for Brexit in a referendum. In a democracy, the people’s will should be followed.

Two: Parliament is supreme in a Westminster democracy. Not the Crown, and not the People; but Parliament.

But Parliament has no legitimacy if it doesn’t follow the will of the people.

This is a huge constitutional crisis. The Prime Minister does not have the right to ignore the will of Parliament and saying “But the people!” is not legitimate. What Johnson must do is follow the law, and fight an election after expelling all rebels from the party. If he wins the election with a majority of seats, it is clear he has a mandate and he will be within his rights to Brexit without a deal.

He should not try to hold on to his position as Prime Minister and ignore a law whose intent is clear. If he cannot obey, the honorable thing to do is resign.

Any other route he takes does great damage to either democratic legitimacy or the supremacy of parliament.

If another party wins and can command a majority of Parliament, then they can either negotiate another deal, or do a second referendum (or both), in order to maintain democratic legitimacy. If that second referendum passes Brexit again, however, it should be respected. No democracy can go against the majority of the population repeatedly and remain a democracy. No parliamentary system can tolerate ignoring Parliament’s clear will.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 8, 2019


Capitalism Requires Loss of Money and Power


  1. Ptb

    Not from UK so take with a grain of salt. My sympathies are for continental Europe and i actually feel like losing England but maybe getting Scotland back would be a net positive from that perspective. Anyway:

    BJ and Corbyn would both lose seats per polls. No party would have a majority. An ambiguous anti-no-deal / anti-brexit coalition of Labour + LD + SNP would add up to a majority but they wouldn’t agree to a brexit deal, wouldn’t agree on a repeat referendum, and are a poor fit ideologically. That coalition wouldn’t last a year I don’t think. This can repeat indefinitely, (unless the Scots decide they’ve had enough, a wildcard scenario).

  2. Synecdoche Sussex

    An awful lot of us voted for Brexit, and feel it’s been continually thwarted by an out-of-touch parliament. Fewer of us, but still a lot, are rather cheering Boris on, scoundrel that he may be. Everyone involved is using every trick in the book to get their way.

    I like continental Europe! That doesn’t mean I want us to continue to be welded onto it.

  3. Do a second referendum? By that logic the US should have held a new presidential election in 2017, given that the media and the “establishment” was so vigorously opposed to Mr. Trump’s occupation of the oval office.

  4. anonone

    The Russians interfered with the original Brexit vote in 2016. The result is not legitimate.

    Why should it stand?

  5. NoPolitician

    My understanding is that referendums in the UK are not binding. While Brexit may have purported to express the “will of the people” in 2016, the UK is not a direct democracy, and decisions are made by people who represent the masses but fully understand the full course of any actions (i.e. Parliament).

    The cloud surrounding the referendum (Cambridge Analytica, Russia) is another reason to question the intent of the 51.89% of the people who voted to leave the EU for whatever hot-button reason they pulled that lever.

  6. edmondo

    Keep having referenda until you get the result you want. Same goes for presidential elections. Now that’s REAL democracy.

  7. Dan Lynch

    — Boris and the Tories are scum, but Corbyn has always been behiind the curve on Brexit and the EU.

    — the EU is undemocratic and un-reformable, and the people of Britain voted for a divorce.

    — there is no “deal” because the EU elites do not want a deal. To the contrary, anyone who leaves the EU will be punished, so as to make an example for anyone else thinking of leaving. So it’s not about the Tories being too incompetent to negotiate a deal (tho they may indeed be incompetent).

    — Britain no longer matters. When is the last time you owned something that was manufactured in Britain? Today’s Britain is merely an island where rich foreigners park their money, and if Britain sank into the ocean it would not be a loss for the world.

    — there are no good options for the left in Britain, but here’s what I would suggest: pretend to be horrified at a no-deal Brexit, but allow the Tories to go through with it. That will result in some economic pain (though nothing that could not be overcome in time with good policies) and a backlash against the Tories, creating an opening for Corbynites to take power. Though I suspect that if Corbyn gained power he would merely provide a kinder, gentler money parking island.

  8. Synecdoche Sussex

    “The Russians” didn’t influence my vote, and I seriously doubt they influenced those of my neighbours and many if any of the other 17+ million of us who voted leave. Kindly knock it off already with the Russians. Please also remember, or simply note if you weren’t aware of it, that turnout was exceptionally high.

    The government sent a strongly worded pamphlet to every household detailing why it thought we should remain, but promised to implement our decision if we the people decided otherwise. While technically the referendum wasn’t binding, that sure wasn’t the way it was presented; and in any case, both major parties promised to respect the result.

    The entire thing was handled in a half-assed way, to put it mildly. But we are where we are.

  9. Hugh

    Two points: First, I agree Corbyn blew it. I think Corbyn should have run against German mercantilism. In the EU, German rich and elites win and everybody else loses. Look at Greece destroyed. Look at Ireland, the Southern and Eastern Tiers. Look at the gilets jaunes in France. The EU isn’t working, and it’s primarily the German Establishment’s fault. Corbyn could have positioned himself to champion the ordinary peoples of Europe, challenge Germany, and justify Brexit as a necessary reaction to its failure.

    Second, where is the US in all this? I mean if anybody could lean on the Germans, it should be the US. I mean I know we have the blackhole of the Trump Presidency, but no one here is even talking about Brexit or the failing EU as a US national security issue or the influence the US still has with and can exert on all sides.

  10. sleepy


    Why would the neoliberal elites in the US lean on the neoliberal elites in Germany with the goal of ameliorating the worst effects of EU neoliberalism?

    I think too that the US is waiting in the wings to pick apart whatever pieces of value it finds in the UK economy post-Brexit.

  11. Herman


    My guess is that people within the foreign policy and military establishment are talking about Brexit and the EU, at least among themselves. The popular media and most politicians seem obsessed with the Trump Show and whatever culture war drama comes up next on the news. The activists and donors to the parties are mostly interested in domestic economics and culture war issues. Foreign and military policy are almost totally dominated by government policymakers who are shielded from partisan politics to an extent not seen in other areas. Russiagate might be seen as an exception but I think even that was more about domestic politics (bring down Trump) than any real foreign policy concerns.

  12. Giacomo

    The game is clear. Postpone, postpone, postpone… until it simply doesn’t happen.
    Formally, it looks like democracy. Substantially, it isn’t.

  13. DC

    Again with this? About the referendum:
    -split result
    -Leave side illegal practices invalidate the referendum result:

    But sure, will of the elite… sorry, “people” has to be followed, sure.

  14. Synecdoche Sussex

    Just as many, if not more, of the elite want to remain (depends how, and what, you’re counting. For every hedge fund disaster capitalist leaver, there’s an oleaginous Tony Blair remainer). Means nothing. We had a vote which was binding as a promise to the people, scare quotes or otherwise.

  15. Ché Pasa

    These clown shows keep roiling the English speaking (and other Western-ish) pseudo-democracies, and perhaps there’s a message for us, eh?

    Perhaps these pseudo-democratic structures and forms of governance are not ideal for the modern world. Something else, perhaps more authoritarian and singular rule by, oh, perhaps an autocrat, perhaps selected by, say, a renown body of knowledgeable men (oh, and women) of high social and moral standing should choose our political leaders, rather than the Rabble through voting…(heh).

    Is the lesson to be learned that “democracy” as structured, practiced and corrupted in our modern western societies just doesn’t work?

  16. Synecdoche Sussex

    Tbw, this is what was sent to households:

    Read it, perhaps pausing at the part where it says the referendum was “A once in a generation decision”. Consider how you would feel if you voted Leave, and those who lost, as well as parliament, spent the next 3 years trying to nullify your vote, or attempted to explain it away in many many patronizing ways.

    I personally voted Leave for a number of reasons, including that I think government/accountability should be as local as possible, and too often, politicians are let off the hook by blaming Brussels. It wasn’t about those currently in power; it was, I felt, in the long term interest of the UK. Talk to actual voters, rather than go by interviews on TV and whatnot, and likely you’ll get many thoughtful reasons why the majority voted the way we did (as well as silly ones, but we’re all entitled to our reasons).

  17. ricardo2000

    This will be another example of governmental failure caused by an ignorant, racist, easily lied to public similar to Trump, Bolsanaro, and all the other small racists in Europe, India, and China.
    H.L. Mencken: ‘Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.’

    The CONservatives lie because they don’t have the brains or character to do anything but rely on BS and arrogance.
    John Stuart Mill: “I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any hon. Gentleman will question it.”

    Labour lost because they don’t have the brains or character to mount an intelligent opposition to anything, even the continuing destruction of the working and middle classes.
    Frankly, I don’t care what happens.
    Why should any of us worry what happens to a bunch of forelock tugging serfs?

    Voltaire: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

  18. Hugh

    “Perhaps these pseudo-democratic structures and forms of governance are not ideal for the modern world.”

    I agree with this although I think the conclusion that our leaders are chosen by elites and not us the Rabble was built into the US Constitution. I think the US Constitution is showing its age. Its defects and those of its Framers can no longer be papered over with high sounding invocations of We the People when the text throughout reads as anyone but We the People. The Constitution is a document written by the rich and powerful to defend the rich and powerful and divvy up wealth and power among them. It affirmed slavery, property, states rights, and the use of electors in order to make sure that We the People stayed away from the levers of power as much as possible.

    I think if We the People want a Constitution for us, there is a good basis for one in the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws.” For one it would eliminate anti-democratic institutions like the Senate and electoral college. It would similarly do away with voter suppression and gerrymandering. For another it would mean that no office holder, including the President, was above the law or that the laws did not apply to them at any and all times.

    I think that We the People could get to this new Constitution, but to do so, we need to develop political consciousness. We need to sell it as not something that would be nice to have but something that is an obligation and duty of citizenship.

  19. different clue

    @Dan Lynch,

    These two examples of something “British” ( really specifically English , I believe) may be derided as ” the exceptions that prove the rule”, but here goes.

    I have a Haws watering can. I like it a lot. I am thinking of getting several replacement roses for it so I can experiment with drilling-out-bigger the holes in some of them, taping over parts of the “hole-field” on others, etc., to see what kinds of watering effects I can get.

    I own two strapped D-handle garden digging forks from Clarington Forge-Bulldog Tools. I broke the handle of one through what hindsight reveals to have been severe abuse. I still have the head for re-handling at some point. The other is whole, unbroken and still works.

  20. Stirling S Newberry

    Um… No.

    It gets into which election you have. The is about 30% who want a “no-deal” Brexit.

    The leadership of Labor also wants Brexit, no-deal if they must, but the majority of the party want to remain. This is tearing Labour apart.

    Now, is the question “what is the smallest number of people who can run a country?” The answer is about 25%. (The US does it too but in different ways, we just have them not to vote) It is the answer of the Conservative party right now.

    Constitutional issue, however, needs more than a simple election. Why? Because they ruin your country. They are voted the can not be reversed by another General Election. Like the EU.

    In this mythological world, you must do more than usual, which is why some greater number of people must be required to vote for it. But that is not what is happening here, instead, it is just a normal general election. That is first-past-the-post governs. No enough for constitutional questions.

    You’ll be sorry if you counter this rule.

  21. R Dudek

    He can comply with the law by asking for the delay. But he could potentially attach conditions that the EU27 would find unacceptable. Note that there is no written constitution, and one can easily argue that the procedure used to pass the law goes against precedent and was highly irregular.

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