Principles of Democracy and the Rights of the Electorate

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 26th September 2019.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 4:05 pm, 26th September 2019

Totally understood. The hon. Lady reported this horrendous and completely unacceptable incident. I was making the point that all of us should watch our language, but sadly one of her colleagues compared the ERG to Nazis. If you google “ERG fascists”, you get 227,000 results, and if you google “ERG extremists”, you get 176,000. We in the ERG would like a system of government where Members are elected to this House, from which a Government is formed. If that Government perform satisfactorily, tax sensibly and spend money sensibly, they are re-elected. If they do not perform well, they are removed by voting. That is a pretty basic summary of representative democracy.

The problem now in this country is the huge collision with the juggernaut of direct democracy. I think we have had 11 referendums in recent decades, and they have all pretty well gone along with what the establishment wanted. The political and commercial establishment were happy with the results—on Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and probably the alternative vote referendum too.

Then we have this current problem. In 2015, David Cameron promised, “If you vote Conservative, we will give you a one-off in/out referendum. We the MPs will give you the people the right to decide whether we stay in or leave the EU.” Possibly to his surprise, he won the election, and then promised to deliver. Mr Hammond took the referendum Bill through the House in 2015. In his winding-up speech, he gave a pretty good summary. He said:

“But whether we favour Britain being in or out, we surely should all be able to agree on the simple principle that the decision about our membership should be taken by the British people, not by Whitehall bureaucrats, certainly not by Brussels Eurocrats;
not even by Government Ministers or parliamentarians in this Chamber.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2015;
Vol. 596, c. 1056.]

The Bill got 544 votes on Second Reading.

We then had the referendum itself. People were bombarded with a Government document costing £9 million. It was made very clear that this was a one-off and that the people would decide—that it was not an advisory referendum, but was giving a clear steer to Parliament and that parliamentarians would have to honour it. That was the understanding: whatever the decision, parliamentarians would deliver.

We then had the biggest vote in British history—17.4 million on a single issue against 16.1 million to remain. The conundrum is this. In the ensuing general election, in which, in fairness to my right hon. Friend Mrs May who is not in her seat at the moment, she got the second largest number of votes ever—13.6 million—in a general election, her manifesto was very simple. The Conservative party was elected on a manifesto that we would honour the referendum, leave the single market, leave the customs union and leave the remit of the European Court of Justice. Although woollier, there was pretty clear language in the Labour party manifesto that it would honour the referendum result. According to one assessment, what we have against that in this Parliament, which is a remain Parliament, is 485 Members supporting remain and only 162 supporting leave. We may never ever have a referendum again, but I put it to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this has to be delivered. The people were told very clearly, “You vote Conservative in that original general election, we will give you the chance.” They were told during the referendum campaign, “You vote to leave, it will be delivered.” They were told by the two main parties that they would honour the result, but here we are, three years on, and this has not been delivered.

There are Members chuntering about no deal, but this is all a bit of a shibboleth. We are talking about leaving a customs union to which 8% of our businesses send goods. Our sales of goods to this organisation represent 8.2% of GDP and our sales of services 5.5%. This will not bring the roof down.