Time to accept public vote for Brexit, not start a civil war

PUBLISHED: 17:17 19 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:54 20 March 2019

Speaker John Bercow addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, where he ruled out another vote on Theresa May's Brexit withdrawal agreement if the motion is substantially the same as last time

Speaker John Bercow addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, where he ruled out another vote on Theresa May's Brexit withdrawal agreement if the motion is substantially the same as last time

James Marston says usually the people know best and that’s especially apt when it comes to Brexit

Did you know that in 1604, England negotiated a peace treaty with Spain? It was called the Treaty of London.

The result was the end of nearly 20 years of intermittent warfare between the two countries – remember the Spanish Armada that was all part of that war.

The treaty, which wasn’t popular in England, was signed in London’s Somerset House. The Spanish agreed to cease its aim of restoring the Roman Catholic Church in England; the English agreed to stop supporting the Dutch in their struggle against Spanish rule. Trade was central too, with England agreeing to stop attacking Spanish transatlantic shipping (piracy), and the opening up of the English Channel to Spanish trade. Shipping could also use the ports and harbours of both countries.

Spanish recognition of Protestantism in England was once a red line, the crossing of which would have been inconceivable to the Spanish just a few years previously. The English effectively reneged on their red-line commitment to the Protestant Dutch. The Spanish hoped, I suspect, that there might be tolerance in England for Roman Catholics; but the gunpowder plot a year later – the foiling of which we celebrate each November 5 – hardened hearts, fed into sectarianism, and confirmed biases so strongly that it wasn’t until the 19th century that restrictions on Roman Catholics holding public office were relaxed.

This week House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has enforced a parliamentary regulation which dates from 1604. He did it with a smile on his face. Perhaps he wants to thwart Brexit, and perhaps he doesn’t. But the point is that decisions lead to events, and events lead to decisions and history is made.

I am concerned that to thwart the resounding and clear voice of the people in this country – whether you disagree with it or not – is a hugely dangerous thing to do. History shows us that revolutions in Britain aren’t usually revealed in things like violent street protests, or extremist action. In fact such action is usually frowned upon. We tend to do things quietly, democratically and slowly.

The vote to leave the EU has been a long time coming. The vote to leave demands a British compromise. The vote to leave is, in fact, a very British revolution. However, I am beginning to wonder that now our political class has got its collective knickers in such a twist and is resoundingly failing to listen to the very people that put them there that the wider picture has been lost.

A long delay to Brexit; an inability to resolve a constitutional crisis – even though I think that isn’t quite yet the case – a second referendum, for which the EU has plenty of form; a political class saying we know better than you; an ignoring of those people who have been ignored for too long; it opens the door to extremist politics, the far right and the far left. Indeed, the far right is already growing fast.

I remember saying to a friend, with whom I disagreed on the referendum, on the day after the vote to leave that this might lead to civil unrest, or at worst civil war. He said: “Well, if that happens, I blame the nationalists. It will be their fault.”

I told him I rested my case.

I’m not saying that civil war is around the corner but when the people are in conflict with their rulers then the scene is set. It 
has happened before, of course; it was just that the conflict was between the parliament, people and its King and other people, over the age-old question; who knows best.

After the last civil war was finally over, the monarchy never ruled in quite the same way again – never again did a monarch wield such power.

After Roman Catholic emancipation eyes were opened and a few years later, the great reform acts of the 1830s were passed – another quiet revolution, from which our constitutional democracy continues to develop. In the end, Brexit or no Brexit, the world won’t end, Britain won’t fail, and one day it will all be a distant memory.

In the meantime we need to thrash this Brexit thing out and in doing so remember that usually, generally, the people know best, even when it might look like they are wrong.

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