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Analysis

May wrong to suggest MPs must not ‘usurp’ her power

by Ian Davidson | 04.02.2019

When Theresa May opposed the amendments put forward by Dominic Grieve and Yvette Cooper last week, she did so on the grounds that they “would allow Parliament to usurp the proper role of the Executive”.

It was a characteristically impertinent remark: what she calls “the proper role of the Executive”, is merely one historically inherited from ancient powers of the Crown. The only legitimate basis for her role as prime minister, is the democratically elected Parliament, and the democratically elected Members of Parliament. If there is any democratic legitimacy in our system, it obviously lies with the democratically elected MPs, not with the monarchical claims of the Executive.

So, if MPs vote against the government, they are not “usurping” the proper role of the Executive. They are doing what they believe they were elected to do, and the only people who are qualified to judge what they were elected to do is the MPs themselves.

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May consistently seeks to enlist the tacit support of those MPs whose constituents voted Leave. Last Tuesday, when the Cooper and Grieve amendments failed, she seemed to pull this trick off.

But MPs are mistaken if they believe they were elected to carry out the wishes of their constituents. It is a well-established principle of our system, that it is a representative democracy, not a Soviet-style people’s democracy based on direct delegation.

The question was set out with typical clarity in November 3, 1774, by Edmund Burke, in  a speech to the electors of Bristol.

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion…

“Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors, from different and hostile interests… but Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

“You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of Parliament.”

This issue is, no doubt, for some MPs, acute. When May’s final Brexit gambit comes to the test, as it must, on February 14, or very soon thereafter, they will have to choose whether to vote according to the wishes of their own constituents, or as Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “May wrong to suggest MPs must not ‘usurp’ her power”

  • I wrote to my MP very much along those lines about a year ago, pointing out that in my view he had a responsibility to do the best for the nation.
    He saw it somewhat differently, explaining that he saw his role as “to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit”.
    My response was that I was disappointed that his level of ambition was so low.

    My MP’s voting record since then does not seem to me to be achieving even that low level goal.

  • And now May has said that last week’s debate showed there was no support in the Commons for a second referendum. Convenient for her to think that of course.
    Might support be gained in Parliament if only MPs focused their minds, and
    (a) acknowledged that at most a very few among them think May’s Deal is good. (The hard right Cons and the DUP manifestly think it’s bad; and no Labour MP who stood by their Party’s 2017 manifesto could approve of it.)
    (b) kept up to date with ORB International’s monthly tracker poll. The latest one (February) shows 80% of UK adults disapprove of the way the government is handling the Brexit negotiations. (This is the highest figure recorded since the poll began in November 2016.)

  • Many Westminster MPs do not seem to think beyond 29 March.

    If Britain does not remain in EU or crashes out without a deal, or hell will break out in Britain.

    The EU and the whole world, except for 17.4 million British voters, will blame Britain & the Brexiteers.

    Britain will have to agree to any deal the EU offers.

  • I would suggest that a PM (who was not PM at the time) who voted Remain (thus linking herself with what proved to be the ‘losing’ side in the Referendum), then, once PM, performed a volte face and opted to lead on behalf of the Leave side – she, herself, has been doubly usurper of ‘the Will of the British people’. This entire Government, from Theresa May’s procrastinatory, side-switching tactics, via Chris Grayling’s incompetence and responsibility-transference, and the incomprehensible machinations of Johnson, Davis, Fox and co. , to the endless last-minute tactics (like playing Bridge with the people’s real lives): this entire Government has shown a lack of ability and judgement without precedent, and a freedom from ethical behaviour that would have had them resign en masse in any previous time.

  • The only bright hope at the moment is the Schadenfreude of telling my useless, ignorant MP ‘This is another fine mess you’ve got us into’.