The Irony of Brexit: How Brexit is Exacerbating the Democratic Deficit

Leiden, Id. Mar. MMDCCLXX A.U.C.,

As I discussed in earlier posts the European Union suffers from a democratic deficit. The main reason for this is that governments negotiate directly with each other and the European Commission, while European Parliament is relatively weak compared to the national governments and the European Commission, and national parliaments do not have the capacity to monitor their own government. This is of course very problematic, as the national parliaments form the backbone of European democracy and are the link between the people and their government that executes policy on their behalf. However, if the main procedural and democratic problem of the EU is that national parliaments do not have the capacity to monitor their own governments, is it not extremely f*cking ironic that the House of Commons 1. refuses to give the British government specific negotiation goals, and 2. that the House of Commons refuses to keep its right to have a meaningful vote on Brexit?

On march 7th the House of Lords had introduced amendments to the Article 50 Bill, that is the bill that authorizes the government to trigger the divorce from the EU, which read that parliament should have the right to both veto the final divorce agreement and the final agreement on future cooperation with the EU. The House of Commons decided to not maintain the right to vote on the terms of divorce nor on the terms of future cooperation with the EU, and struck down the amendments. Of course parliament can always retake these rights if it wants to, but the Conservative majority in the House of Commons seems quite happy to not do its job and monitor the government. The fact that parliament prefers a hands-off approach gives Her Majesty’s government excessive power with regards to the final outcome of the negotiations.

It is wrong to think that because the people voted in favour of Brexit Her Majesty’s government has the monopoly on interpreting what people actually wanted when they voted for Brexit. 52% of the country has used this vote take the rights of the other 48%. Moreover, a hard brexit is not at all what the median voter wants, moving for a hard Brexit is anything but ‘the will of the people’, as far as it is possible at all to speak of the will of the people. Many remainers have accepted the outcome of the referendum, and are willing to compromise, yet a soft Brexit is not what they will get in return for accepting an outcome which takes away their right to work and live abroad and their European citizenship.

The very fact the government is promoting a weak parliament should have every self-respecting Member of Parliament and peer up in arms against this government. Moreover, this shows once more that the democratic deficit in the EU is not due to the flaws of the EU, but because national parliaments refuse to take their responsibility or are not capable of taking their responsibility. This also makes me wonder what the point of Brexit is, if the very government which is executing Brexit is showing the exact same behaviour in foreign policy that lead people to say the EU is undemocratic.

We still live in a world in which problems and issues cross the borders of sovereign states. We cannot ignore those issues, they are here to stay. Climate change, refugee crisis, creating common regulation of markets (thus reducing regulation by a factor of 27) and common defense are all incredibly important issues that are here to stay. Whether the UK is inside or outside the EU barely matters for whether it will have to cooperate with the EU and its members for solving those issues. Brexit has not changed this reality, as Brexiteers will discover soon enough. Yet, people have every right to be extremely angry with the fact that their parliaments no longer have a meaningful say in foreign policy. This is exactly why it is so unfortunate that the British government is completely ignoring the elephant in the room, the democratic deficit, and is plunging head first into the biggest constitutional change in the UK since the UK accessed the EU without proper parliamentary oversight. Instead of using Brexit as an opportunity to discover how to democratize increasingly complex foreign policy, the British government is literally exacerbating the democratic deficit that Brexiteers have blamed on the EU, but which in reality is caused by an increasingly international world.

Bottom Line: For people who pretended to care about the democratic deficit in the EU and about parliamentary sovereignty a lot, Brexiteers are very silent about the democratic deficit in the UK right now.

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