Populists have, on the whole, managed to convince us all that Brexit was about leaving every trading institution in Europe. It wasn’t, and it was clear during the campaign that the Leave campaign based their promises on continued membership of the common market (of course under imaginary terms, with unattainable opt-outs). They have, on the whole, managed to convince us that a single vote is final, and people never ever change their minds (except all those who voted in the last referendum on European membership, obviously). But their underlying message, of ‘taking back control’, has remained firm if vague.
Farage’s respectable façade has been torn away as he’s vomited the alt-right’s venom, but he’s now an irrelevance- even if no one seems to have noticed that. The Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party, John Major’s bastards, are the ones leading the ship now. And they’re the only ones taking back any control.
I’m not entirely convinced that they knew what they wanted. For some- Redwood, Bone, Howarth, Duncan Smith, Hanan- I don’t think they ever did. When you hate something quite so much for quite so long, that hatred loses all meaning. The EU, to them, was the source of all evil and nothing more. Legitimate criticisms of the EU, of its democratic deficit, fell by the wayside. Instead of explaining how the people would ‘take back control’, and how they weren’t in control, they simply blurted out the phrase and made things up.
They now dictate Brexit. Should May do something they disagree with, they have the power to end her career, and May is listening to them. We’re leaving the EEA, because Brexit was entirely about immigration (which isn’t what they said when they won) and because no one said we’d stay in the EEA (which isn’t what they said when they were campaigning, and certainly not what the 2015 Tory manifesto says), because that’s what they now want. We’re cosying up to Trump, because they like him (despite the severe strategic problems that will cause us in negotiating trade deals with the Common Market and Commonwealth countries). We’re thinking about appointing Farage our US ambassador, because they like him and we’ve all forgotten what an ambassador does.
Our parliamentary system is supposed to give us control, not a handful of backbench MPs from one party. We have an MP that answers to us, who we can vote in or vote out, no matter where we live. The views of all Britons are supposed to be represented, and that’s supposed to shape the way government is able to legislate.
As May sidesteps parliament as much as she can, and as the old Tory Eurosceptics shout ‘enemy of the people’ at any Tory who might want to change that, our system breaks. If Parliament does not act as if it were sovereign, our constitution is meaningless. Of course, the opposition isn’t helping in all of this.
With a Prime Minister that hasn’t faced an election discarding a manifesto that has, using a referendum on leaving the EU as an excuse to claim a mandate for virtually anything, we’re in trouble. When this is driven by people who, in reality, only know that they hate a single trading bloc and would rather like to turn back time, that democratic deficit doesn’t look that big anymore.
There were millions of Leave voters listening to the pledges of the campaign. Remain in the Common Market, £350 million a week extra funding for the NHS, a sovereign and more functionally democratic parliament. No matter how outlandish those were at the time, the way they’ve been entirely discarded in aid of ‘no EEA’, ‘no more money for the NHS’, ‘Royal Prerogative’ and the phrase ‘the will of the people’ used to silence those who ask what the people want is disgusting.