What is worse: having a mafia contract on your life or the kind of contract some Tories believe has been taken out on the British people?
Theresa May’s international trade secretary, Liam Fox, appealed to imaginary legal principles clearly at odds with political reality as he attempted to explain the UK government’s position: “You’ve got a leave population and a remain parliament. Parliament has not got the right to hijack the Brexit process, because parliament said to the people of this country, we make a contract with you, you will make the decision and we will honour it.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A formally defined and carefully detailed engagement by two or more consenting parties, committing them to mutually respect the usually carefully defined technical terms and conditions of a transaction, which in partisan politics can be an utterly imprecise formulation of an emotionally charged course of action regardless of consent, which even when proven dangerous, destructive and nonviable must be carried out for honor, lucre or expedience
The first part of Fox’s statement is patently false: There is no “leave population” because the population is clearly divided into two camps on the issue of Brexit. Even if he means a majority of the population wants to leave the European Union, based on the result of the 2016 referendum, he should be using either the past tense or the conditional to make a valid statement.
It would be accurate to make the historical statement: In the 2016 referendum a majority of those who voted — despite their very incomplete understanding of the conditions of the question — expressed a preference for leaving. If he had wished accurately to address the present, he should have formulated his assessment as a conditional: If we suppose that a majority still wish to leave after all that they have learned about the complexity of the issues, I believe they would reveal that they were still committed to leaving the European Union. This would make it clear that his position relies on supposition and belief.
But it is far from certain and apparently false to say that the British population today, having learned in considerable detail what the consequences of leaving the EU are likely to be, would vote the same way. To support his contention, Fox should be advocating “the people’s vote” to find out what an informed electorate might express. But instead, he is excluding that option.
Fox wants us to believe that the referendum was a legal contract, which effectively denies what it actually was: an inept and poorly designed attempt by a Tory prime minister, David Cameron, to neutralize a segment of his own party that seriously annoyed him. But contracts are typically seriously detailed and binding only when all concerned parties agree and sign on. Perhaps he doesn’t understand the difference between the law and political opportunism. This is a subject that would be worth introducing in school curricula.
Elsewhere Fox has commented: “Failure to deliver Brexit would produce a yawning gap between Parliament and the people, a schism in our political system with unknowable consequences.” Perhaps he’s thinking of the most serious schism in Britain’s history, the 17th-century civil war, when the people tended to be Royalist, but the Parliament had a Puritan majority that eventually overturned the government and beheaded the king. But that kind of historical reflection on his part is highly unlikely.
The “unknowable consequences” that worry Fox can be better explained by the ongoing and accelerating chaos in his own party, starting with Cameron’s disastrous initiative, whose effects were compounded by Prime Minister May’s inept negotiations and misreading of practically everyone’s intentions over a period of two and a half years. This has created a deep schism within the Conservative Party itself.
Liam Fox is right to affirm that the incredible polarization created by the Brexit issue itself means that the Conservative Party is in shambles. But so is Labour, as can be seen by leader Jeremy Corbyn’s hesitation to do what a party of the people would naturally want to do: Make an appeal to democracy and vote seriously, in contrast to what should be seen as the absurd opinion poll of 2016.
Speaking in the conditional, Brexit would have a future if a majority wanted it today. There actually should be three choices: May’s Brexit deal, which has already been roundly rejected by both the Parliament and popular opinion, a hard Brexit or remaining in the European Union. Most likely, there will be a suspension of the application of Article 50, which might give time for the “population” to decide.
But what choice will they be given? And will it be contractual?
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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