Breakfast with a Brexiteer

The American Interest has published an extremely interesting interview with Andrew Roberts, the accomplished historian and biographer of Winston Churchill. The interview is published under the headline “Breakfast with a Brexiteer.”

Asked by his interlocutors how he conceives of the role of leadership in a democracy — how he sees the will of the people versus the will of leadership — “We hear British colleagues say, with all these threats of a second referendum, that there would be a real question of legitimacy about the outcome of a re-do” — Roberts responds:

Well, that’s exactly what the losers of the referendum are doing, calling for a second one. And then one might ask, why not have the best of three? Or the best of five, if we lost twice.

​I think it comes down to leadership. It also comes down to political philosophy. It’s been centuries since the defeat of the Crown in the English Civil War, and all of the major political philosophers, all of the post-Hobbes “divine right of kings” philosophers who lost the Civil War, have given way to people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in saying that the sovereign power is the will of the people. It’s not the Crown, but neither is it Parliament.

​If there is a moment in which the people are directly asked something, then their answer must be respected, which is, of course, what happened on the 23rd of June 2016. And it wasn’t that close, actually. It was over a million more people who voted to leave than to remain.

​What’s happened in the last three years is that the Remainers—the losers—have utterly refused to abide by this. They have done everything possible to try to subvert the will of the people. If we allow that to happen, I think it would be extremely damaging for the British polity, for our identity as a democratic country, and for our trust in politics, which is leeching away very quickly now according to al the surveys. For the leader of the Liberal Democrats, for example, Jo Swinson, to still call herself a Democrat in her party title, when she has spent three years doing nothing but try to rip up the democratic referendum result, seems to me extremely hypocritical.

​What you have now with the prorogation of Parliament is the prospect of the starkest dichotomy between the will of the people and the will of Parliament. Because Parliament is 70 percent or so pro-Remain. One has got to win.

​It’s an extraordinary irony, really, that the Prime Minister has to use the prerogative powers of the Crown, the loser in the Civil War three and a half centuries ago, in order to impose the sovereignty of the people on Parliament, which was the victor in the English Civil War. This is one of the rare occasions where the unwritten nature of our constitution actually is riding to our rescue. Because what Boris has done is deeply unconventional. It hasn’t been done since 1948, except for one short period in the 1990s when John Major tried it. Otherwise, it’s very unusual, but then the situation is bloody unusual.

Of course, Remainers will argue, “Well, nobody voted for no deal. That wasn’t on the ballot paper.” My stance is, of course, no deal wasn’t on the ballot paper, but leaving was.Of course, Remainers will argue, “Well, nobody voted for no deal. That wasn’t on the ballot paper.” My stance is, of course, no deal wasn’t on the ballot paper, but leaving was. If we’ve tried three ways of leaving and there’s only one left, then essentially, it was on the ballot paper. It’s like you’ve got to escape from a building and three of the doors turn out to be locked, but there’s a window. If you jump out of the window, at least you’re doing what you need to do. That’s essentially what’s happening here.

Whole thing here (behind a paywall, but one of the articles made accessible to nonsubscribers receiving the magazine’s email updates).

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