Much has happened over the last week but what have we learned? While a minority of people voted in the EU elections, those that did so indicated that the country is as divided now as it was at the time of EU Referendum. The Conservative and the Labour Party MPs who have been trying to deliver their manifesto commitments have failed to secure the support of people who want us to leave the EU without an orderly transition to a new and close relationship, preferring a “no deal” Brexit, as well as those who want to “stop Brexit” with a second referendum.
I am disappointed that Jeremy Corbyn could not persuade enough of his team, most notably future Labour Party leadership contenders, Emily Thornberry and Kier Starmer, to support him and the way forward, that I am told by people close to the negotiations, he wanted to agree with the Prime Minister. I know Labour MPs that want to honour their manifesto commitments to deliver Brexit. If the agreement had been reached and subsequently supported by Parliament, we would be on track now to leave the EU with a good deal, ending the current paralysing uncertainty. I appreciate that not everyone agrees with me, however I continue to believe that getting Brexit right is of such national importance that it should be above party politics.
With not enough Parliamentary support for her approach to Brexit the PM had no choice but to announce her impending resignation. She is a great public servant and could not have tried harder to deliver a good Brexit. That remains an extraordinary challenge for her successor.
The PM will remain in place while the Conservative Party choose a new leader. The leadership contenders will need to demonstrate that they have a Brexit plan that will command enough support in Parliament. Unity of purpose is essential so that we can begin the process of healing the divisions that Brexit has illuminated.
This selection process will take time and could be months. We should use this time well to consider some new approaches to finding a solution to Brexit, by more directly involving people in our usual political and Parliamentary processes.
Next week, I am meeting Professor David Farrell, one of the “stars” of deliberative democracy and the Co-Leader of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, in which citizens found a way forward on the “unsolvable” question of abortion and marriage equality. Professor David Farrell is described as “the man who transformed Irish politics”.
I am keen to learn from the experience of Ireland and develop an approach for the U.K. There are a range of models of deliberative democracy, including citizens juries. They provide the opportunity for a truly representative group of citizens, enabled by experts, to consider complex issues, feeding back their findings to politicians and the public grappling with the same issues. They don’t replicate our democratic institutions and processes but add an extra dimension that Ireland and other countries have found useful in resolving complex issues.
First published in the West Briton 30 05 19