‘Take back control!’ Boris blustered with an aroma of British exceptionalism. ‘I want my country back’, said the 52 per cent with petulant ambivalence. What joined their choruses of chaos together? Sovereignty. If one thing can be taken from the EU referendum, it is that the majority of the British public want Parliament to decide the future of Britain. Yet today, in the face of military involvement in Syria, we see the glaring and frankly abhorrent hypocrisy of this far-right Tory government.
For the best part of thirty years, the Tory party has bemoaned our lack of parliamentary sovereignty due to the EU. Eurosceptics claim the EU has limited our Parliament’s ability to scrutinise the government, yet when the government plans to disrupt the Middle East, they are complicit in a complete miscarriage of such principles. If it isn’t that the Tories aren’t gasping for their latest hit of Middle Eastern blood, then they must be disdainful of any parliamentary scrutiny against their own government. As echoed by former Conservative MP Stephen Philips, this government’s attitude to parliamentary sovereignty is “at its core, undemocratic, unconstitutional and likely to exacerbate the divisions in our society”. We have a government that thinks it is above Parliament and, by consequence, above the people. Our institutions and parliamentary system vest power with Parliament and Parliament alone. Our government exists because Parliament allows it to do so, ensuring that a government is both accountable and representative of the people, for the people.
This Tory government’s dogma isn’t ‘the will of the people’ or ‘taking back control’, it’s ‘we do what we want’.
We shouldn’t be shocked that a Tory government is pissing in the mouths of those they claim to represent: it’s what they do. But we, the British public, must be appalled by their complete and utter discontent for the institution they claim to protect so fervently. Of course, since David Cameron’s shambolic embarrassment in 2013 any government will be wary of taking parliamentary consent for granted in the shadow of our chaotic interventions in Iraq and Libya. However, that does not permit blatant misuses of prerogative power. Our constitution is based on precedents being followed, yet the Tories seem intent on continuing this Maoist approach to parliamentary sovereignty to protect their fragile majority at every corner, whether that be through Brexit or through military action.
The difference between military intervention and Brexit is that, in one, lives are at stake. The refusal to seek parliamentary consent is not only hypocritical, it completely undermines the legitimate reasons for acting against Assad and his inhumane use of chemical weapons. One of the lasting consequences of the misinformation surrounding the Iraq war is the West’s reluctance to intervene when justified. As an outward looking internationalist, I find it alarming that many of those to the left of me now refuse to entertain justified international intervention whilst simultaneously opening our arms to refugees. In my eyes, these actions are one and the same; ensuring stability in the Middle East and the rest of the world is paramount to ensuring the safety of thousands of people. If anything, at least Iraq had parliamentary consent, however misled Parliament was. If this government’s proposed action in Syria backfires, without legitimate consent it could end any future hope for justified military action and risk the future and safety of millions of people for generations to come.
This all paints a picture of a hapless, toothless government, clinging to power for the sake of power whilst having distain for anyone or any system which dares question them. The Tories’ refusal to accept the very claims about parliamentary sovereignty which they espouse when bashing the EU is hypocrisy of the highest level and it is dangerous. The case for military intervention is sound, but it must be done through the proper channels to legitimise it. The Tories, of all parties, with their Brexit backers holding the Prime Minister to ransom, should be aware of the importance of parliamentary sovereignty in the current political climate, yet their capacity to ignore it over Syria shows their embedded views not for lofty ideological principles about democracy, but for anyone or anything which disagrees with them, whether that be the EU or Parliament itself. This Tory government’s dogma isn’t ‘the will of the people’ or ‘taking back control’, it’s ‘we do what we want’.
Whilst being a passionate Remainer, I too see the justified and intellectual case for parliamentary sovereignty, and therefore the Tories’ disregard for constitutional restraints is terrifying and hypocritical. It’s clear to me that it is the responsibly of left-leaning Liberals to enforce the positive aspect of the Tory Brexiteers’ wet dreams, ensuring that Parliament is supreme. I was comfortable yielding power to Brussels, but only with the consent of the people through Parliament. By the same standard, no one should be comfortable with our government claiming power without such legitimacy, setting a dangerous and daunting precedent that could cause untold damage. I too want to ‘take back control’, but I want to take it back to Parliament, ending this authoritarian and hypocritical government that we currently have. Syria is just one of many examples of a government petrified of differing opinions, yet it is scrutiny which ensures that governments function effectively. Without scrutiny, we may as well be Assad himself. Is this really ‘taking back control’?
Featured image: Aron Urb, Wikimedia commons