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The Vicars of Bray at their Rubicon.


POST-BREXIT BRITAIN is proving to be an exciting place for MPs as much as for anyone else, not least because it requires them to think deeply about their own careers. Already one MP, the Tory, Stephen Phillips, has resigned, citing “irreconcilable policy differences” with the new government. These differences include the treatment of refugee children and the use of the foreign aid budget.

Phillips’ resignation is a surprise, however, because he voted to leave the EU. Since the referendum he has been critical of the government’s Brexit strategy and has sided with those who say that parliament should have a say in triggering Article 50.

Whether any more MPs follow his lead and jump ship is doubtful. It may be that his decision is the result of truly felt beliefs which clash with his parliamentary duties in such as way as to make it impossible to carry on. Or it may be more to do with self interest (Mr Phillips has a lucrative other job as a lawyer and judge).

Labour is at greatest risk given the shambles it has become under Corbyn and the fact that embarrassingly large numbers of its traditional supporters opted for leave.

That self-interest tends to win out over principle is what we expect of our politicians, so I don’t expect any others to quit. What will be interesting to watch is how the remainers (ie, the majority of MPs of all persuasions) navigate around the immoveable object that is Brexit. Will they turn out to be contemporary reincarnations of the legendary Vicar of Bray who changed his principles to stay in his position, and vote to facilitate Brexit or will they resist? Those who do the latter risk losing votes in the next general election, given that so many people of all parties voted for leave. Labour is at greatest risk given the shambles it has become under Corbyn and the fact that embarrassingly large numbers of its traditional supporters opted for leave. The Tories have a better chance of surviving because it seems most of its MPs have acknowledged that the electorate now expect the government to take Britain out of the EU and will get on with the job.

But the politicians, whatever their view, have reached their Rubicon: do they accept the vote of the people and cross the river to fulfill their promise? Or do they refuse to do as they promised, and turn back? Or have they already crossed their Rubicon, having given the people an unequivocal choice which has now been made? To turn round now and come out with quibblings about the nature of the referendum, to seek to obstruct or delay it with posturings about parliamentary sovereignty (having for forty years happily ceded more and more of that sovereignty to Brussels) is hypocritical and dangerous.

The remain side, having seen all its economic threats vanish almost overnight, is desperately searching for anything with which to sabotage the process. The fact that they are acting in this way is bringing into disrepute the very system they say they are defending. If they succeed in eventually blocking Brexit or turning it into something the British people did not want, they will have destroyed all trust in politicians and the political process (and the judiciary as well).

This is not politics as normal. It is not the same as promising to build more houses then failing to do so, or promising not to raise taxes and then raising them. This is not the kind of promise that can be fudged or dumped. It’s too big for that. Whether we have politicians big enough to understand this and act upon it properly we’ll have to see. But if they want to keep their seats and the trust of the electorate they will have to be our Vicars of Bray and cross the Rubicon, because there’s no turning back.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.

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