Down the Brexit rabbit hole: Is more democracy the way out of the Mad Hatter's populist tea party?.

Author:Whitaker, Reg
Position::OPINION
 
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Until recently, some Canadians referred respectfully to the "Mother of Parliaments" in the United Kingdom and deferred to British practices of government as often superior to our own.

We are unlikely to hear such favourable references again in our time. With the Brexit debacle, we are more likely to see the U.K. as a beloved aunt or uncle whose once mature deportment has given way to embarrassingly self-destructive foolishness.

There is, however, a possible way out, ironically involving the very mechanism that sent Britain down the Brexit rabbit hole in the first place: another referendum. The referendum that committed Britain to exiting the European Union was a very blunt instrument of plebiscitary democracy in a country that had traditionally defined the Crown-in-Parliament in opposition to more populist forms of government. It might seem counterintuitive to advise more of the same medicine to a country suffering blunt force trauma from the first dose. Realistically, there is no alternative.

Parliament will be presented with one of three possible options following the conclusion of negotiations with the FU: some form of either a "soft" or a "hard" Brexit, or a crash-out no-deal Brexit. While varying in their degree of undesirability, all options are poor. But Parliament is incapable of breaking out of this Hobson's choice. The parties that actually make Parliament function are structurally incapable of coping with the issue of Britain's relationship with Europe. That was why former Prime Minister David Cameron made his reckless decision to call the Brexit referendum, a rash attempt to resolve a permanent schism in the Tory party between the Eurosceptics and the Europhiles. Cameron insouciantly assumed that the result would discredit Boris Johnson, potential challenger for PM at the head of the Eurosceptic faction. Instead the result blew Cameron out of his job and his country toward the cliff edge.

For a century, British party politics have been mainly aligned along a right-left Tory-Labour axis. Sometimes parties steal ideas from each other but their broad right-left ideological profiles have remained largely intact. As Eric Shaw reports from the U.K. elsewhere in this issue (see page 36), Europe has been the anomaly in this familiar pattern, cutting across both parties and both sides of the spectrum.

Although the Leave campaign was headed by right-wing Tories, Labour has always contained a heavily Eurosceptic left that views Europe as a...

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