The Recent Vote for a Referendum on EU Membership

If you have studied the Legal Secretaries Diploma course through the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs, you will have touched upon the constitution of the United Kingdom and perhaps you have felt quite confused over what should transpire, according to the statutes and common law that have been formulated over many centuries and what really happens in reality. You will have learnt also about the conventions that have arisen over the years, whereby members of Parliament and the Prime Minister are obliged to adhere to past precedents in the everyday running of this country.

During my own studies of constitutional law, I can recall feeling very confused over certain conventions in particular – specifically, the convention that dictates that Parliament should always reflect the British public it serves. Individual members of Parliament have a constitutional duty to vote on issues in the House of Commons that best reflect the views of the majority of their constituents; anything other than this would certainly be unconstitutional and undemocratic.

However, many people believe that the recent vote in the House of Commons on a referendum concerning our country’s membership in the EU was anything but constitutional. For a number of decades now, various parties have promised the electorate a vote on this exact issue, but once they assume their role in government, this promise always falls by the wayside. Every tactic in the book has been used in order to squirm away from such a promise. Past governments have been afraid of the outcome of such a referendum, and this is why they have done their utmost to prevent the British people from exercising their democratic right and having their say.

Some people may see this as proof that Parliament continues to fail in its constitutional duty to reflect the wishes of the public. Members of Parliament seem to be allowing the best interests of their party to overshadow a convention that was established to ensure that we all enjoy a degree of democracy.

The Prime Minister David Cameron was exceptionally worried over the possibility of losing the House of Commons vote on an EU membership referendum. He stated very clearly that with the union in so much trouble and the euro currency on the brink of collapse, this was not an ideal time to consider leaving the EU. Of course, many British citizens argued that these circumstances are dragging the UK down with the rest of Europe, even though we are not a part of the single currency, and that this was exactly the right time to be considering such a move.

In the end, Mr Cameron won his vote in Parliament and the majority of MPs decided against allowing the people of the UK to have their say on this issue – yet again! And this is what may very well be construed as undemocratic. Most people in this country would appreciate the right to have a vote on this issue, yet our MPs have turned their backs on their constituents in order to put their political party first.

When you delve more deeply into the way our parliamentary system operates, it can be extremely exasperating to acknowledge just how easy it is, and how undemocratic it seems, for the political parties and their representatives to lie to the electorate and get away with it. For example, on the manifestos that are released prior to any general election, how many of the individual points are adhered to once that party gets into power? It would appear that there is nothing entrenched in law, in our constitution, that forces the party to adhere to the promises it made to the public before it assumed power.

So, this begs the question, what is the point of voting for any party in the first instance? Surely they are all as bad as each other; politicians from any party promise you the world in the time leading up to a general election and then renege on these deals as soon as they get that very first whiff of power.

If you study constitutional law in detail, you might feel that although everything looks wonderful in the textbooks, when it comes to reality, there are so many flaws with the constitution of the United Kingdom, it would be difficult to know where to start. Perhaps we should seriously consider developing a full and comprehensibly written constitution at last. It is rather embarrassing that, apart from Saudi Arabia, we are the only country in the world not to have a written constitution. With this in mind, one cannot help thinking that such a step would do us no harm, and, if it could eliminate some of the undemocratic features that currently exist, so much the better.

Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not necessarily the views of ILSPA.