A summary of the debate on the motion ‘This house would hold a general election before triggering Article 50’.
Last Monday UCLU Debating Society held their weekly public debate on the motion, ‘This house would hold a general election before triggering Article 50.’ Before the debate, a vote is taken – 21 vote in favour of the motion, 21 against and 19 abstain.
First to the floor to speak in proposition was Jamie Capp. Jamie is the Liberal Democrat councillor for Amesbury East and is also a 3rd year Government student at the London School of Economics. Jamie begins by reminding the audience that our current government is planning for Britain to leave the European Union with no clear mandate for the process. If a general election is held however, a government with a clear mandate for Brexit can be elected. Such a government will be more accountable and more legitimate. He also says that considering the magnitude of the impact the vote for Brexit has had and will continue to have, the Conservative 2015 manifesto also no longer realistically stands to be fulfilled. Our current Tory government does not want an election as they want to stay in power. All of this means that they will be carrying out Brexit on their terms, not on terms chosen by the people.
First to the floor in opposition is Ines Stelk. Ines is an intern at the Institute for Government and previously worked at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, an international economic policy think tank. Ines begins by reminding the audience of the technicalities surrounding general elections. She points out that for us to legally have a general election prior to Article 50 being triggered, Theresa May would in the first instance need to lose a vote of no confidence. However, a party leader only needs the support of her MP’s to lead and plenty of MP’s currently support May, all of whom have been elected for five years. Another way in which a general election could be triggered is if the Houses of Parliament were to repeal the Parliamentary Act of 2011, the act which dictates general elections happen every five years, which is very unlikely to happen.
Ines goes on to address the crux of the current Brexit issue: it is impossible to set out what Brexit will look like. The way the UK exits the EU is massively dependent on the 27 other member states. The idea that we can just divorce ourselves from 27 other countries without them having a say in the matter is utterly unrealistic, and we cannot predict what they will say, as they have no obligation to say anything until Article 50 is actually triggered. Therefore, according to her, we should focus on scrutinising the choices our government can make while implementing Brexit and ensuring that the general public’s voice is heard throughout the negotiations.
Second to speak in proposition is UCL’s own Aidan Patrick. Aidan studies mathematical computation and is a very experienced debater. He opens by emphasising that Brexit wasn’t a decision based on objective truth, but rather was influenced by people’s personal values and beliefs. It is of upmost importance that we respect the values and beliefs of the people of Britain as this principal is fundamental to democracy.
Aidan rebuts the idea that a motion for a general election would not pass as he thinks many MP’s would like a general election, and he reminds the audience that early elections have been held before. He also points out that this is a principled debate about whether we should hold a general election, not whether we will. Aidan goes on to mention that it is unacceptable for the people of Britain to not be made part of the Brexit negotiations. This is a point both sides agree upon however. The key issue in this debate is whether Theresa May’s government should be responsible for Brexit. With May’s inevitable departure from the 2015 Conservative manifesto, the government running our country is not the one we voted for, and in essence it is as simple as that.
Last to speak is Tessa Munt. Tessa served as a Liberal Democrat MP for Somerset County between 2010 and 2015. Prior to her election, she served as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable. Tessa opens by emphasising that general elections are not single issue matters. Brexit, despite being something that will have drastic consequences for the UK, it is still an individual issue.
Brexit has, in addition, fundamentally divided the UK’s two major parties, she continues. Therefore, a general election is likely to only cause more confusion, chaos and unrest. (She does however amusingly point out that the Liberal Democrats are firmly united against Brexit, and the only parties united on the issue are her party and UKIP, so a GE with those two parties at the forefront might work, but otherwise it’ll just be chaos.) The fact is, she says, the way people choose to vote is often based on emotion rather than logic as was seemingly the case with Brexit. However, we should still allow people to vote on the Brexit we will get, as despite emotion coming into play, that is how democracy should function.
In regards to holding the Leave campaign to account, Tessa recognises that there is little we can do, and says that it is best to move on. It is likely that Brexit could take up to a decade and will cost billions of pounds. She concedes that Theresa May is acting for political stability, and from my own perspective as an audience member, I am convinced it seems Theresa is our best bet at a positive outcome for Britain.
In the floor speeches that followed, there is talk of Scotland leaving the UK, however this is later rebutted by Jamie Capp in his summary speech where he points out that Scotland could not survive on its own without Britain, especially given current oil prices. Several speakers also reemphasise that a general election would cause political chaos, tell us nothing meaningful and just make Brexit more difficult. By the end of the debate, opposition has clearly managed to sway the room in their favour as when a final vote is taken 14 audience members vote in favour of the motion, 35 against and 12 abstain, meaning that opposition have gained 14 supporters following the debate.
Overall, the debate made clear that Britain is in a state of perhaps unprecedented uncertainty. Whether Brexit will be good for Britain in the long run, it is impossible to say. The type of Brexit the UK will achieve cannot be predicted and the debate, if anything, showed that there is consensus that we are better off simply getting on with with our divorce from the EU. If Theresa May is the person to lead us through these murky waters, at least she seemingly has the support of her party. She even managed to vocalise a mandate of sorts this week. ‘Brexit, means Brexit!’ Well there is a mandate if there ever was one.
This article includes summaries of arguments presented during a debate. The opinions presented should not however be taken to represent the personal views of the speakers. Often they do, but this is not always the case.
UCLU Debating Society holds public debates open to anyone every Monday. To find out more about the society and the debates each week, please visit their website at https://www.debating.org/public-debates or join the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/ucludebating
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