Referendums have been leading, and will continue to lead, to the slow erosion of Parliamentary sovereignty. The UK is a Parliamentary representative democracy, where the electorate elect a representative from their constituency to represent them in Parliament. These members of parliament should vote and act in good conscience and in what they believe is in the best interest of their constituents; we do not elect delegates to put across our everyday whims on every single issue. Anna Soubry MP made this exact point during the debate on triggering Article 50, saying that she did not go through the lobbies voting for what she believed in but rather what she had promised her constituents.
For too long, MPs have been willing to use sloppy arguments to justify the use of referendums, such as ‘giving power to the people’, whilst displaying complete disregard for their duties as MPs and shifting responsibility for decisions from themselves onto the public. Referendums introduce a competing force of sovereignty to Parliament – an alternative way for the people to have their say – and whilst this appears to give the people greater choice and control over their lives, it merely allows simplistic populistic sentiments to dominate. This was seen on both sides of the debate in the recent EU referendum. Referendums essentially allow for a tyranny of the majority, no matter how slim, to dictate what happens, and without the safeguards that Parliament allows for this would lead to slow erosion of rights for minority groups. Parliament is a far better medium through which to make key decisions, where members can have hours of debate followed by scrutiny by committees, and decisions not only have to pass through the Commons but the Lords as well, adding further safeguards against rash and unwise decisions. Referendums not only lead to poor outcomes but also allow one topic to eclipse all others: the referendum on leaving the EU was over seven months ago and is still dominating the headlines. This distracts us from other important issues of the day such as the strife of our NHS, prisons and housing. These are far more important to the prosperity of this country than our membership of the EU.
Referendums are incredibly divisive and for the unity of a country it is far better that the government and parliament make these decisions on our behalf, as they are too important to be used to sow division and contempt. These divisions will be felt for years to come and have fortified the feelings of separation between young and old, north and south, urban and non-urban, immigrants and non-immigrants.
The people may have been able to make their decision clear, but at what cost to Parliamentary sovereignty and to wider society?