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A vote against Brexit plan would be a betrayal of the British people – Theresa May

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The prime minister will make a powerful speech on Monday – in the heart of Brexit UK, Stoke-on-Trent – that MPs “all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum”, because failure to do so would wreak “catastrophic harm” on “people’s faith in the democratic process and their politicians”.

Coming as it does from the most important and powerfully elected politician in the UK, this dramatic claim is worthy of careful consideration. What is it based upon?

Well it is founded on the premise, in her words, that “on the rare occasions when Parliament puts a question to the British people directly we have always understood that their response carries a profound significance”.

That is an uncontroversial statement – though it is worth adding the rider that under the UK’s unwritten constitution, referendums have “advisory” status, they do not mandate governments or Parliament in a binding way.

But May also points out that when her predecessor David Cameron wrote to voters just before the referendum campaigns began, he said “this is your decision; the government will implement what you decide”.

It is on those foundations that she argues that a vote against her Brexit plan on Tuesday night would be a betrayal of the British people.

But is that the inescapable logical conclusion?

The PM marshals as further evidence that “as we have seen over the last few weeks, there are some in Westminster who would wish to delay or even stop Brexit and who will use every device available to them to do so”.

That is where many MPs would see her as being mischievously disingenuous – because although there are MPs who hate Brexit in any shape or form, the Parliamentary action over the past few weeks has had a much narrower aim – namely to prevent a so-called no-deal Brexit.

The assorted forays by the likes of the senior Tories Sir Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve, and Labour’s Yvette Cooper, have been shaped not to blow up all or any Brexit, but simply the version by which the UK would leave the EU in a possibly chaotic way and at alleged great economic cost on 29 March this year.

It is in May’s conflation of her Brexit with any Brexit that she will anger and alienate both purist Brexiters and those who would rather the UK stays in the EU.

The important point is that there are many Brexiters who regard her own Brexit plan as betraying those who voted for Brexit.

And there are Remainers who argue that if the British people had known that Brexit would be her iteration they would never have voted for it.

Also, both sets of critics would point out something fundamental which is often overlooked – that in leaving on 29 March, we would be out of the EU without having much of a clue what kind of future trading relationship we would have with the EU, or how much commercial and lawmaking independence we would in practice enjoy.

All of that is yet to be negotiated.

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