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Parliament is filled with “spineless lemmings”

File photo dated 13/11/07 of Lord Karan Bilimoria, who has hit out at 'mad cap' immigration controls, warning they were damaging British business prospects. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Brexit may not happen at all – when what we need are leaders, not followers, to win this battle

Sport inspires huge passions in people. As a British Indian, I am supposed to pass the famous ‘cricket test’, devised by the arch Brexiteer, Norman Tebbit: if India and England are playing a match, who would I support? My response? The only test Tebbit is qualified to talk about is a flying test!

Brexit is entirely different – it is like a game of football, a game of two halves. Voters were given a choice of Leave or Remain; what they were not asked was on what basis to leave.

Over a year on from the referendum, Britain is now more divided than ever. We are increasingly a country of two sides and the Brexiteers and Remainers are fighting to the death for the result they want: a no deal, cliff edge Brexit, a soft Brexit with a transition period of three years or no Brexit but instead choosing to remain in the European Union.

Much has changed and so much has been revealed than was ever made apparent during the four-month referendum campaign last year. Yet to question last year’s narrow 48 to 52 victory is seen as undemocratic – betraying the will of the people.

Remain means Remain, but what does Brexit mean? Brexit is an infinite number of possibilities but, in this game, you are on one side or the other, it is win or lose – Remain or Brexit, but at any cost.

In the EU Referendum last year, where voters were concerned, our elderly population came out in droves and overwhelmingly voted to leave, whereas our youth did not play in proportionate numbers and thereby forsake their futures. Our 16- and 17-year-olds were not allowed to take part in this divisive competition over Britain’s future.

But now, how different everything looks. Whereas last year’s Leave vote was captained by UKIP leader Nigel Farage, their sole star player, he now complains from the sidelines that his party’s raison d’être, Brexit, cannot be delivered properly by the Government of the day and he has even predicted riots in the streets if he is denied the result he wants.

Foul play is rife in this game. Lies were peddled throughout the referendum campaign, starting with the slogan on the Brexit battle bus claiming £350million a week was paid into the EU, based only on the gross figure rather than our net contribution of around half that sum. Brexiteers, without the power to promise anything, promised the non-existent savings to the NHS.

Then, Britain was going to have to join a European Army, Turkey was going to join the European Union, and the referee’s whistle never once blew. It turns out the UK Electoral Commission is toothless, unlike the Advertising Standards Authority which can order misleading commercials to be pulled off the air immediately and level fines against companies, by way of policing lies.

In Parliament, we are no longer just separated by party lines, but divided by Brexit, unnecessarily and unpleasantly. The Conservative Party was always divided over Europe, and now the Labour Party is divided over Brexit; Jeremy Corbyn is undoubtedly a Brexiteer and many in the Labour Party are too terrified to oppose 
Brexit and accept accusations of sabotage.

Brexit has shown our politicians to be spineless lemmings, too scared to speak their minds, with some MPs now actually saying that if they see that the mood of the public changes, then they will speak up for remaining in the EU. The truth is that, before the wretched referendum, the vast majority of both Houses of Parliament, by far, were Remain supporters. Our politicians have exposed themselves not as leaders but followers.

But the game of two halves is not won by followers, it is won through boldness and leadership.

The irony is that this absurd game should not be happening at all. There is very rarely a place for referenda in the framework of Parliamentary democracy. By asking a simple question over a very complicated issue with anything but a simple outcome, the result is now a mess!

Complete confusion rules within the Cabinet about whether there is going to be a transitionary period if we leave the EU in March 2019.

Though Prime Minister Theresa May rushed into triggering Article 50 for purely selfish reasons, to act on her rhetoric that there was ‘no turning back now’, what few people realise is that the author of Article 50, Lord Kerr, insists that Article 50 is unilaterally revocable.

This fact is not widely known; what is widely known is that the UK would be welcomed back into the EU with open arms were we to choose to remain – President Macron for one has already said so.

I was the first parliamentarian to say that Brexit may not happen at all – in the Queen’s Speech debate, the day after the State Opening of Parliament. Since then, the Prime Minister of Malta, the Mayor of London, and even a small number of parliamentarians have joined in arguing that Brexit can be halted.

The voters can change their minds based on reality when given another chance. The democratic will of the people is not permanent.

We did not hold this referendum a year ago so that the vast majority British people could watch as spectators, completely powerless, while divided politicians and divided parties, and international leaders in the EU battle it out.

Brexit is a game of two halves. If at last we leave the EU, however, it is ‘Game Over’ forever.

Lord Bilimoria is a crossbench peer, the founder and
chairman of Cobra Beer, Chancellor of the
University of Birmingham and the founding chairman of the UK-India Business Council

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