Article - Brexit and Parliament

We have had another couple of tumultuous weeks in Parliament. And the one thing that can be confidently predicted is that, though some things have become clearer, there will still be months of difficulty and debate ahead of us, before the great issue of Brexit is finally resolved. 

But, whatever the eventual outcome, it is worth reflecting on the significant changes that have already begun to become apparent in the domestic political landscape. 

Whatever else Brexit ultimately delivers, it has certainly created deep fissures in the traditional structures of British politics.

Most obviously, there is the creation of what is, in effect, a new political party, currently know as The Independent Group. This has attracted a large amount of public support even in its first days of existence - and it seems very likely to end up by forging some kind of pact or alliance with the Liberal Democrats. If this were indeed to occur, it might well establish a post-political force of a new kind. 

Meanwhile, alongside the continued prominence of the various nationalist and unionist parties from different parts of the UK, we can all see the significant divisions that have been revealed within the two major parties which have dominated the political landscape since the early decades of the last Century. It is notoriously difficult to predict how tensions of this sort will be resolved - and no one is currently in a position to do more than guess about what configuration of parties may in due course emerge. But there is at least a strong possibility that the whole shape of British politics will look quite different by 2022. 

When a kaleidoscope is shaken vigorously, there is no knowing what the patterns will look like once the shaking is interrupted, but it would be a brave forecaster who announced with conviction that the pattern at the end of the shaking would look exactly (or even very much like) the pattern that could be seen through the lens before the shaking began. 

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, the combined effect of a more fractured politics and the fact that we are playing out a great national drama in the context of what is, in effect, a minority government, has been to precipitate new alliances and new ways of working with profound, medium term (and perhaps even long term) consequences for the relation between Parliament and the Executive. 

Though the various cross-party alliances formed to deal with the specific challenges of Brexit are at present purely transactional and may well in themselves have no long term significance the absence of any clear and sustainable majority based purely on party allegiance has produced a much more balanced and contractual relationship between parliament and government after a century or so in which parliaments had become far more dominated by government than had traditionally been the case before the Standing Orders of the House of Commons were fundamentally changed in 1906. 

In short, we have at least temporarily moved into a form of politics in which the government needs to negotiate with parliament instead of commanding it.