Just 40 minutes to decide Brexit

Fiona Onasanya column
Fiona Onasanya column
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By the time this article is published, Parliament will have been through a marathon session dedicated to the so-called Brexit Bill.

The House of Lords returned the bill with 100 amendments, 16 of which are contentious.

At the time of writing, 12 hours have been allotted for the debate; we will only get about 40 minutes to discuss the 16 pertinent proposals.

Have no doubt, these amendments are significant: they range from remaining within the customs union, which would prevent the necessity of a hard border in Ireland, to joining the European Economic Area.

The country’s future hangs on the outcome of the Commons’ approval or not of these proposals; 40 minutes isn’t enough time for a family to discuss their next holiday destination, let alone set the future course of a nation.

Nevertheless, the government has the power to do this, and so we will have had to condense momentous debates into a timeframe that would better suit a business lunch. This raises a question in my mind. I often hear it asked: “Is Britain a democracy?”

The polls indicate that one of the key motivating factors behind the Brexit vote was to “restore democracy”, part of a laudable impulse to bring decision making closer to the people.

However, “democracy” is one of those words like “love”, it’s something that everyone aspires to have, but comes in a number of varieties. I’m concerned that we are not a deliberative democracy.

Only when an issue has been examined thoroughly, should we make a choice. Admittedly, there will be emergency situations, such as those imposed by war, that will require greater speed on our part, but that should be an exception, not the rule.

I can’t say that much of the Brexit debate has fit the deliberative model; if we take a close look at ourselves and at other countries, we can see that deliberative democracy has been in decline for some time. Politics nowadays seems to be more about enraging passions, particularly in those who have been negatively affected by global economic change at the same time that the safety net of the welfare state has been torn asunder. Meanwhile, careful thinking has never been more important.

As I write these words in advance of the debate, I hope to make a significant contribution to this vital bill. I will urge my fellow MPs that we need to think about the future, rather than be stirred by the ructions of the now.

We need to look at the evidence: think about people’s jobs, think about the borders of Ireland and Gibraltar, think about the world situation. Let’s do our job, not only to respect the people, but also to show wisdom.