David Miliband: Brexit is wrecking British democracy

Former foreign secretary says use of outmoded mandates shows UK system needs an overhaul

Brexit has taken a wrecking ball to British democracy, with ministers counting on an outdated mandate to justify their decisions and the main parties in danger of turning into sects, former foreign secretary David Miliband has claimed.

In a lecture on Thursday night, Miliband cited the refusal of the chancellor, Sajid Javid, to produce an economic impact assessment of Boris Johnson’s deal on the grounds that it must be passed because it is “good for the fabric of our democracy”.

He warned that Javid and his colleagues have been reduced to one central argument that “Britain must press ahead with Brexit whatever the economic or political cost, because the danger to democratic health and confidence will be so great if we do not”.

In the Martin Gilbert lecture, Miliband said: “It cannot be more democratic to plough on with a version of Brexit that was never presented to the public in 2016 than to consult them on whether they want to go ahead with this plan.”

He added: “The risks to democratic health of no further consultation are greater than allowing the public to decide, especially so when the plan does not represent the end of Brexit but in fact is only the beginning.

“If we leave the EU we will be ‘doing Brexit’, negotiating the consequences of Brexit, making up for Brexit, filling in the gaps left by Brexit, for at least the duration of the next parliament and most likely well beyond.”

And he said that he shudders “at what those convinced that Brexit can be ‘done’ this week will come to think when they realise it is not”.

On the same night that Boris Johnson that he would seek a general election on 12 December, Miliband argued that an election would be the wrong vehicle to settle the issue created by the 2016 referendum, an event he described as “a rush job with no explanation of what Brexit meant”.

He argued that one reason many fear an election is because “an early 20th-century class-based structure is struggling to cope with 21st-century demands of identity politics pressed on it by Brexit.

“The party system is based on the idea that broad-church parties can represent coalitions of interest,” he said. “But when churches become sects, the system breaks down. The danger is now staring us in the face. It is one reason why many people fear the next election.”

He argued that events had also shown that British democracy itself needs a reboot. The attempt to prorogue parliament was a “near-miss event” for our democracy that should serve as a teachable moment, he said. Changes that should follow included the adoption of citizens assemblies, electoral reform, and a written constitution.

Contributor

Patrick Wintour

The GuardianTramp

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