Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Many thanks for all your comments on my previous post regarding the historical precedents that dictate the need for a general election following the defeat of Theresa May’s proposed deal on Brexit. And given the incredible scale of that defeat last night, I believe even more strongly that it would be a constitutional outrage were she to ignore those precedents and keep limping on.
After all, when the great Liberal Prime Minister, William Gladstone sought to pass his 1886 Bill on Irish Home Rule, he lost by just 30 votes, with 93 of his own MPs rebelling against him, compared to Theresa May losing by 230 votes, including 118 of her own MPs.
Immediately after his defeat, Gladstone felt the only honourable course open to him – having lost on the most crucial issue facing the country – was to seek the dissolution of Parliament and hold a fresh election. From Theresa May, by comparison, we have heard just more bluster and delay.
And with that in mind, it is worth looking back at what Theresa May’s predecessor, the then leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons, Michael Hicks-Beech, said in advance of Gladstone’s Home Rule vote in 1886:
“The [Prime Minister] has told us that this proposal has been welcomed with warmth throughout the country. If he believes in his own statements he will not fear to appeal to the people of Great Britain. Their verdict, and their verdict alone, can really settle this question…The life or the death of a government in this country is as nothing in comparison with the consequences of the vote we are called upon to give.”
Swap the ‘he’s for ‘she’s, and we could say exactly the same to Theresa May today. And yet she refuses – as her predecessor said – to “appeal to the people”. She refuses to allow them to give “their verdict” to “really settle this question”. She is putting the “life or death” of her government before the needs of the people, and their right to decide the future of our country.
In recent days, Theresa May asked how the history books would judge MPs if they failed to back her Brexit deal. All I can say in response is that she needs to go and read some history books herself to see how previous Prime Ministers have dealt with defeats like the one she suffered last night. And she needs to ask how history will assess her integrity and courage if she refuses to follow their lead.
Best wishes, and as ever, please let me have your thoughts,