ANDREW ROBERTS: Britain needs an official inquiry on Brexit

ANDREW ROBERTS: Britain needs an official inquiry into how the elite turned Brexit into a national humiliation

The humiliation that has befallen the United Kingdom over the past three years and four months as the direct result of the refusal of our political class to respect the EU referendum of June 2016 needs to be investigated by an official committee of inquiry.

For there will undoubtedly be lessons to be learned about what went wrong with our broken politics, and how it can be fixed.

We might even require changes to the British constitution, ensuring that it can be made fit for purpose once again, and that such a vicious period of open democracy-hatred is never repeated.

If there is a Trade Descriptions Act for products and an Advertising Standards Authority, in what world can there be a party that calls itself Liberal and Democratic when its manifesto promises to overturn without another referendum the democratically expressed will of the people? Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is pictured above

The prestige which we have lost as a country needs to be considered in terms of a major national catastrophe, and we need to recognise what has happened and why.

Fortunately, there is a good deal of precedent for such a Brexit committee of inquiry. Many such investigations have taken place – even after wars in which we were victorious.

The Roebuck Inquiry into the Crimean War uncovered many abuses and inefficiencies that led to important reforms of Victorian society, especially in its military and governmental spheres.

Why, the committee will ask, once Theresa May said that a bad deal was worse than No Deal, did the negotiators not dangle the genuine threat of No Deal before Brussels? Why did we have to wait for Boris Johnson to enter Downing Street?

After the Falklands War, the Franks Committee of privy counsellors investigated ‘the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in the period leading up to the Argentine invasion’, and is thought to have been a model of its kind.

There were no fewer than 146 Royal Commissions on different subjects between April 1896 and July 1993. 

Precedents from the 17th Century were cited one minute and ignored the next. The Benn Act was passed without due process. Everything, right down to the ‘B******s to Brexit’ sticker on his car, would be investigated

And if it is possible to have one on subjects as esoteric as lighthouse administration (1906), the selection of JPs (1909), cross-river traffic in London (1926), Tyneside local government (1935) and university education in Dundee (1951), then something as important as Brexit can certainly be investigated for the lessons that can be learned about how so many members of the British elite came to the avowed conclusion that they had the moral right to subvert the decision of 17.4 million voters, simply because they disagreed with it.

Unlike so many earlier public inquiries, this one must not be commandeered by the Establishment, as it will be very largely the Establishment itself which will need to come under the microscope.

Nor can it be dominated by lawyers, as so often in the past, because one of the questions will be why the Supreme Court came up with such a suspiciously unanimous 11-nil verdict over the prorogation issue when other eminent judges such as the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls had thrown out the same case only weeks earlier.

If the committee of inquiry considers there to be such homogeneity of assumptions and backgrounds and prejudices and political opinions among the Supreme Court, it must say so.

Once the committee of six or seven genuinely impartial privy counsellors are empanelled, they will be able to ask penetrating questions of all the key figures, without fear or favour. 

They will be able to ask permanent under-secretaries of important Civil Service departments why there were so many damaging leaks against the Brexit process – which never led to any whistleblowers being prosecuted – but virtually none damaging to Remain.

We might even require changes to the British constitution, ensuring that it can be made fit for purpose once again, and that such a vicious period of open democracy-hatred is never repeated. Placards from the People’s Vote March in London yesterday is pictured above

They will be able to ask senior BBC figures why the neutrality over Brexit during the referendum campaign so spectacularly collapsed across the Corporation the moment Leave had won, as John Humphrys’s recent comments, post-retirement, have confirmed.

A committee would almost certainly call the by then ex-Speaker John Bercow before it, and ask him to justify his claims he was neutral between Remainers and Brexiteers when his every major decision helped those who sought to ignore the people’s will and none helped those trying to implement it. 

Precedents from the 17th Century were cited one minute and ignored the next. The Benn Act was passed without due process. Everything, right down to the ‘B******s to Brexit’ sticker on his car, would be investigated.

The committee would examine whether the Royal prerogative, which it was thought over the past 300 years had legal force in this country, has instead been wholly passed over to the Supreme Court.

What about Orders in Council, made by the Queen on the advice of her privy counsellors? This country fought its trade wars against the Napoleonic Empire on the basis of Orders in Council. Do they still have legal validity?

After the Falklands War, the Franks Committee of privy counsellors investigated ‘the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in the period leading up to the Argentine invasion’, and is thought to have been a model of its kind. The British flag is pictured flying over Ajax Bay in 1982

Who now chooses when Parliament can and cannot be prorogued? 

I suspect the moronic Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 will come under serious scrutiny by the committee and its authors questioned on why they never envisioned the present appalling constitutional impasse when they merrily passed it in order to keep the Lib Dems inside the Cameron coalition?

Speaking of the Lib Dems, any committee with teeth will probably report that there needs to be a wholesale alteration in the naming of our political parties to reflect the truth. 

If there is a Trade Descriptions Act for products and an Advertising Standards Authority, in what world can there be a party that calls itself Liberal and Democratic when its manifesto promises to overturn without another referendum the democratically expressed will of the people?

 The phrase Authoritarian Anti-Democratic Party might not have the same electoral appeal, but it is much closer to the literal truth.

Similarly, the committee will want to look at the proper future functioning of the House of Lords, an essential part of the constitution that merely rubber-stamped the Benn Act with its huge inbuilt Remainer majority, and whose membership is wildly unrepresentative of the overall public view of Britain’s relationship with Europe, and whose Lib Dem membership is out of all proportion to their numbers either in the Commons or in the public at large.

The committee of inquiry could expand its horizons beyond politics and ask for an explanation from the Archbishop of Canterbury as to how his anti-Leave pronouncements have not crossed the line by putting the prestige of his office and the Church of England on one side of the Brexit debate?

The Roebuck Inquiry into the Crimean War uncovered many abuses and inefficiencies that led to important reforms of Victorian society, especially in its military and governmental spheres. British officers are pictured above in 1855

It could ask the CEOs and chairmen of all the financial institutions who have spent the last four years threatening to move their companies to Frankfurt and Dublin why, so far, fewer than 1 per cent of City of London jobs have actually migrated there? (Of course it will be up to their shareholders to quiz them on the wasted millions involved in moving even that 1 per cent.)

With Britain largely a laughing stock in the international community over Brexit – not for having voted to leave the EU, but for its lamentable negotiating stance afterwards – there will be plenty of opportunity for the committee to drag those Foreign Office mandarins over hot coals, along with No 10 advisers and politicians who wasted three years negotiating Brexit so badly after the referendum result.

Why, the committee will ask, once Theresa May said that a bad deal was worse than No Deal, did the negotiators not dangle the genuine threat of No Deal before Brussels? Why did we have to wait for Boris Johnson to enter Downing Street?

We might even invite Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker, above, to Westminster Great Hall – where the committee will sit in public – to tell us how they managed to play the British Government for such fools for so long

We might even invite Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker to Westminster Great Hall – where the committee will sit in public – to tell us how they managed to play the British Government for such fools for so long.

I suspect that the person who has most to fear from the inquiry, however, is not even Theresa May, but Jeremy Corbyn. 

His time in front of the committee’s cameras will make great viewing as he is taken step by step through every single Labour change in policy, in nuance, in prediction. 

We will all be shown with total clarity how at every turn he put ambition over patriotism and opportunism over principle.

History shows again and again that countries that face the horrible truths about traumatic periods of their recent past emerge better able to embrace reconciliation.

For that reason, the sooner the committee of inquiry sits once Brexit is done, the better. It has a lot of work to do.

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