Do the pilots have to crash the plane?

Written By: Andrew Rosthorn
Published: November 13, 2016 Last modified: November 14, 2016

Hugh Muir of The Guardian described the question that faces most members of both houses of parliament.

Imagine an airline pilot instructed by unhappy passengers to crash the plane.

Thanks to the millionaire Labour voter Gina Miller, and to those five thousand crowd-funding EU citizens who joined her legal action in the High Court, we may soon find that only Parliament, and certainly not Theresa May, can decide whether or how Britain can leave the European Union.

Back in June, on the eve of the 48/52 EU referendum result, it was known that 450 of the 650 MPs wanted the UK to stay in the EU.

A Supreme Court decision in Santos & Miller -v- Secretary of State for Exiting The European Union, due in December or January, will reveal just how many of those 450 pro-European MPs would risk their precarious careers by voting down a government Article 50 application to quit the Union.

A pro-EU MP who used her maiden speech on June 3 to declare ‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us’ was murdered before referendum day. Gina Miller lives now under police protection.

Will the MPs dare to make personal judgements on the long term interests of this most unhappy people in this most disunited kingdom?

Do the pilots have to crash the plane to please the unhappy passengers?


Edmund Burke told the electors of Bristol in 1774 that your regular member of parliament has

a duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.

But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living.

These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable.

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

The number of Conservative MPs who might at some time in 2017 vote down a proposed triggering of Article 50 by Theresa May’s government is completely unknown.


As the BBC chart shows, the government with a majority of only 14 or so, had only 138 Tory members originally on side for Brexit. One of them, Stephen Phillips QC MP, resigned a day after Theresa May refused to accept the High Court decision in Santos & Miller.

Theresa May needs at least 165 of those former pro-Europe Tory MPs to vote against EU membership.

There will be some Tory rebels. Former Tory chancellor Sir Ken Clarke expects to be one of them but admitted that ‘there may be only a few eccentrics in the House of Commons in that lobby.’ Nicky Morgan MP, the former education minister and Tory MP for Loughborough, has however since refused to rule out voting against the Government on Brexit.


Nicky Morgan told the Daily Telegraph this month:

Obviously that’s the ultimate thing, about votes, but that’s not what its about, it’s about getting a sensible Brexit.

I think we have a responsibility, particularly when we don’t have much of a functioning Opposition, to ask the questions, yes for the 48 per cent, but also for those who want a sensible Brexit.

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has rallied about 84 members ready to stop Brexit in the House of Commons by voting down any attempted declaration of Article 50 by Theresa May.

The group appears to include all eight Lib Dems, all 54 Scot Nats, all the three Social Democratic and Labour Party MPs from Northern Ireland and at least twenty Labour Party backbenchers.

Plaid Cymru and Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, are also expected to join the group, which the Telegraph has described as a ‘plot’.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have disagreed about whether four Sinn Féin MPs might after 98 years of abstention be allowed vote at Westminster against Brexit to avoid the return of a hard border in Ireland.

Twenty Labour MPs are apparently ready to defy their party’s severely limited policy on Brexit. The party’s policy was expressed last week by Sir Keir Starmer MP, a former director of public prosecutions whose new job description sounds even scarier than his old one.


The Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union wrote:

I have repeatedly made it clear that Labour accepts and respects the outcome of the referendum: there is a mandate to leave and Labour will not frustrate it by voting down article 50. But there is no mandate for the terms upon which we exit, and the stakes are too high for the prime minister to decide this by herself.

But Ken Clarke has emailed a worried Nottinghamshire constituent to point out

The referendum is not binding.

I think that MPs should vote according to their judgment of the national interest and the interest of their constituents.

And Clarke’s friend in the Labour Party, Sir Tam Dalyell, has added to the epilogue in his new book:

I am told by my friend and political opponent Ken Clarke, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, that as I write in June 2016, there are more than 100 Tory MPs wandering around, dazed, desperately wanting to remain in Europe, but hesitant to deny the ‘mantra’ – his word – of the will of the people

One mantra of the Brexiteers ‘take back control’ was shredded by the Daily Mail‘s Hitlerian front page description of the three British judges in Santos & Miller as ‘enemies of the people’.

The other mantra, an alarmingly un-British will of the people, is expressed soft and weak by the various Labour MPs who say they are ‘respecting the result of the referendum’.

That’s a confusing referendum result that could be shredded in parliament in a single afternoon by an all-party alliance against industrial harakiri, against breaking faith with the Japanese, Indian and German industrialists who built factories in Britain where British workers could build cars for Europe.

But Ed Miliband, one of the four Labour MPs who ushered in the doomed era of austerity by failing to negotiate an anti-Tory coalition in 2010, told Robert Peston yesterday:

We had a referendum and we’ve got to respect the result. We are leaving the EU.

That was not what most of us at Tribune wanted to hear.

Mr Miliband might well describe Tribune’s opinions as no more useful than the Skibbereen Eagle.

His father is not here to remind him how Tribune was founded by Aneurin Bevan, a dirt-poor MP from South Wales, and two millionaires, Stafford Cripps MP and George Strauss MP, to drive a Unity Campaign.

This was an all-party alliance against a right-wing British government, against the Means Test, against fascists in Spain, Italy, Germany and London, against the appeasement of Hitler by an anti-semitic British prime-minister who was openly hostile to refugees from the continent.

Strauss even funded a daring German Social Democrat plot to kill Hitler.

The Unity Campaign was strangled by the Labour Party and Cripps was expelled from the party early in 1939 for advocating an alliance with the Communist Party, the Independent Labour Party, the Liberal Party and the anti-appeasement Conservatives.

But by 1941 Cripps was in Moscow as Churchill’s wartime coalition ambassador to the Soviet Union at the very beginning of the worldwide alliance against fascism, the grand alliance that was deemed to have killed it for good.

Could Miliband not stir cautious Labour MPs with Sir Julian Priestley’s recent rallying cry of RESPECT THE REFERENDUM RESULT? HELL NO!


The former secretary-general of the European Parliament asked, Why do we have to ‘respect’ it? Because we’ve been told to by the Murdochs, the Dacres, the Barclay brothers and the gruesome Brexit ministerial crew?

The democratic quality of this particular referendum result is so seriously flawed as to have no moral validity. It is now apparent that the Leave campaign built popular support on the basis of a series of lies and misrepresentations now openly admitted by Leave campaigners with almost jovial insouciance, building on decades of deliberate misreporting in the press about the European Union.

So our MPs – struggling with this issue; understanding that when the terms of our exit are known it may well be clear that the negotiations have been an ignominious failure; with a hard, grim Brexit as their outcome; with great and lasting harm for the economy; with the prospects and horizons of coming generations blighted – may well end up leading Parliament on a collision course with the executive. They should not at this stage be intimidated by News Corporation, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph into removing from the table the ultimate weapon – a reconsideration of the June 23rd referendum ‘result’. They should leave all options open.


Last Wednesday, on a dark night in a dark Pennine valley abandoned by capitalism and industrialisation decades before the rust belt reached Ohio, the ‘song constructor’ Stanley Accrington played to the folk in the back room of the Cross Keys at Uppermill in Saddleworth.

The peerless troubadour and ‘leg-end in his own trousers’ complained that the song he ‘constructed’ on June 24 had to be re-written every few days as ‘the Brexit crew’ jumped ship.

That left Theresa May fighting a court battle against private citizens who wanted Parliament to decide on the meaning of the direst of all the 2016 mantras, Theresa’s very own ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

Theresa can’t, Theresa won’t, Theresa couldn’t, Theresa wouldn’t
Theresa might if she thought the time was right
The only thing that I can definitely say…
Theresa May

Boris said he wouldn’t even if he could
But offered Foreign Secretary, decided that he should
Gove was a cad of little principle
Who would take him on now? He’s just a dodgy past participle.

Theresa can’t, Theresa won’t, Theresa couldn’t, Theresa wouldn’t
Theresa might if she thought the time was right
The only thing that I can definitely say…
Theresa May

Cameron was responsible for this shambles
If he gives you a tip on the horses, don’t bother to gamble.
Gorgeous George has disappeared at last.
Will anyone forgive him for what he’s done in the past?

Theresa can’t, Theresa won’t, Theresa couldn’t, Theresa wouldn’t
Theresa might if she thought the time was right
The only thing that I can definitely say…
Theresa May

Farage through politics ran amok
But having caused the damage, went and slung his hook
Perhaps he’s no ideas for when times get tough
Who will worry about his followers apart from their fisticuffs?

Theresa can’t…

Jeremy Corbyn has more enemies than friends
Upon the party faithful his career depends
They have ensured his safe selection
But does anybody think he’ll win a General Election?

Theresa can’t…

So it came down to Theresa against some unknown other
It nearly came to handbags over who was the best mother
Andrea should have kept mum, she may have succeeded yet
But will her new boss ever forgive and forget?

Theresa can’t…

So what will the “new” government be?
Elected by nobody – that’s the new democracy
To lead us out of Europe Theresa is requited
Is she the politician to keep the country united?

Theresa can’t…

Thanks to the fiendish construction of the glorified opinion poll known as the 2016 EU Referendum, where even the crude question itself was gerrymandered from an optimistic “Yes” to a dismal “Remain”, we will never know why the voters of Oldham East and Saddleworth voted 61/39 to ‘leave’ the European Union.

When seventy ‘centre-left’ Labour MPs gathered at Westminster on November 2, re-creating the old Tribune Group, Will Hutton told them

The question that needed answering is not whether Britain should remain or leave the European Union which until June 23 was not even in the top ten of voters’ concerns. It is how can the mass of British flourish, and lead lives in Amartya Sen’s famous formulation that they have reason to value?

In the back room of the Cross Keys, where they often sing about the People’s Charter of 1838, the Cotton Famine of 1861 and the Mass Trespass over Kinder Scout in 1932, the only available theory was that the EU Referendum of 2016 had something to do with a dispute in the Conservative Party.

Was the result a vote against the government, against Europe, or against immigrants – in a town that’s 18.1% South Asian?

No-one knows. Debbie Abrahams, their Labour MP, offered this to the Manchester Evening News:

I think it reflects that people are on the brink. It reflects the real difficulties people face struggling for years under austerity.

I believe in Europe, I believe in immigration.

If no-one can say why her passengers are unhappy, must the MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth allow the pilots to crash the plane?