The very essence of parliament is in the balance these days. Brexit - or more accurately, the mishandling of Brexit - has brought our historic democracy to the brink of some deep abyss. Parliament is by no means perfect, nor is our general perception of what democracy should entail, but is part of an evolving understanding which may, at some point in the future, reach a point of complete fruition. None of us today can understand what that position may be, so we strive, or at least should strive, to uphold that which we have now as a better form of political behaviour and process than that of our neighbours and rivals until wiser minds find a way to take it forward to the next level.
Where Brexit is now challenges the ability of parliament to exercise the mandate given to it centuries ago when absolute monarchism was overruled by the will of the people. The crunch will come next Tuesday when parliament will either pass or reject the Withdrawal Agreement from the EU. It is no longer a matter for the government alone - and for that we must thank the process of parliamentary democracy - as they will be voting in a simple 'Aye' or 'Nay' fashion as to whether Theresa May's 'only deal on the table' is satisfactory or not. That sounds simple enough, a clear choice. But the ramifications of the parliamentary decision will be felt beyond that relatively simple 'Aye' or 'Nay'.
If the Agreement is defeated - as most pundits expect - then, in the absence of the government having an alternative, parliament will have to make another choice. It can force the government to return to Brussels and re-negotiate something more acceptable to both parliament and the wider public, yet the indications are that the EU will block any such attempts at re-negotiation. This would almost certainly precipitate a collapse of the administration and the need for parliament to call a general election - a further delay in the delivery of Brexit. Alternatively, parliament may be put in a position where a hurried Norway Plus arrangement is drafted as being the solution to the myriad Brexit issues but that would leave Britain in a half-in, half-out position with the EU and subject to its regulatory demands without any influence over how those might be formulated. Whilst that may resolve the eternal Irish back-stop saga it would not fulfill the true spirit of Brexit and Remainers would effectively have pulled a rabbit out of the hat and cried victory !
Where parliament could find itself in democratic jeopardy is if they sanction the re-run of the referendum. If such a referendum were to be held as the most practical solution to withdrawal with some form of agreement then parliament would be in contempt of its own mandate to have held the first referendum in June, 2016. In effect, parliament would be saying that the first referendum was void and a second one was to be held to get a more reasonable result that government and parliament could accept. That would be a breach of process and morality - the first referendum didn't give everyone the result they wished for so we will have another one to ensure we get the 'right' result. The representatives of the people would, in that instance, be voting against the people - the very antithesis of the fundamental democratic principle. What has been seen happening in France over the last few days would then likely become a reality on British streets. Democracy would have failed the people at perhaps its most critical moment of test.
Let us not forget that this crisis has been created by an inept and weak government. Had proper negotiations been held with the EU from the outset then parliament should have been considering a deal and/or a back-up deal that would be broadly acceptable to the nation. Regrettably the government has failed in such monumental fashion in this most important task and placed parliament in an invidious position where the process of democracy may be foresaken in order to achieve some sort of misplaced escape route for the government. The danger is that Party politics may be engineered to transcend the rule of law and the democratic process. We, the people of this nation who voted our parliamentary representatives in to govern and adjudicate wisely, must never let the body politic overrule the essential rights of every eligible citizen in this country. We have been passive and docile in this whole Brexit affair, grumbling, yes, but taking no demonstrative action to ensure the referendum result was fully upheld. We should never descend to the mob rule of France but we should all make our representatives unequivocally sure that the legal, democratic result of that referendum is paramount - and they are the guardians we entrust that task to. If Brexit fails to be delivered as it was mandated, then democracy will have also failed in this country. We all need to reflect upon that scenario.