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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

The Will of the Nation

Members of Parliament (with the exception of those who have not rebelled and refuse to renege on the promises made in the manifesto) voted to take "no-deal" off the table thereby revealing Parliament as hard-line remainers, all too ready to reject democracy in an attempt to subvert the will of the nation and to sweep aside legitimate politics.

"Hard-line Remainers … have been and are willing to push their campaign beyond legitimate politics as previously understood. First, they have encouraged foreign authorities to resist the policy of the UK, and have thereby done much to sabotage that policy. Second, they have attempted to delegitimise legal votes, using arguments that would take us back 150 years and more – essentially, that ordinary people are incapable of taking a major national decision and that they must therefore be overruled.

The penny dropped when I read the vocal Remainer and former MP Matthew Parris in the latest Spectator. For him, Brexit means "trusting the people": "I don't," he writes. "Never have and never will." Rejecting the idea of "an unseen bond between parliament and people", he sees its job as curbing "the instincts of the mob". The enlightened elite must govern by subterfuge if necessary"[i].

Government must be carried out in accordance with the will of the nation as expressed in the Referendum. Professor Dicey, referring to "the grand principle underlying all the conventional precepts of the constitution, said in "The Law of the Constitution"[ii]:

"… neither the Crown [which I take to mean the Government] nor any servant of the Crown ever refuses obedience to the grand principle which underlies all the conventional precepts of the constitution, namely, that government must be carried out in accordance with the will of the House of Commons, and ultimately with the will of the nation as expressed through that House".

Servants of the Crown include, of course and importantly, civil servants, such as Olly Robins.Deep Throat[iii] reports:

"As a civil servant I can tell you large parts of the Whitehall machine are systematically working against leaving the EU.I have met thousands of civil servants in the past few years: I can only recall five who voted for Brexit.

At first, I thought they were perhaps just staying quiet given the political climate, but my worst fear was confirmed during the high-profile Remainer Gina Miller's successful court case to make sure Parliament has a say on the Brexit outcome.When it was announced she had won her case, I witnessed large teams within the Foreign Office break out into cheers and applause. Seriously.

A quick scroll though the social media accounts of my colleagues and you will find images of them proudly waving 'Remain' placards, campaigning for a 'People's Vote', boasting 'Jez we can' and of course the usual apocalyptic messages of doom since the Brexit vote. The double-standards are astonishing.

If I so much as followed the activities of Nigel Farage, I have no doubt that I would be called in for questioning. I re-call one conversation with a senior member of staff at the Foreign Office who told me she was ashamed when Boris Johnson was appointed Foreign Secretary as he is so "typically British".

This department is particularly notorious for its anti-Brexit bias. My experience tells me that there is a genuine hatred of those who voted for Brexit. I recall my first day in the Civil Service as a graduate, being invited to a meeting of senior members of staff who spent the good part of two hours in agreement that the public made a "stupid" decision in the EU referendum. …

This attitude isn't confined to their own circles, these views are even being expressed in the presence of foreign ambassadors. In one case during a meeting with a High Commissioner of a close ally, one Civil Servant branded the High Commissioner a "Tory Wanker" in the presence of several foreign diplomats. …

But it doesn't stop there. There is a strong presence of Anglophobia, combined with cultural Marxism that runs through the civil service. It has meant that many Civil Servants, including myself, have been actively discouraged from co-operating with Think Tanks which are seen as being "too right wing" despite sharing our goal of promoting free trade. …

Contrary to popular belief, Civil Servants often shape the views of Ministers. This makes the prevalent leftist culture within the Civil Service all the more concerning. These ardent remainer and left wing civil servants are the ones who provide the briefings, select the invites and choose the priorities for Ministers. How did we get to this point? …

Brexit is the greatest opportunity this country has faced in years, yet our Government machine is currently working from within to frustrate it. This must not go on. In the next phase of the Brexit negotiations it is vital our civil service ceases to allow the massive remain voting bias that has so far helped scupper our post-Brexit future".

The European Union Bill was introduced into the House of Commons by Philip Hammond (isn't that remarkable) on 28 May 2015.It was at that time, that the Members of Parliament applied the discretion which was famously described by Edmund Burke in his speech to the electors of Bristol on the 3 November 1774.In that speech, Burke said:

"To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,--these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution".

Ordinarily, as Professor Dicey has described, the will of the nation is expressed as being the will of the House of Commons; however, in the case of the exceptional decision of whether the United Kingdom should leave or stay in the European Union (EU), Parliament decided that the will of the nation was to be determined by the People in a referendum.The result of the June 2016 Referendum determined that the will of the nation was to leave the EU.

It should be noted that underlying all the considerations set out above is the constitutional obligation that, paraphrasing Professor Dicey, neither the Government, nor any servant of the Government ever refuses obedience to the grand principle which underlies all the conventional precepts of the constitution, namely, that government must be carried out in accordance with the will of the nation as expressed by the result of the referendum.An essential role of Parliament is to ensure that the government is held to that constitutional principle.

Having so applied their discretion, Members of Parliament voted as to whether Parliament ought to delegate to the People the decision as to whether the United Kingdom should leave or remain in the European Union.The Bill was subsequently passed by 316-53 votes.By that vote and by passing that Bill, Parliament decided two distinct but related matters:

  • 1.Parliament decided, on that single issue as to whether we leave or remain in the European Union, that the will of the nation was to be ascertained by a referendum; and

  • 2.Parliament decided that the issue as to whether the United Kingdom was to leave or remain in the European Union was not to be decided by Members of Parliament voting upon that issue in Parliament.

Thereafter, Members of Parliament cannot constitutionally or properly apply Burke and maintain that they are allowed to apply their discretion (again) this time so as to go against the will of the People in order to frustrate, eviscerate or refuse, directly or indirectly, complying with the will of the nation.

Additional to the grand principle that underlies all the conventional precepts of the constitution referred to above, the government laid down some additional rules which, it said, it would comply with.The government intended that the electors would rely upon these additional rules and knowing that the electors would indeed rely upon them.The government, through the Prime Minister, told us, the People, before the referendum, namely in a speech at Chatham House on the 10 November 2015:

"You will have to judge what is best for you and your family, for your children and grandchildren, for our country, for our future. It will be your decision whether to remain in the EU on the basis of the reforms we secure, or whether we leave.

Your decision. Nobody else's. Not politicians', not Parliament's. Not lobby groups'. Not mine. Just you. You, the British people, will decide.

At that moment, you will hold this country's destiny in your hands. This is a huge decision for our country, perhaps the biggest we will make in our lifetimes. And it will be the final decision.

So to those who suggest that a decision in the referendum to leave would merely produce another stronger renegotiation and then a second referendum in which Britain would stay, I say think again.

The renegotiation is happening right now. And the referendum that follows will be a once in a generation choice. An in or out referendum.

When the British people speak, their voice will be respected, not ignored. If we vote to leave, then we will leave. There will not be another renegotiation and another referendum."

Additionally, the government[iv] reinforced the position from the 11 April 2016 by delivering[v] a leaflet[vi] to every household in the Countryheaded: "Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK".In the leaflet, the government, on page 14 under the heading "A once in a generation decision", made the solemn promise and commitment:

"This is your decision.The government will implement what you decide".

The government's solemn promise to the People was that there would be "an in or out referendum" (in or out; a binary choice).

It is to be noted that the government did not say that the referendum would be (a) "An In or Out (if the EU agrees that we can go Out"; or (b) "An In or Out and back In"; or (c) "An In or Out or Half Out".

The government accepted a suggestion from the Electoral Commission in 2015 to change the responses from 'Yes/No' to 'Remain/Leave' as ultimately stated on the voting paper.

The government duly laid before Parliament the rules of the referendum including the settled question to appear on the voting paper and Parliament ruled as to the date of the referendum.

The settled question which the government placed before the electorate upon which they voted was:

To leave, according to the OED, means "to depart from, quit, relinquish (1) to quit (a place, person, or thing); … (2) to go away from permanently; to cease to reside at (a place), to belong to (a society, etc.) …". You cannot 'half-leave'. It is a binary choice: you either leave or you do not leave. Accordingly, applying the OED definition above, "Leave the European Union" means (1) to quit the European Union; and (2) to cease to belong to the European Union.

The electors were using the same language as the government, Parliament, the Electoral Commission, all the Members of Parliament and those persons who drafted the question: they are fixed with the meaning of "leave" as set out above. To construe the word "leave" as meaning something else is to change the basis upon which the referendum was conducted and is to cheat the electors. Only despots change the rules after the result[vii].

The turnout for the referendum was 72.2% of the electorate[viii].The majority placed a cross in the square against the words: "Leave the European Union".It was said to be the biggest British vote in history for anything.

It is now contended that the electorate did not vote to leave without a deal, that is to say: without an agreement.If the government had decided to place that option on the voting paper, the words expressing such a choice would have been:"Remain" or "Leave if the EU agrees to allow the UK to leave".

"On February 1, 2017, the House of Commons voted by 498 votes to 114 to trigger Article 50. Many MPs who did so had not personally supported Brexit. But each one stated they were obliged to honour the will of the people as expressed in the referendum". [ix]

By voting to trigger Article 50, Members of Parliament knew that the United Kingdom would be leaving the European on the 29 March 2019 (a) whether there was an agreement with the European Union or not; and (b) whether the European Union agreed to our leaving or not.

The election intervened.Each Conservative candidate made a solemn promise which was expressly written in the manifesto that:

"…no deal is better than a bad deal …" (page 38); and


We are a United Kingdom, one nation made of four – the most successful political

union in modern history" (page 33).

Furthermore, Mrs May told the nation through an election interview[x] with Jeremy Paxman that:

May:"It is not just an issue of Brexit itself.It is actually an issue for me about trust in politicians that if we … .We gave People the choice and the British People decided to leave the European Union and I think that it is important for them to see their politicians delivering on that choice and respecting the will of the People" …"What I have said is that no deal is better than a bad deal.We have to be prepared to walk out".

Paxman: So you are prepared to walk out away from the European Union with no deal?

May: "No deal is better than a bad deal.

You can take it, Jeremy, that no deal is better than a bad deal.I'm not prepared to sign up to a bad deal for the UK".

Labour Party Manifesto 2017, at page 24 under the heading "Negotiating Brexit" expressly stated that "Labour accepts the referendum result".

The election took place.The electorate were left in the position where (a) they had voted to leave the European Union in the referendum which was the will of the nation; and (b) they had voted in the election in which both Conservatives and Labour made solemn promises to the electorate in that election to accept the referendum result; namely to accept that the will of the nation was to leave.

"Four months later [after triggering Article 50 on the 1 February 2017], the vast majority were returned to Parliament on additional manifesto pledges to respect the result. Yet, this week, those same MPs are preparing to stick two fingers up to their voters and, without any fresh mandate, 'extend' Article 50. Or, in reality, kick the verdict of the British people into the weeds"[xi].

Having established the will of the nation, Members of Parliament, cannot vote against it: that is cheating the People.

The infantile and risible suggestion now which is emanating out of Mrs May is that unless we the People (through our representatives, the Members of Parliament) vote for her "deal" (meaning her surrender), there will be no Brexit.The Prime Minister and the government (Remainers all) have no choice: they must implement the decision of the People and leave with or without a deal.It is not for the Prime Minister or for the Members of Parliament to threaten the People with "No Brexit"; it is not for her or the government to refuse to comply with the will of the nation: she has no choice.

That threat is profoundly and emphatically anti-democratic.It has shades of the manoeuvring we read about from Germany in the 1930s.Mrs May and her miserable government has no choice: the will of the nation has to be complied with and the will of the nation is to leave: that is the grand principle to which Professor Dicey referred.

Additionally, it is dishonest for Mrs May and the government to move away from the solemn promises made by her and all those who stood upon the Conservative party manifesto including the promise that "no deal is better than a bad deal".A bad deal must include one which places us in a worse position than that in which we find ourselves as a member of the European Union: Mrs May's "deal" does precisely that: that was always the government's original intention from, at least, as early 2017.

Tim Stanley wrote in the Telegraph on the 23rd October 2018:

"When Mrs May says that she is delivering what the people want – as she reiterated in the House – then by any standard of our democratic tradition, she is lying.No one voted for Chequers; no one voted for either an all-UK indefinite backstop customs union (since "indefinite" is what all backstops by definition are) or for an extended transition period.No one voted for the UK to leave, only to continue to abide by rules over which Britain will cease to have any influence.[xii]"

I agree with every word of that.The insistence of Mrs May and Minister that her deal delivers the result of the referendum is simply unadulterated lies.

Furthermore, it should be emphasised that it is Mrs May and most of the government who have reneged on the solemn promises[xiii] made in the Conservative Party manifesto and on the result of the referendum.It is simply laughable to characterise those Conservative Members of Parliament who are prepared to comply with those solemn promises as "rebel", "extremists" or worse: the two Blairs (Eric and Tony) would be proud of this untruth.It is Mrs May, and the other members of the Cabinet who are the rebels and extremists.One can easily identify those who are extremists and rebels simply by seeing, by their actions, whether they are complying with those promises.

Parliament has been since at least 1688 a substitute to Civil War.It will only remain a substitute if Members of Parliament (including the Speaker and the government) comply with the grand principleand the other conventions described by Professor Dicey and other constitutional experts and lawyers.

If those Members of Parliament in government do so govern by subterfuge (as they have been doing since at least 2017), then the People will see that their Parliament is not a place for their anger and resentment to find expression and dissipation:that anger will spill over into violence.

Peter Shore[xiv] told the Commons in 1972:

"Our tradition for order and peaceful change is based not only on the character of our own people but on an enduring, if tacit, bargain between Government and governed that the former will play fair and will be scrupulous in how they deal with the people's rights. But if Governments do not play fair, if they behave in a way people consider to be in itself unconstitutional, there is evidence enough in British history to show we are not a docile people but a very determined and fierce one indeed".The same applies to the improper conduct of the Speaker.

If the People feel, as I do, with justification that Members of Parliament are at war with the electorate; if the People feel, as I do, thatParliament is not complying or not intending to comply with the will of the nation, they will conclude with justification that democracy does not work: a constitutional crisis of major proportions – caused, without doubt Mrs May, those Members of Parliament who make up the government and other Members of Parliament who want to expunge the result of the referendum.

Professor Diamond[xv] has said:

"About a third of all the democracies that have existed in the last 40 years have broken down.

And why the fragility? – because democracy requires not just political parties, legislatures and formal institution arrangements. It is unique amongst political systems requiring voluntary commitment on the part of the People that is not coerced.

People have to give their loyalty to the political system and believe that it is legitimate.

And if the politicians do not play by the rules of the game or if they are seen to be serving their own interests, their own corrupt interests, their own enrichment, their own aggrandisement of personal and party power rather than at least some advancement of the public good, people lose faith in democracy or conflict spirals out of control and then you get a loss of democracy by one means or another".

Three of the grounds set out by Professor Diamond are readily identified:

(a) Mrs May, the government and Parliament have not played by the rules of the game by which the referendum was to be conducted; rules which are part of our ancient constitution and rules which the government itself set out (all of which I have described above);

(b)Members of Parliament are seen by the electorate as putting party before country; and

(c)Members of Parliament are seen putting their careers (the red boxes, the chauffer driven cars, the trappings by which they think gives them status in the eyes of the People – it doesn't) before country.

Career politicians make very poor politicians: Members of Parliament have proved that view many times over.

Members of Parliament are the elite who govern by stealth.

[i] Professor Robert Tombs, "Hard line Remainers reject democracy itself in elitist attempt to subvert Brexit", Telegraph, 22 December 2018.

[ii] Professor Dicey 'The Law of the Constitution; First Edition 1885, 441'

[iii] Anonymous author, "Believe me, the Civil Service is trying to sink Brexit. I have seen it from the inside". Telegraph, 18 March 2019.

[iv] Mr Lidington told the Commons (Hansard, 11 April 2016, Col 72):"Special rules limiting all Government publications and communications will apply in the last 28 days of the referendum campaign under the provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000".The government intentionally caused the leaflet to be delivered just before the start of this 28 day period in which the costs expended by the Remain campaign were limited by that Act.It was widely regarded as cheating by the government as a lead campaigner for the Remain camp.

[v] The leaflet was delivered to households in England from 11 to 13 April, ahead of England's local election purdah, and to households in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland throughout the week commencing 9 May (Hansard, 11 April 2016, Col 72).

[vi] The cost of the leaflet was £9,300,000.

[vii] People are governed in only two ways: with their consent or without their consent.Where the People are govern with their consent – that is democracy; where the People are governed without their consent (as May's deal proposes) – that is tyranny: the People now face tyranny by Parliament.

[viii] The electorate numbered 46,500,001.

[ix] Dan Hodges, The Mail, 27 January 2019.

[x] At .

[xi] Dan Hodges, The Mail, 27 January 2019.

[xii] Tim Stanley, "This is Theresa May's Brexit – and she's squeezed all the vision out of it", Telegraph, 23 October 2018.

[xiii] William Hague (21 January 2008, Col 1254) said in the course of debate on the Lisbon Treaty:

"My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, because the case for the referendum rests above all on the need for the House and the Government to honour commitments solemnly given.

How many times have each of us in the House toured schools and colleges saying to young people that they should take an interest in politics, that their vote makes a difference, and that what is said at election time really counts?

What are we to say to them in future—that the fact that they elected an entire House of Commons committed to a referendum was of no account, that the Government regarded that commitment as a technicality to be escaped from rather than a promise to be kept, and that the promises made at election time do not really matter at all?

Today in our country, the word of Government is less readily believed than at any time in our modern history. Ministers, instead of tackling the apathy and cynicism that that brings, will only add to it with the weasel words with which they try to escape their referendum commitment".

[xiv] Peter Shore, Hansard, European Communities Bill, 15th February 1972 col 301

[xv] Larry Diamond is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy. At Stanford University, he is professor by courtesy of political science and sociology, and he coordinates the democracy program of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), within the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).

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