The Hard Truths of Brexit

Issue Date April 2020
Volume 31
Issue 2
Page Numbers 81-95
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The outgoing U.K. Parliament tried to block a “hard” interpretation of the Brexit referendum outcome, and only authorized an early election when that seemed in place. But under the Westminster system a Parliament cannot bind its successor, and in December 2019 a purged hardline Conservative party won a decisive majority. There are wider lessons for contemporary democracies. Representative governments can add referendums to their existing electoral mechanisms, but that requires great care and foresight. National sovereignty can be a powerful mobilizer of opinion, but can jeopardize territorial unity. Although disengaging from external entanglements can seem liberating, it can also prove polarizing. Losers in a democratic contest must accept the verdict of the polls, but such defeats can still be bitterly resented and can cause lasting damage to political harmony.

About the Author

Laurence Whitehead is senior research fellow in politics at Nuffield College, Oxford University. His books include Latin America: A New Interpretation (2006).

View all work by Laurence Whitehead