How Brexit Broke British Politics

Mervyn King

By Mervyn King

The best way forward would be for the two main parties to develop clear opposing positions on Brexit, and put the disagreement to voters at another general election.

By Mervyn King

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.” Every British schoolchild has been brought up on this idiom. Theresa May is clearly no exception. She tried to get her deal through the House of Commons three times, and three times she was defeated. There’s another adage, allegedly American: “If you’re in a hole, stop digging.” All that May achieved was to dig her own political grave. The tombstone will read “Brexit means Brexit” — except it didn’t.

What now? The test of any political system is how it copes with an issue that divides the nation. Brexit split not only the nation but also both the Conservative and Labour parties. Without a written constitution, and with a sovereign parliament, there are two requirements for major change in Britain. The first is a public mandate. And the second is a working majority in the House of Commons to implement that mandate.

In normal circumstances, a general election is the mechanism by which one party obtains both a public mandate and a majority of seats in the Commons. Over many years the system worked pretty well. On most big questions the two parties had different views which could be put before the electorate. And elections ensured some rotation of the party in power and gave voters the opportunity to throw out governments that were seen to have failed.

Read the full Bloomberg article.

Lord Mervyn King is the Alan Greenspan Professor of Economics and a professor of Economics and Law, a joint appointment with New York University School of Law.