Are BETRAYAL, SURRENDER and HUMBUG appropriate words to use in Parliament?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson used the words BETRAYAL, SURRENDER and HUMBUG in Parliament following the cancellation of prorogation. The proprietary of using such words I would contend, are in the first instance, dependent on the context used, rather than upon the sensitivities of those on the receiving end of such words. To establish context I will first quote definitions, then look at the context in which they were applied. 

BETRAYAL 

From the Cambridge Dictionary

An act of betraying someone or something, or the fact of someone or something being betrayed

Point 1 of the European Union Referendum Act 2015 states

The referendum

(1)A referendum is to be held on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union.

(2)The Secretary of State must, by regulations, appoint the day on which the referendum is to be held.

(3)The day appointed under subsection (2)

(a)must be no later than 31 December 2017,

(b)must not be 5 May 2016, and

(c)must not be 4 May 2017.

(4)The question that is to appear on the ballot papers is—

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

(5)The alternative answers to that question that are to appear on the ballot papers are—

Remain a member of the European Union

Leave the European Union.

(6)In Wales, there must also appear on the ballot papers—

(a)the following Welsh version of the question—

A ddylai’r Deyrnas Unedig aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd neu adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd?, and

(b)the following Welsh versions of the alternative answers—

Aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd

Gadael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd.

The Referendum was for the eligible voters to decide by a simple majority vote on whether to Leave or Remain in the EU. I do not get any impression that the Referendum was merely advisory on Parliament. Nor I can see no meaning in the question that implies leaving the EU is contingent on getting a withdrawal agreement with the EU. It is a simple question of in or out, to be decided by the referendum.  Further, I aware in recent memory of Parliament failing to be abide by the results of referenda, even when it goes against the will of a majority. Nor can most political parties claim that they did not vote for the referendum. The vote on the Second Reading of the Bill was 544 to 53, with the 53 opposed coming from the SNP. 

This is further enforced in a biased pamphlet, the government posted to every household. The pamphlet started.

An important decision for the UK

On Thursday, 23 June there will be a referendum. It’s your opportunity to decide if the UK remains in the European Union (EU).

There is nothing advisory implied in that statement, nor does it imply leaving would only be in any way partial.

The conclusion was

A once in a generation decision

The referendum on Thursday, 23 June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union.

The government believes it is in the best interests of the UK to remain in the EU.

This is the way to protect jobs, provide security, and strengthen the UK’s economy for every family in this country – a clear path into the future, in contrast to the uncertainty of leaving.

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

The heading clearly implies that there will be no second referendum to clarify the decision. The last sentence is a statement from the Conservative government of the time. However, in the campaign I was aware of the either Labour or the Lib Dems coming out and saying that they would not respect a vote to leave. Finally, is a letter I recieved dated 08.04.16 from Britain Stronger in Europe, who a few days later become the official Remain campaign. 

The first sentance states

On the 23rd June, you will get to vote in the EU Referendum, and decide whether Britain remains in or leaves the Europe.

Although confusing the EU grouping with the continent, it is quite clear that the remain campaign recognized at the time that it was up to the voters to decide.

So when over three years after the British people voted to leave the EU, parliament trying to block leaving the EU is not a “betrayal”? This cannot ne directed at the Scots Nats, but can be directed at some in the Conservative Party, the Lib Dems, the Labour Party and numerous MPs who have left the their parties in the last year.

SURRENDER

This word has a number of meanings at Free Dictionary

1. To relinquish possession or control of (something) to another because of demand or compulsion: surrendered the city to the enemy. See Synonyms at relinquish.

2. To give up in favor of another, especially voluntarily: surrendered her chair to her grandmother.

3. To give up or abandon: surrender all hope.

4. To give over or resign (oneself) to something, as to an emotion: surrendered himself to grief.

5. Law To effectuate a surrender of.

“Surrender” refers to the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, sponsored by Hilary Benn PC. This Act will forces the Prime Minister to request extension of the withdrawal period until a withdrawal agreement has been agreed. It thus surrenders ability of the Executive to negotiate fair terms with the European Union as there is no ability to depart without an agreement. By so doing, the EU could impose onerous terms, denying any form of genuine independence for the UK from European Union. It thus gives the ability of the EU to send a very clear message to other nations who might consider leaving the club. Further it encourages the EU Council to break with the “plain aim” of Article 50 (3) of the two year withdrawal period, and any subsequent mutually agreed extension, of the “promotion of stability and certainty in the EU“. Further, it compels the executive to surrender its powers to achieve aims for which it has a constitutional mandate, to a legislature which has gained no mandate for its actions. Indeed, parliament has twice refused to call a general election to gain a mandate to, in substance, reverse the result of the EU Referendum.

Humbug

From the Mirriam Webster dictionary, the noun is defined as

1a: something designed to deceive and mislead Their claims are humbug. b: a willfully false, deceptive, or insincere person He’s just an old humbug. denounced as humbugs the playwrights who magnify the difficulties of their craft— Times Literary Supplement

2: an attitude or spirit of pretense and deception in all his humbug, in all his malice and hollowness— Mary Lindsay

3: NONSENSEDRIVELacademic humbug

4 Britisha hard usually peppermint-flavored candy

The use of the word “humbug” was used by the Prime Minister in response a emotional outburst from Paula Sherriff MP. The full exchange is below.

The claimed prejorative language referred to is in relation to the Benn Act included “betrayal” and “surrender“. As outlined above, these can be viewed by those who voted to leave as accurate terms to describe that has been happening in the House of Commons. In this context it is not prejorative (i.e. having a disparaging, derogatory, or belittling effect or force). In this context, the honourable member for Dewsbury’s comments can be perceived as insincere or deceitful. Given that around 57% voted to Leave in Dewsbury, and the town has a history of racial intolerance, it is not surprising. However, that is not to condone the vicious threats that have been made against MPs, including against Ms Sherriff. Instead there are strategies to minimize the impacts.

Strategies to minimize prejorative language or hate speech

I have some suggestions to minimize and diffuse the increasingly bad feeling in this country towards parliament, along with the increasingly polarized views. My concern is that this once great country is heading towards a quasi dictatorship, with fundamental questions of direction and ideology being put beyond democratic decision-making.

First, in terms of what is allowable in terms of speech, try to gain some objective standards. For instance, whilst Paula Sherriff objects to the word “betrayal” from the Prime Minister in relation to the biggest constitutional crisis in this country for decades she herself has used the word in relation to more trivial issues. The hard left in general, and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in particular, have long used language that encourages highly predjudiced, even hatred, towards opponents.

Second is to substantiate one’s claims based on the real world, not on mass hearsay. Then be prepared to defend these claims, showing them superior against the alternatives. There is a long tradition of this principle in English Common Law with trial by jury. The onus there is on the prosecution to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt, with the defence able to challenge the allegations made. This is overseen by a judge, who tries to ensure a fair hearing to both sides, and will take a very dim view of any attempt to undermine that fairness. In this respect I do not believe that a case can be made for a no-deal Brexit being catastrophic disaster. Rather there are risks of transitional issues, which a competent government should be able to mostly mitigate by sound policy. Further a no-deal Brexit can open up new opportunities, which a government with vision and optimism can either exploit, or stand back and let entrpreneurs expolit them,

Third, is for MPs to respect the mandate that they were elected on. On most issues it is expected that MPs should employ some pragmatism. But where there is a complete about-face on the central issue of their political careers,there is a responsibility for those politicians to seek a new mandate. Distrust in the democratic process will only be increased if politicians do an about-face and spurn the opportunity to seek a new mandate. Severely marginalizing a great mass of the people is a sure way to get civil unrest and calls for authoritarian government.

Kevin Marshall

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