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My 350 on BREXIT: The duty of members of parliament according to Edmund Burke

Parliament has to undertake the work involved, especially if the matter is extremely complicated.

Jeremy Putley
15 July 2016

I think it has become clear that David Cameron made a serious mistake in calling for a referendum. It wasn’t necessary. The discussion could and should have been confined to parliament. The use of a referendum to produce a simple majority of the population, implicitly binding the government to comply with the wishes of “the people” expressed by their voting, was a departure from the British democratic principle of representation expressed in the famous speech by the 18th century parliamentarian Edmund Burke in his address to the electors of Bristol in which he famously said:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”

– from which I understand him to imply that parliament has to undertake the work involved, especially if the matter is extremely complicated with a great multiplicity of questions and issues, to come to the best overall solution on behalf of the voters who have delegated their authority to parliament precisely for that purpose.

If that course had been taken we would certainly not be in the mess resulting from the referendum, including finding a new prime minister and probably a general election. I also regret the needless deterioration in our relationships with our good European friends.

In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.

Is Britain breaking up?

With Scotland voting on Thursday in an election that could lead to a second independence referendum and increased talk of a 'border poll' in Northern Ireland, could the United Kingdom be on the verge of breaking up? And why? Where does England fit in this story?

Join us for this free live discussion at 5pm UK time, 6 May

Hear from a panel of experts from across Britain's political divides about the union's past, present and future:

  • Sarah Creighton Writer and lawyer from Belfast
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  • Adam Ramsay openDemocracy main site editor
  • Richard Wyn Jones:Professor of Welsh Politics, Cardiff University
  • Chair: Peter Geoghegan openDemocracy UK investigations editor and author of 'The People's Referendum: Why Scotland Will Never be the Same Again'
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