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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.

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.

About the author

Jeremy Putley is a retired accountant. His work includes “The Moral Vacuum and the American Constitution”, Political Quarterly, 1997. He has lived in the US, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and Moldova.

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