In the News

Sunak and a Tory rebellion over Northern Ireland

Mike McCartney

21st February 2023

Another good example of the independence of MPs

It is frequently said that MPs are mere lobby fodder, and don't exercise a great deal of independence of thought or action. This kind of portrayal of MPs as noting more than sheep is lazy and inaccurate.

A feature of parliamentary government in the UK over recent decades has been an increase in the rate of intra-party rebellion.

The report in yesterday's Guardian, is another good example:

"Rishi Sunak has been warned that more than 100 Tory MPs could rebel over a deal with the EU to help break the post-Brexit deadlock in Northern Ireland, as Boris Johnson launched a major intervention calling for him to take a tougher line with Brussels.

Pressure is growing on the prime minister as government sources said tense talks in Downing Street over the weekend on overhauling the Northern Ireland protocol were yet to yield a breakthrough."

While we’re here it is worth considering again the question as to why MPs are more rebellious.

One explanation for the increasing independence of MPs is that party loyalty among the electorate is no longer as high, i.e. partisan dealignment has occurred so that voters no longer vote blindly according to previous psychologically based attachments. We could add that the rise of the career politician also helps us understand this trend. This runs contrary to a great deal of media criticism, which contends that those who have entered the Commons without real-world experience, or a profession, to fall back on are more likely to do what their respective party whips command of them because this type of MP wants to be promoted. In fact, because MPs of this nature have been steeped in politics long before entering the Commons, the argument is that they can spot flaws in government plans and vote for what they as being the best course of action for their constituents.

The issue of the EU related trace and the Ni border is a tricky one, and we shouldn't get too bogged down in the technicalities of it here with regards to role of backbenchers in the legislature. But suffice it so say, it is a story worth keeping a close eye on over the coming days.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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