On the one hand, Britain is a representative democracy, leaving decisions to elected MPs. Yet those same MPs sanctioned a Brexit referendum, or an act of direct democracy. The current crop of representatives, elected a year after the referendum, cannot agree on a way to enact it.
The House of Cards-style intrigue plainly shows the limits of representative democracy. Within the Commons there is no majority for any one course of action, and nobody has managed to thrash out a workable compromise. Two prime ministers – Theresa May, and now Boris Johnson – have tried to paint the issue as Parliament thwarting the will of the people.
But the imbroglio also shows the weakness of direct democracy. Britain’s membership in the EU, we now know, was far too complicated and subtle to be framed as an either/or question. One tribe says that nobody voted for a “no-deal” Brexit, while the other says that a majority is for a Brexit in some form. Both are right.