The people have spoken: the case for reversing Brexit

Reverse Brexit

We rightly cherish the notion of liberal democracy, it’s the least worst system of government, but it isn’t perfect. In its purist form, direct democracy, government is hardly necessary at all, using technology familiar to any internet user, every issue deemed of interest to voters could be placed before them in a poll. But the dangers of this system are all too apparent; decisions would always favour the lowest common denominator so in most developed countries where democracy is established it has evolved in the form of representative democracy, where the electorate are offered a choice of candidates who will represent them in parliament and vote on their behalf.

As the voter is invariably given a choice of voting for the political party to which the candidate is aligned these candidates when elected won’t reflect the all the views of all the people who elected them and the more extreme opinions will be leavened. Those elected to parliament will have a variety of views, even within each party so these checks and balances are intended to protect us from the tyranny of the mob.

Occasionally democratic governments seek the opinion of the electorate for a single issue by means of a referendum. Even democratic governments rarely if ever use a referendum in order to genuinely seek the views of the electorate; rather they do so to justify a political action that they intend to take in which case they need to be pretty certain of winning it. But referenda inevitably throw up another problem and that is regardless of the question some voters will use it to protest about issues unrelated to it.

The referendum to leave the EU was a classic case of a reckless government that used it to subdue the Eurosceptic wing of the conservative party and that totally misjudged the mood of the electorate who after 10 years of austerity and stagnant wage growth, took the opportunity to give a bloody nose to the government who supported Remain by voting to Leave.

In the intervening year the government (now with a slender majority after the GE) has sought the impossible, to “have our cake and eat it”. Despite warnings from the EU and most independent political and economic opinion saying this was an unrealistic fantasy the government persists and they do so for one reason, “the will of the people” as demonstrated by the referendum cannot be flouted and supporters of Brexit claim a democratic mandate.

But can we reverse the referendum decision and still stay true to our liberal democratic credentials? Yes we can for three reasons:

1 If David Cameron had offered referendum on the return of Capital Punishment and a majority voted to hang criminals should we honour that as well? The answer should be No; even if the decision was achieved by a majority hanging is so fundamentally at odds with our liberal democratic values that it should be rejected. So there is an ethical precedent to reject a referendum result.

2 In the run up to the Brexit referendum an extreme anti EU sentiment was stirred up by the EU hating press that for the last 40 years has waged war on our membership of the EU. Of course a free press is fundamental to a liberal democracy but in this campaign aided by unscrupulous politicians, they published lies and encouraged xenophobia and this travesty of the truth was exemplified by the now infamous “£350 per week for the NHS” on the side of the red bus that swayed many voters despite in being totally untrue. So there is precedent for challenging a result that was obtained by fraudulent means.

3 Legally the Brexit Referendum was “advisory” so the government is under no obligation to abide by the result although clearly they feel obliged to do so for political reasons. So there is a legal precedent for rejecting the result.

Fear of offending liberal democratic values should not be an obstacle for rejecting Brexit, so politicians and especially business leaders and organisations should nail their colours to the mast before more damage is done.

You didn’t see this interview with Theresa May because it never happened!

Theresa May interview

Interviewer: Your stated aim is to get a great Brexit deal for Britain and yet you say no deal would be better than a bad deal. Just about every reputable economist says that no deal would be an economic disaster so why do you keep repeating it?

Theresa May: When we are negotiating with EU they must know that we are willing to walk away or we will not get the best deal.

Interviewer: But that’s ridiculous, the EU knows that you will never walk away with no deal and commit the UK to economic suicide so they discount that claim.

Theresa May: We can walk away and trade under WTO rules, that’s better than a bad deal.

Interviewer: That is not what the majority of experts think but you have never told us what a bad deal is.

Theresa May: A bad deal is one that does not respect the referendum result.

Interviewer: But the referendum question did not include terms only whether we stay or leave so there is no way of knowing what terms would satisfy the electorate.

Theresa May: They told us to leave the EU and that’s what we will do

Interviewer: So you can’t tell me what no deal or a bad deal actually mean! Let me put it to you that a bad deal would be one where the UK has to compromise and accept the four freedoms: the movement of goods, services, capital and persons in order to trade with the EU single market along with the authority of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to adjudicate trade disputes.

Theresa May: The people have spoken we will not accept freedom of movement, we must have control of immigration and cannot accept the right of the ECJ to supersede our own law.

Interviewer: Ok but you would agree that in any trade deal there must be an institution like the ECJ in order to adjudicate disputes.

Theresa May: The WTO has a dispute procedure using the Appellate Body.

Interviewer: That may be ok in bilateral disputes but the EU has 27 other member states that all accept the ECJ as final dispute arbiter, do you seriously think that they will accept a different arrangement just for the UK?

Theresa May: This will be part of the negotiating process.

Interviewer: Let’s move on; the Foreign Secretary has claimed the UK can have its cake and eat it, meaning that the Brexit deal will give us everything that we are asking for, including access to the single market. This is pure fantasy, you know as well as I do that the EU will not allow the UK to benefit from terms as good as those we currently enjoy. The myth that because Germany sells lots of BMW’s to us that we have the stronger hand is just that a myth.

Theresa May: This will be open to negotiation.

Interviewer: We’ll see. Your negotiator David Davis boasted recently he had a hundred pages of detailed notes in preparation for the talks, I thought this must be a mistake or even a joke as the EU have already prepared tens of thousands of pages, It is clear that the UK is catastrophically ill prepared for what will be the most difficult set of negotiations that this country has EVER faced.

Theresa May: No that isn’t correct civil servants are working on our detailed positions.

Interviewer: Let me change tack; you were a reamainer, now you are arguing for the most extreme form of brexit, how can anyone trust you? Your integrity is under question, you stated that an election would be a distraction, your have made numerous U-Turns even reversing a policy explicitly stated in your manifesto that there would be no cap on the dementia tax, this is not the policy of a strong and stable leader, it’s weak and wobbly.

Theresa May: There was no U-Turn on adult social care; we always expected to put it out to consultation.

Interviewer: Of course it was a U-Turn to say otherwise insults the intelligence of the electorate. You have avoided the leader’s debate, your rallies have been in front of tiny crowds and yet you have made this campaign all about you and your leadership. We can’t trust you; we can’t rely on you to provide leadership. We see a brexit team that are clearly not up to the job and as the negative effects of brexit become more and more apparent and lies of the leave campaign have been exposed, those who promoted it, with the exception of UKIP have become ominously silent.

Mrs. May deep down you know brexit is a mistake, so don’t let the narrow majority that voted for it drive you to compound the mistake. Stand up and acknowledge that the result was due to lies from the leave campaign plus the relentless anti EU rhetoric from much of the press that has so unfairly denigrated the EU for the last 40 years.

If you win the General Election, as seems likely, think again, be brave, be the leader who saves this country from a catastrophe, ignore the siren calls from the old men in your own party who have banged the anti EU drum for a generation, think of the young who by a large margin support the ideals of the EU. Use this opportunity to persuade the EU to undertake the reforms that will improve it. In this dangerous world we need it more than ever.