Democracy Needs Brexit

It’s been over a year since the British electorate voted to leave the EU. The question asked was very straightforward:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

There were two possible answers:

“Remain a member of the European Union”

“Leave the European Union”

The result was equally straightforward. A majority voted to leave.

In any other vote that would have been the end of it. We wake up, we read the morning papers, put on the Radio, watch the news, we see the result, we get on with our lives. But not this time.

As a ‘leave’ voter I had gone to bed the night before utterly convinced the result would be to remain. My expectation of failure was not due to lack of effort – I was no keyboard warrior (though I had done plenty of that) – I had walked miles delivering leaflets and campaigning to bring about Brexit. As I retired for bed at the end of referendum day I felt inner peace. Convinced I was going to lose but knowing I had done all I could I fell asleep that night resolved to embrace the democratic decision and throw myself into EU political campaigning.

The next morning two things caught me completely by surprise. Firstly the leave campaign had clinched it. Secondly, and in direct counterpoint to my joy over Brexit, was the backlash of vitriol poured out by so many of those who voted remain – many of them my friends. The sheer amount of rage and the volume of insulting descriptions of the winning majority defied anything I had ever previously experienced. Since then only one thing eclipses that outpouring – the duration – for it still continues today.

We have witnessed since the Brexit vote every form of sophistry applied to undo and undermine the democratic decision, from special pleading, to appeals to authority, to calls for another vote. We have seen the invention of two Brexits, hard and soft, in order to find a way to dismiss significant parts of what Brexit really means if it is to mean anything. We have seen the same people who denounced the supremacy of the UK parliament in deciding to offer a referendum at all, immediately calling for its supremacy over triggering Article 50 when they thought the vote might be overturned by it (in this too they were disappointed). Now following the general election, which sought to give the new Prime Minister a mandate to complete the Brexit process, every method that can be found to undermine the new minority government is being applied. Even the largest opposition party, which is 56 seats behind, calls for its members to be a government in waiting while its sympathisers stir up discontent and protests over any event (however unconnected) that can be turned to overthrow confidence in the newly formed government – and this is used by ‘remainers’ to suggest support for Brexit is waning and to push for a softer Brexit, a second vote, anything which would stop or undermine it. Yes, there are many who would like nothing more than to see Brexit fail – this in spite of growing support for pushing ahead with Brexit, which rose from 52% at the referendum to 68% by last month. The nation now comprises 45% hard leavers, 23% re-leavers (who voted remain but still believe in democracy), and 22% hard remainers who still want to overturn the democratic decision.

But I wonder what these 22% think they will gain by continually attacking Brexit or (more unlikely) by overturning the referendum decision. Whatever else they think they will gain of two things I am certain, they will gain a weaker democracy and they will gain a weaker respect for democracy. One cannot keep kicking democratic outcomes as they have been doing and retain the same respect for the institutions which bring them about.

Of course a weakened democracy may be of little concern to those who thought the EU system of a lapdog elected parliament and an un-elected ruling commission was an improvement on Westminster. A weakened democracy may be of little concern to those who would rather that democracy be replaced with a faux democratic body such as the EU, they wish it to fail and call on the EU as a saviour. A weakened democracy may also be of little concern to those who think the common voter too uneducated, stupid, uninformed, deluded or bigoted to vote correctly. For some (a few only I hope) this is  the whole nub of the matter – they are vociferous in their view that the people from whom legitimate government springs ought never be asked anything other than which cleverer person than them ought to make the decisions that so affect their lives. These hardcore elitists really resent democracy, not as a matter of principle (there is little you will hear from them when a democratic decision agrees with their view) but rather as a matter of expediency or pragmatism as it applies to their preferred ends. They believe they know better, and they don’t want their lives being influenced by those they believe do not know better. Their faith in the state ranks selected ‘experts’ (who agree with them) over the will of the people and this, perhaps, underpins much of their support for the EU which believes much the same thing. The whole EU system was designed to hold the electorate at arms length so the special appointed few could rule unhindered. Even the EU parliament is designed to be a defensive wall for the un-elected commission and council and not a real representative body at all – the MEPs forming the bricks cemented in place with high pay, expenses and pensions which should secure their loyalty to the EU concept from cradle to grave.

This is the real battle. Whatever we think of membership in the EU, we must think more of democracy. It has its flaws, but in spite of those its roots are in the right place for the most part – the will of the people. Either we believe the legitimacy of the state is rooted in power delegated to it by the people, or we believe the legitimacy of the people is rooted in dispensations granted by the state – but only the former is truly democratic. If, in the end, Brexit is undermined so will the democracy of the UK be undermined, perhaps irreparably so. Regardless of truth or common law tradition a democracy so weakened will undo every civilised institution. We see it already in the increasing willingness of people to use violence in politics where once they used democracy. Such a weakening ultimately replaces democracy with force and consent with fearful compliance. Democracy needs Brexit, for without Brexit we will have proven we have no democracy worth the name.