Tuesday 30 August 2016

June 23rd, The Day British Democracy Stopped

"Brexit means Brexit" has been the tautological, trivial cry from Theresa May in an attempt to appease sudden ardent supporters of our democracy who claim that the referendum vote is absolutely final and that, basically, is that. Aside from the fact that one of the fundamentals of a democracy is that we can discuss, criticise and, indeed, even challenge democratic votes, this insistence that Britain must absolutely leave the EU no questions asked because 52% of 72.2% of those eligible to vote, voted to leave (without it being in the slightest clear what) just smacks of stupidity. It just seems that everyone who supported Leave has decided to stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes and scream "BREXIT MEANS BREXIT" until all the nasty people who disagree with them shut-up.

To begin with, what does Brexit even mean? Aside from Brexit because everything means itself. Except literally, which now means the opposite of literally. Literally. So what does Brexit mean? Does anyone know? Anyone? Obviously, it means, to some degree, leaving the European Union but it is not as simple as that. Does no one think someone, whether it be MPs or the public again, should have a vote on whatever deal is agreed? Would that not be the sensible thing to do? What if the Brexit deal is not Brexit-y enough? What then? Our democracy does not stop just because we had one vote on a vague question with many possible permutations and answers. Nor should it. It would be somewhat ironic if the Brexit deal negotiated is not to the taste of the majority of Brexiteers in Parliament but gets pushed through because they all threw their toys out the pram and decided that absolutely no one should ever vote on the EU issue again in response to some people daring suggest that this vote did not mean we blindly accept any Brexit deal. Indeed, that would be the worst of both worlds. We leave the EU, which 48% of those who voted did not want to do in the first place and end up with a deal that the other 52%, or indeed any percentage thereof, do not like anyway. The maths is quite simple: If just 4% of those who voted leave think the Brexit deal reached is worse than staying, we force through a Brexit deal the majority of those who voted (making the fair assumption that all Remainers oppose it) oppose.

Which brings us to a second reason why this blind insistence on sticking to the vague referendum is ridiculous. It actually harms, rather than serves, our democracy. To begin with, should there be a general election in October because Theresa May decides that beating Jeremy Corbyn would be quite fun and we return a majority of MPs who support remain and then hold a parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50 that fails, that remains democratic. And ironically, just because it gives you the result you do not like Brexiteers, does not mean it is not democratic. Challenging a democratic vote (the referendum) is not arguing it is not democratic. It is simply exercising our democratic right to challenge our democracy. However, more importantly, our democracy does not stop with one referendum. That is not how it works. Given no one can decide what Brexit means, given it is not even agreed yet what it means, would it not be prudent to have a vote on whether we like what Brexit looks like? Just because we've agreed to go to a restaurant does not mean we have to eat there if we subsequently look at the menu and decide what we already had at home was better and we'd rather stick with that.

Finally, and perhaps most ironically, Brexiteers seem to have forgotten what they argued this referendum was about. Alongside their racist nonsense about immigration and ignorant nonsense about regulations, it was about parliamentary sovereignty and taking back control, whatever the hell that means. Yes, that's right, it was about the sovereignty of the parliament Brexiteers want to ignore with the triggering of Article 50, and indeed any deal and it was about taking back control to the British people but giving them absolutely no say, whether via their MPs or directly, on what that control looks like.

It seems, therefore, that we do know what Brexit means. It means blindly following a referendum vote regardless of consequences; implementing a deal irrespective of what that deal is, ignoring virtually everyone's views; and that once we had the EU referendum vote, our democracy ceased to exist.

Update: A previous version of this post erroneously used the word 'tenants'. This has now been corrected.

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