Brexit, the gift the keeps giving. Or taking. Or sort of sits in the corner of the room, sleeping, occasionally letting out a long wet fart to let you know it still exists. Or something.
It’s weird to think that it was 23 June 2016 that the EU Referendum took place. It’s dragged on that long that it feels like it has been a lifetime, yet so little has actually happened it equally could have happened just last week. As you might be detecting, I am sort of fed up of the whole thing now, and I voted remain.
The thing with Brexit is, it basically did do nothing for two years. Theresa May spent ages telling us she would secure us the best deal for Britain (reminiscent of Trump promising to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it) but the EU stood firm and it was seen as a relative success that two years after the referendum the original deal offered by the EU was still on the table.
So why the blog post now? Well the main point of this isn’t actually to discuss Brexit itself, or the pros and cons of each side. Etc. Brexit is just the example for an issue that I think needs to be urgently discussed: democracy and how the British people view politics. Over recent weeks, I’ve seen the phrase, or some derivative of, “the death of democracy” used by both sides of the Brexit line.
Recently, many Remainers have been citing a quote by Pro-Brexit Tory MP, David Davis, from a 2012 speech about leaving the EU in which, amongst other things, he said “If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”, referencing the original decision to join the EU and suggesting we should be allowed a vote to determine if we should remain in the EU. Remainers see this quote as double standards by the Tory government, for not allowing a second referendum, or “People’s Vote”, as there some sort of consensus that large majorities of the British public were mis- or un-informed on the subject at the time of the EU Referendum in 2016.
An admittedly stereotypical Brexit view of Remainers pushing for a second referendum is that they will keep wanting to vote until they get a decision they are happy with. That this in itself is undemocratic. The public voted and the majority voted for Britain to leave the EU. End of. A pro-Brexit placard seen at the recent People’s Vote March stated “If at first you don’t succeed, vote and vote again.”
And we end up in our current position, in which not only do people not agree on whether we should remain in the EU or leave, but people have different views on what democracy is. Is it democratic to be allowed to change your mind? Is it democratic to follow through with the results of a public vote? The awkward answer is, surely, yes to both.
The issue with the Government’s handling of Brexit is the impact it will have on the trust the public have in the Government and in our country’s democratic system. The 2016 referendum had a registered vote turnout of 72.2%, more than any general election since the 1992 General Election. The referendum, with it’s simple stay or leave options and with the promise of much more impact than which political party leads the government for the next five years, was approachable and full of promise.
But it was also badly managed by the government, it was not clear that the referendum was not constitutionally binding and was essentially just an opinion poll, albeit that the Tory government bowed to public pressure to see it through. As time has gone on, and as the process has been allowed to drag out, more and more information has come out about misinformation, lies and unscrupulous behaviour, breaching electoral laws (by both sides it should be added) but it being shown that despite this, it does not have any repercussions as far as the result of the referendum is concerned.
As this is my blog, I feel like I am allowed to state my own opinion. So here I go. To me, democracy is the process of having periodical votes on issues, or at least the option for periodical votes. This is typically seen in the General Election, typically every five years, which allows the public to elect a government (via a flawed electoral system, but thats a different matter).
It should be noted that a snap election was called just two years, one month and a day after the previous General Election in 2015. The EU Referendum took place over two years and nine months ago at this point, so on that basis I do not think it is out of the question to have a further ‘review’ vote.
But sadly, for me, things like the Peoples Vote March in which just over a million people took to the streets of London in favour of a People’s Vote, or the Parliamentary Petition to Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU, which saw 5.9 million signatories (and counting) since it was created towards the end of February 2019 are not enough. As the Government’s response to the petition states, 17.4 million people voted leave in the referendum, and in the 2017 General Election, over 80% of voters voted in favour of a Political Party who were committed to honouring the result of the referendum.
So I think where this leaves us is to continue with the process of leaving the EU, and doing everything we can to make it work. And hopefully, if the EU doesn’t crumble without us, maybe enough people will miss the benefits we once had and public opinion will be to seek about rejoining.