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Democratic Reality outside the Brexit Bubble
11 Nov, 2016

Brexiters have long been detached from reality, stuck in their own ideological bubble. London4Europe Secretary Andy Pye helps jog their memory that developments in the past decade have undermined British democracy.


Not so long ago, there was no call for a referendum on EU membership from anyone other than a tiny number of UKIP and Tory politicians. The referendum was called to protect the Tory Party from an internal civil war in which it was losing votes to UKIP. When Cameron granted them their vote, the right-wing media swung into action, portraying the EU as some demonic anti-democratic institution.

The process by which the referendum was run was flawed. Because it was set up to be *advisory*, no safeguards or bar were included to protect against a marginal result in favour of leaving the EU. David Lidington specifically asked why this was - the answer (recorded in Hansard) was that it was because it was purely advisory. It might have thus been expected that the type of result we had in practice would have been followed by a lengthy period of self-analysis, perhaps taking several years, examining the consequences of leaving and how best to respect the result without irreversibly damaging the UK.

In most countries where referendums are used as a regular instrument of democracy, it is not unusual for two or more to be held, as the argument becomes more widely understood and refined. Did not Jacob Rees Mogg himself suggest the benefits of a second referendum?

In Australia, a referendum is only passed if it is approved by a majority of voters across the nation and by a majority of voters in a majority of states - this is known as a double majority. Votes from the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) are only counted in the national majority. If a referendum is successful, the change is made to the Constitution. If such a system had been implemented here, the Remain votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland would have prevented the implementation of the result.

Instead, Cameron announced that this "advisory" referendum would be treated as mandatory. With the result, as we all know, that a marginal result led to the most extreme of leave outcomes - all without the safeguard of a 40% minimum of the total electorate in favour, as had been imposed in previous referendums. It requires a minimum of 40% of the total electorate for a trade union to get approval for industrial action. It takes two-thirds of the Members of Parliament to approve an early election.

And yet here, with much bigger consequences, no such protective umbrella was provided.

At the same time, those most affected by the outcome were denied a vote (young people, many expats and almost all EU citizens, including taxpayers), whilst Commonwealth citizens - in some ways a similar group to EU citizens - were allowed to vote, even those not paying taxes. What happened to “No Taxation without Representation”?

The Leave campaign overspent its allocation, much of it used to fund the Cambridge Analytica Facebook campaign which targeted specific voters with messages personalised to appeal to them individually.

And in the ultimate irony, the Courts decided that the referendum would have been declared illegal, had it not been advisory, but mandatory. Because it was only advisory, the Courts had no powers to intervene (despite Cameron announcing that it would be treated as mandatory).

Finally, the type of Brexit to be implemented was not included on the ballot paper. Should it be leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, or not? Former PM Theresa May announced red lines which had no basis in the referendum result. In fact, we can reasonably suppose that a majority (all 48.1% of Remain voters, plus an undefined percentage of Leave voters) would have voted in favour of remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union (a Norway-type model). The Leave Campaign was deliberately ambiguous on this point.

Brexit cannot leave us this way. British democracy will one day be restored. That will come when we rejoin the EU.

Andy Pye
Secretary, London4Europe

The views represent the views of the author and do not necessarily represent those of London4Europe. 

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Andy Pye
published this page in Latest blogs 2021-11-11 21:00:00 +0000