Why not have a referendum about getting rid of the UK parliament? Why stop with Europe?
Exactly 41 years ago today I voted for the United Kingdom to leave what was then called the European Community. Yup, I’m old. And nothing that has happened makes me feel I cast my ballot for the wrong side all that time ago.
But at this referendum I’ve very, very reluctantly put my cross for the UK to remain part of the European Union.
In the end it was Boris and his unpleasant band of Brexiteers who convinced me which way to vote. Could I really let myself be part of a movement that put that bunch of dishonest, selfish, toerags in political charge of the country of my birth?
But, I can absolutely understand why people would vote to leave. After all that’s what I did four decades ago. And I still think the European Union is secretive, bureaucratic and fundamentally undemocratic. Even its greatest supporters agree the organisation requires root-and-branch reform.
What’s changed is that in 1975 there was real discussion of alternatives from both left and right. Not only that, but because the UK had only been a member for a couple years, rolling back the changes necessary to leave the organisation would not have been so difficult. But, after 40 years disentangling the institutions of the UK and the EU would be incredibly complex.
And that’s what makes Boris and his pals so dishonest.
They just want to ditch the bits of the EU that don’t suit their project, profits before people. They still want to continue to trade freely with Europe, but without the annoying, although fairly limited, protection given to the environment, safety and employment.
In fact, I look at the arguments of leading Brexiteers and think: ‘Couldn’t they equally be applied to a referendum proposing to abolish the British parliament?’ Just think of how much more money you’d have in your pocket if you didn’t have to pay tax. There’d be plenty of support for that.
Of course, you’d still need health cover. I’m sure Boris’s friends would sell you that. And they’d run road tolls, for a share of the profits. And Boris would certainly tell you what the benefits are of having your children educated privately.
Still, at least the market would be allowed to decide and all that money wouldn’t be wasted on elected politicians and civil servants. Isn’t it right that the more money you have, the more say you have in the running of the world? You’ve earned it. Well, maybe.
I’m exaggerating, but only to show what a farce this referendum and the accompanying debate represents. It has no more to do with democracy than voting in the X Factor has to do with the future of music. It’s just a lot more dangerous.
The fundamental way that Britain is governed, although it’s deeply flawed, is it is a representative democracy. That means people get to vote for representatives to do their will and, if they’re not happy with the way those representatives have performed, every few years they have the chance to get rid of them.
So the referendum, on one level, is a basic breach of British democratic traditions because it shows the Cameron government is incapable of making a decision for which it can be held responsible.
In practice, that means people are being presented with two choices. But, nobody knows what those choices represent.
The Brexiteers want to renegotiate some agreements with Europe. Who knows what they are?
But, the same could be said of the remain camp. It’s up to our representatives. So why the hell are we having a referendum when neither side is clear about what’s on offer?
I suppose, and that’s why I’ve voted for the UK to remain in the EU, at least the remain camp has some sort of track record to defend. It’s not the total pie in the sky of the Brexiteers where leaving the EU means whatever you want it to mean.
And, in the end, Britain is part of Europe. That’s geography. It can’t be towed across the Atlantic to become part of President Trump’s America. Nor can it be shifted to the Caribbean — although I’d definitely vote for that!