Archive: On Brexit and Democracy

January 15, 2017

Friday, 24th June 2016 should have been a pretty good day. It was the morning of the last of my GCSE exams, which had dominated the last two months of my life, and after a quick crack at attempting the impossible (qualifying our 2nd schoolboy crew for a university event) that afternoon at Henley Royal Regatta, I would be free to enjoy a marvellous 10½ week summer, before returning to start sixth form in September. I woke up that morning full of spirits, even though my revision the day before had been slightly ruined by the racket of builders ripping apart our old kitchen. However, this feeling was soon dashed from the BBC News headlines blaring from the TV in my parents’ bedroom, proudly announcing that the other impossibility of that time had in fact happened: the UK had voted to leave the EU, by a slim majority of 52% to 48%.

My first reaction was one of incredulity (I was no longer able to bumble around in my half-asleep stupor after this): what a momentously stupid decision, I thought to myself. I glanced at my parents, but their concerned looks quickly confirmed that this was not a very delayed April Fools joke on the part of the media, and was in fact unfortunately rather real indeed. My second reaction was to ask my mum to renew my Spanish passport (which, due to the lengthy and convoluted process required to complete the necessary forms, admin etc. we had until that point neglected), lest I should suddenly be stripped of my EU citizenship then and there.

Nearly seven months on, we may still be inside the EU, but matters have not improved one bit. After the bittersweet news of David Cameron’s shock resignation following the referendum defeat, and the political whirlwind that followed as the Tory party attempted to stem the bleeding and fill the void while the Labour party ripped itself to shreds over the incompetency of its new old socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn, we now find ourselves inevitably hurtling towards the car crash of failed diplomacy and bitter infighting that the negotiations to withdraw from the EU will inevitably become. The serious divides in society which led to this cataclysmic catastrophe have yet to be addressed, and probably won’t be for a while, but in the meantime, we need to sort out exactly how we are going to go about an event that will shape the future of our country for decades to come.

Right now, the situation does not look good. The current prime minister, Theresa May, has decided to press ahead, keenly repeating her key phrase “Brexit means Brexit” at every opportunity — a politician’s perfect slogan, one should add, because it tells us absolutely nothing whatsoever, and allows the government to continue its strategy of not revealing any strategy at all, so that after the completely chaotic, unplanned and failed two year negotiations, May can suddenly reveal that the cards she was preciously keeping to herself all this time conveniently match the outcome of the process. The government is keen to leave behind the whole palaver of the fiasco that was asking the people for their opinion by proceeding in as undemocratic a manner possible and hoping that it can return to its role of governing the country before anyone starts asking any questions about the validity of their mandate, and in doing so will gladly bungle the whole thing up and use it as an excuse to refrain from ever consulting the public ever again.

The severity of this situation cannot be overstated, and therefore I shall endeavour to unintentionally reduce its significance by comparing it to a topic of paramount importance to many adults. Imagine that a friend or colleague has asked you a simple question: “Would you like a coffee?” You, unaware of the terrible effects this addictive substance will eventually have on your health, eagerly respond with a nod. You would then expect, that as this friend or colleague is not an extension of your entity, but rather a mere acquaintance (for the sake of this analogy they must not be too close, otherwise the entire metaphor falls apart), they would then continue the conversation to inquire about your preferences, and use the answers to obtain a drink that is satisfactory to your highly developed ideas about what makes a perfect coffee. (On a side note, I should add that the metaphor also collapses if you don’t like coffee, but this can be alleviated slightly if you substitute it with your favourite drink, preferably one with lots of variants like wine or beer.) You would therefore be rightfully surprised, then, if your friend or colleague did not continue the conversation, but left you to go and obtain said coffee, and you would indeed be angered if he or she were to return with a disgusting and abhorrent substance completely contrary to your tastes, which you would argue is not even worthy of sharing the name of the warm, steaming and intoxicating nourishment which you need in order to continue going on with your daily life. And so it is with politics. The government cannot ask people whether they wish to leave the EU, then go away and craft what it deems the correct interpretation of the results of that fateful Friday’s referendum, but yet that appears to be exactly what it intends to do.

So what exactly can we do about this, I hear you ask. Well, in the normal proceedings of our government and the running of our country, there should be a large opposition party which exists to keep the actions of the governing party in check, and offer alternative approaches when it differs with the official view on a particular subject or matter. Ideally this party should be united, and should have a leader who can strongly voice the opinions of his entire party, not just his own personal views. Normally this is the case for the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but unfortunately following the outright civil war in the Labour Party which had been brewing since its general election defeat in 2015, and appears to still flare up now and again, this is no longer really an option. The Liberal Democrats, while being the only party to bravely voice an opinion against completely cutting ties with Brussels, is far too small to defeat the Conservative majority government, as is the Greens, and the only option left is the SNP, a party that seems to think that all hope is lost for the UK and is now rallying itself to save Scotland from the same fate via Indyref2. The idea of London becoming a semi-autonomous city-state remaining in the EU is, one must concede, tantalising, but so ridiculously impractical that it seems that Britain leaving the EU and no longer accepting the free movement of people, yet still having free access to the single market and customs union while not paying a single pound to Brussels — the Brexiteer’s dream — seems more feasible. To this, I shall simply mention the sudden silence of key Leave figures after the referendum who had been loudly promising all this and more beforehand. The answer to the question posed at the beginning of this paragraph, it would seem, is not a lot.

So, to conclude, I shall go back to the very beginning, that day in June, when my sixteen-year-old self woke to find that his future, and the future of his country, had suddenly been changed for the worse by a tiny majority of less than 1½ million people, and yet millions of people who have only known the EU and all of its many benefits and merits, who could not even appreciate how much it has improved our country, who have only heard of its problems and crises and yet still know instinctively that leaving it would be an unquestionably silly thing to do, still did not get a say over their future. Is it really fair that young people did not get, and still do not get, a vote when they are the people most affected by this change? Is it really in keeping with our values of democracy and freedom that we, even when we accept the referendum result, are unable to shape how our country’s future will be determined? Why do we not get a say over how the government carries out our wishes? Surely the government, in following the people’s demands in leaving the EU must also listen to our demands about how we leave the EU, and we must make our voices clear.

Originally published at on June 9, 2017.

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