The Will of the People?


Much has been written on this subject so it is difficult to say something that is completely different. However, in my view, there are three essential reasons why a No-Deal Brexit – or for that matter, any deal Brexit – does not reflect “the will of the people” and why, if we are ever to make a critical decision based on “the will”, it needs to be assessed with more science than a binary vote.

(a) By common consent, the Referendum was held without controlled provision of full and fair information on either the Remain or Leave side on process and consequences. It now seems very likely that the Leave campaign, apart from knowingly issuing misleading and false statements, was funded from questionable sources. Its principal funder was a particularly disreputable individual who is now under NCA investigation for trading in illicit diamonds. The closeness of the result suggests to me that, whilst a proportion of voters will have had a clear view of the issues of importance to them, the vast majority will have been overwhelmed trying to separate truth and lies and evaluating the complex factors that went into the simple choice they were presented with. Many will have plumped for one side or the other without any real conviction other than it was their civic duty to vote – a random tick in one of two boxes. Like the toss of a coin over a large number of tosses, random voting by a large population of voters yields a 50/50 split. But today, we all have more information and know a lot more about the consequences of Brexit than we did 3 years – so it probable that the “will” is more defined and we can have greater confidence in its expression at the ballot box.

 

(b) We are a representative democracy. Although we had a national vote on joining the Common Market (as it then was) and, more recently, regional votes on the independence of Scotland and devolution, the UK does not have a constitution that lends itself to referenda to resolve complex and contentious political, economic or social issues. We elect and pay politicians and civil servants at local and national levels to investigate and decide on matters affecting public welfare according to their judgements of the best interest of their constituents and the country. They are not and cannot be mandated by any one section of society and to do so would create conditions leading to tribal warfare. Having studied the facts, over 480 MPs (75% of the House of Commons) were in favour of remaining in the European Union.

(c) Prime Minister Johnson and his cohort of obsessed Euro-sceptic colleagues say that not to leave the EU would be a betrayal of democracy. Clearly the various plans that have been suggested as means for him to secure an exit by 31st October are themselves the very antithesis of democracy and the epitome of autocracy. Pundits have defined effective democracy as requiring the consent of the losers (in any given decision) – but that is daft. No “loser” is going to give consent if he or she has to give up the thing they hold most dear, whether idea, property or life itself. Democracy in my books is not the satisfaction of the majority to the detriment of the minority but the minimisation of the dissatisfaction of the minority, especially a sizeable minority. Recognition of this is a prerequisite of a stable and sustainable society.

It is significant that as a nation we accept without demur that “the will of the people” shall not prevail in the context of capital punishment and assisted dying. Although we have not had a referendum on these comparatively simple issues, it is generally acknowledged that the pubic would like to see the return of the former and the legalisation of the latter. In their wisdom politicians, having considered the arguments and assessed the experience elsewhere in the world, have determined that the possibilities of error and abuse outweigh the potential benefits. And we should never forget that Hitler’s policies promulgating Aryan purity were supported by the “will of the people” in 1933 …and we know where that led!

Incidentally, it is worth remembering in the context of the UK withdrawing from the jurisdiction of ECJ and ECHR (European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights) that the Holocaust was one of the main reasons for the establishment of these courts of final resort. With a higher authority than national courts, they exist to protect the rights of the ordinary citizen from injustices perpetrated by the state, whether or not acting on the will of the people. The UK does not have a monopoly on jurisprudence and our governments and courts have been shown to be in the wrong on numerous occasions.

So what is my solution to what seems like intractable problem? We asked the people to decide so, after a properly informed non emotional debate, we must go back to them for confirmation or revocation. However, if as I would now expect, that vote produces a decision to Remain, I would want to see a scientifically conducted independent survey of attitudes to identify the various areas of concern about the operation of the EU and a process established that will allow us to work with our European partners to bring about the reforms that will alleviate the key concerns. Member states are now ready for reform whereas they were not prior to the Referendum - they have seen what has happened here and know that these and similar reservations over eg immigration and control over funds, are brewing in their midst. A positive and more productive approach to the EU will satisfy the demands of all but the most xenophobic of Brexiteers.


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