For a leaver who took Tony Benn’s view that the EU was not democratic enough, the past few years have been dispiriting to witness.
Politicians’ gormless attempts to implement the result have been one part of this dreadful circus. But the less covered scandal has been the intellectual attacks on democracy, and on people’s rights to choose who and what governs them.
I write “less covered” with some caveats. Most of my experience of anti-democratic sentiments have come through the media, and chiefly the mainstream sort (meaning that which is properly funded, and doesn’t need to be tapped out in the wee hours the morning).
As a white collar worker I’ve heard my share of anti-Brexit views in person, much of which mirrors the comments section of certain Guardian articles or the equivalent threads on Twitter or Reddit. It’s no coincidence “gammon” was reworked as a slur these past few years, and it reflects a bigoted mindset among many Britons.
Some of this is funny, as all stereotypes can be. But it dismays me that the prevalent anti-democratic sentiment is not seen as more of a scandal, where any number of outrages have been confected over misplaced words and cultural misunderstandings, the “funny tinge” incident being one example.
Some remainers presumably believe that the referendum can be discounted because of foul play. They say Brexit was won through lies stuck on a coach, public ignorance, or internet advertising. Usually it’s a combination of the three.
Whilst I think such arguments are illegitimate, they do hint at the view that people should only be allowed to vote if they meet certain requirements. More darkly, they suggest some people think the public is stupid, gullible and vulnerable to being tricked through a few pop-up ads.
As the critic of democracy Bryan Caplan once conceded, being ignorant is not the same as being impressionable. There are certainly plenty of voters who wouldn’t fare well on University Challenge – or, for that matter, a pub quiz – but this hardly makes them vulnerable to every con artist with a rosette.
But that aside, I find it astounding how many remainers entertained the idea – the “dream” in the words of Graun hack Jonathan Freedland – that the referendum could be voided somehow. For a long time it was felt another “confirmatory” vote was needed, but some remoaners have progressed to just cancelling Brexit with no further referendum, most notably the Liberal Democrat leadership.
Campaigning to ignore a public vote on political union and the source of government is much more disgraceful than anything leavers have been accused of these past three years. It is the basic principle of democracy that people should be able to choose who governs them, including by choosing not to be governed by a given body.
It is sad that a rump fringe of remainers no longer recognise this. Their dream for an international pan-European government capable of delivering untold sugar and spice to the masses has blinded them to the reality that government can only be legitimate if it is consented to.
The oft-repeated view that leaving the EU should have required a supermajority of votes rather than merely over half is indicative of this view. But what sort of political union can be supported by less than half of a voting population?
That is why the prospect of Brexit finally be secured through Boris Johnson’s deal does give me with some hope. Whatever the merits of Johnson’s deal, it is a big step towards fulfilling a democrat promise made by the governors to the governed. That alone is a great thing.
Parliament ratifying the deal will hopefully crush the anti-democratic remoaners with lasting effect. Many of them are correct in thinking rejoining the EU is a tougher sell than remaining within it, perhaps especially because it will no longer be possible to make doomed forecasts about life outside the bloc.
Whilst I expect a rump of rejoiners to persist despite this, most people will accept the new state of affairs, much as most people accepted the old. But the principle that a minority faction cannot force government on people will have been defended. Remoaners will have to accept they are just one set of arseholes among many in politics. And the game will go on.