Democracy Needs Brexit

Dan Liddicott
Midlands Coordinator and Young Libertarians Coordinator


It’s been over two years since the British electorate voted to leave the EU. The question asked was very straightforward:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

There were two possible answers:

“Remain a member of the European Union.”

“Leave the European Union.”

The result was equally straightforward. A majority voted to leave.

As a ‘leave’ voter I had gone to bed the night before utterly convinced the result would be to remain. My expectation of failure was not due to lack of effort – I was no keyboard warrior (though I had done plenty of that) – I, along with many others in my area and across the country, had walked miles delivering leaflets and campaigning to bring about Brexit. As I retired for bed at the end of referendum day I felt inner peace. Convinced I was going to lose but knowing I had done all I could I fell asleep that night resolved to embrace the democratic decision and throw myself into political campaigning within the EU.

The next morning two things caught me completely by surprise. Firstly, the leave campaign had clinched it. Secondly, and in direct counterpoint to my joy over Brexit, was the backlash of vitriol poured out by so many of those who voted remain. The sheer amount of rage and the volume of insulting descriptions of the winning majority defied anything I had ever previously experienced. Since then only one thing eclipses that outpouring – the duration – for it continues today. The edge on the rage has gone by now but only to be replaced with a self-righteous opposition to all the precedents of democracy. The incessant cries for overturning the referendum result by almost any means is the Remainers’ course for the time being.

We have witnessed since the Brexit vote every form of sophistry applied to undo and undermine the democratic decision…

We have witnessed since the Brexit vote every form of sophistry applied to undo and undermine the democratic decision, from special pleading, to appeals to authority, to calls for another vote. We have seen the invention of two Brexits, hard and soft, to find a way to dismiss significant parts of what Brexit really means if it is to mean anything. We have seen the same people who denounced the supremacy of the UK parliament in deciding to offer a referendum at all, immediately calling for its supremacy over triggering Article 50 when they thought the vote might be overturned by it (in this too they were disappointed). More recently they hoped that parliament would be able to overturn any ‘Brexit deal’ and force our negotiators to go cap in hand to the EU where they would inevitably have at that point no leverage at all.

Their continuing sour grapes, their continuing attempts at sabotage, their continuing vocal opposition to democratic mandate has been spun by an establishment media machine, not as the losers whinging it was, but fictitiously as evidence that people had changed their mind. Backed by establishment money, media and support then, and with a £9m taxpayer funded campaign which was not counted towards the campaign costs, the Remainers had every advantage, and still the people of the UK voted to leave. The establishment money, media and support still prop up the ongoing remain campaign two years after the vote decided the outcome already.

…it is now clear that establishment actors are trying to change the rules …that our patient waiting for the vote to be honoured is being taken advantage of.

Meanwhile the decent ordinary people who voted to leave were patient. Because of their decency, their patience, their faith in the democratic process as it had been understood to operate since before they were born they did not keep campaigning, they had won, by all precedent the outcome was decided. Yet it is now clear that establishment actors are trying to change the rules, that on this issue of Brexit the democratic precedents – that the vote is the vote – are being undermined, that our patient waiting for the vote to be honoured is being taken advantage of.

Sovereignty! That was what it was all about for me. But establishment hard ‘Remainers’ do not respect it!

But we have seen this tactic before following various referenda at other times in EU history. When Denmark rejected the Maastricht treaty in 1992 they ran the vote a second time to get the pro-EU result; when Irish voters rejected the nice treaty in 2001 they ran the vote a second time to get the pro-EU result; when French and the Dutch voters rejected the EU constitution in 2005 they were ignored; when the Irish voters rejected the Lisbon treaty in 2008 they again ran the vote a second time to get the pro-EU result; and when the Greek voters rejected the euro bailout in 2015 they were ignored too.

This is the anti-democratic, and anti-voter-sovereignty, behaviour of the EU – so we should not be surprised that establishment hard Remainers take the same anti-democratic attitude.

One cannot keep kicking democratic outcomes as they have been doing and retain the same respect for the institutions which bring them about.

Yes, there are many who would like nothing more than to see Brexit fail. But I wonder what these Remainers think they will gain by continually attacking Brexit or (more unlikely) by overturning the referendum decision. Whatever else they think they will gain of two things I am certain, they will gain a weaker democracy and they will gain a weaker respect for democracy. One cannot keep kicking democratic outcomes as they have been doing and retain the same respect for the institutions which bring them about.

Of course, a weakened democracy may be of little concern to those who thought the EU system of a lapdog elected parliament and an un-elected ruling commission was an improvement on Westminster. A weakened democracy may be of little concern to those who would rather that democracy be replaced with a faux democratic body such as the EU (they wish Brexit to fail so they can call on the EU as a saviour). A weakened democracy may also be of little concern to those who think the common voter too uneducated, stupid, uninformed, deluded or bigoted to vote correctly. For some (a few only I hope) this is the whole nub of the matter – they are vociferous in their view that the people from whom legitimate government springs ought never be asked anything other than which cleverer person than them ought to make the decisions that so affect their lives. These hardcore elitists really resent democracy, not as a matter of principle (there is little you will hear from them when a democratic decision agrees with their view) but rather as a matter of expediency as it applies to their preferred ends. They believe they know better, and they don’t want their lives being influenced by those they believe do not know better. Their faith in the state ranks selected ‘experts’ (who agree with them) over the will of the people (who don’t agree with them) and this, perhaps, underpins much of their support for the EU which believes much the same thing. The whole EU system was designed to hold the electorate at arm’s length so the special appointed few could rule unhindered.

Either we believe the legitimacy of the state is rooted in power delegated to it by the people, or we believe the legitimacy of the people is rooted in dispensations granted by the state. I carry the conviction that the state gains its power from the people and not the other way around.

This is the real battle. If the individual sovereignty of voters at the ballot is nothing, then every member of our political establishment is nothing. If the ballot that supported Brexit can be ignored, what does that mean for every other ballot in this country, ever?

Whatever we think of membership in the EU, we must think more of the democracy. As libertarians we are aware of its flaws, but for now it is all we have, yet despite those flaws when applied as it was in the referendum its roots are in the right place for the most part – the will of the people. Either we believe the legitimacy of the state is rooted in power delegated to it by the people, or we believe the legitimacy of the people is rooted in dispensations granted by the state. I carry the conviction that the state gains its power from the people and not the other way around. If, in the end, Brexit is undermined so will the democracy of the UK be undermined, perhaps irreparably so.

Such a weakening ultimately replaces democracy with force and consent with fearful compliance. Democracy needs Brexit, for without Brexit we will have proven we have no democracy worth the name.

A democracy so weakened can undo every civilised institution. We see it already in the increasing willingness of people to use violence in politics where once they used the ballot box. Such a weakening ultimately replaces democracy with force and consent with fearful compliance. Democracy needs Brexit, for without Brexit we will have proven we have no democracy worth the name.

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