Friday, 28 December 2018

Squaring the Brexit Circle Revisited.

by Les May

THE political system of the United Kingdom (UK) is a representative or parliamentary democracy.   Apart from the 1998 referendum in Northern Ireland on the Good Friday Agreement, the only attempts at direct democracy that I am aware of are the 1975 referendum and the 2016 referendum.   Neither of these took place to determine ‘the will of the people’.  Both were attempts to prevent the political party which formed the government of the day from tearing itself apart. In 1975 it was the groupings around Tony Benn and Roy Jenkins who had differing views about the UK being a member of the Common Market.  In 2016 it was the European Research Group (ERG) and the rest of the Tory party which had, and have, differing views about remaining a member of the European Union (EU).  Each of the treaties which transformed the Common Market into the European Community was voted on by the parliament of each of the member countries, including the UK House of Commons.  That is the way a representative democracy works.

I voted to leave the Common Market in 1975.  About 60% of the people who took part voted to remain.  I considered this was an overwhelming endorsement and accepted the result.   I voted to remain in the EU in 2016.  About 52% of those who took part voted to leave.  I did not, and do not, think this is an overwhelming endorsement, but I accepted the result and its logical consequence, that we leave the EU.

What I do not accept is that I, and others, can have no say in what relationship the UK has with Europe and the rest of the world after the UK leaves the EU.  It is simply a fact that the only question on the ballot paper was whether the UK should continue to be a member of the EU.   I am not willing to accede to every item on the shopping list drawn up by the ERG and those who think like them.

For two years we have had a situation where many of the people who voted to leave the EU have been unwilling to accept that many people who voted to remain were and are genuinely concerned about the consequences which would follow and have a right to say so.  Many of the people who voted to remain have spent their time in attempting to overturn the result of the referendum.  They would have been better employed in looking for ways of mitigating the worst effects of leaving the EU and attempting to influence the nature of our future relationship with Europe.

For some people leaving the EU has become an end in itself.  Calling them ‘Little Englanders’ seems entirely appropriate because they are unwilling to recognise that a majority of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland do not want to leave the EU or that the British-Irish agreement of 1998 has the status of an international treaty ratified by the UK parliament. 


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