I’ve never voted Conservative and, considering that I am a lefty, the chances I ever am going to do so are pretty damned slim. That means I have been on the losing side in many elections I’ve voted in, most recently in 2015 (yes, I live in Germany, but I only have a UK passport, so vote in UK general elections still – but that’s another story). But I do what everyone else does in this situation – I try to critique the government, I write letters, I build campaigns, and (in the past) I spent hours as a volunteer in the Labour Party hoping that our side would do better next time. Throughout all of this no one called me a moaner, a maniac, or told me to shut up or told me I was bitter or twisted. Because that’s how representative democracy works – you lose this time, but when the next election comes around, the other ones might win.
But what about referendums then?
The problem of course is we have no idea how long a referendum result is supposed to last. There’s no time frame on it. It of course should not be considered to be an infinite amount of time – if it were that, why did the UK hold an EU referendum in 2016 having held one in 1975*? But that does not stop those on the Leave side from wheeling out the argument that the people have voted, that’s it, it’s time to move on. I’ve put every Brexiteer tweet replying to my blog entry about why Brexit will not happen in a separate post here, but this is the gist of it:
[tweet 766542078792740864 hide_thread=’true’]
[tweet 765999519083401217 hide_thread=’true’]
Embrace it? Make a success of it? Shut up and move on? Get real!
If the Conservatives got into power and starting privatising something I didn’t like, what would I do? I’d come up with every possible way to stop it happening – using parliamentary means, legal means, protest means, trying to get press coverage. Until the law is passed, the thing actually happens, you do not give up.
I see no reason why it should not be the same with the EU referendum. The UK leaving the EU might mean Scotland leaves the UK – so work with the Scots to work out how that could be used as a lever. Same with Northern Ireland. Find legal routes. Use political parties and parliamentary means to oppose Brexit. If the case for a Brexit that is actually workable is so strong, then these hurdles ought to be surmountable by the pro-Brexit side, and after all the government that has said Brexit means Brexit. It is not my responsibility, and indeed not the responsibility of anyone who opposed Brexit before the vote, to stop opposing it now. This does not make me a moaner, or in denial, or anything like that. It makes me a person committed to my principles, and committed to carrying on arguing for them.
Indeed I’d actually go so far as to say pro-EU folks ought to not even entertain the idea that they ought to shut up, or that they ought to take responsibility or move on. This tweet was what prompted me to write this blog entry:
The issue as I see it is that this “ohh, Remoaners shut up” is once more a rhetorical device of the Leave side. In the same way as Remain spent ages trying to rebut the idea that no, £350m a week did NOT go to the EU, the myth stuck. Actually efforts to make Brexit happen since 23rd June have been pretty damned awful – because the Brexit side did not have a plan, and government does not have a clue what it is doing and still has not triggered Article 50. But instead the Leave side wants to cover this by blaming the Remain side instead – that they are moaners, that they ought to give up etc.
So from now on, after having read this blog entry, do not even reply to critique about the behaviour of the Remain side. Every democratic and peaceful means to oppose Brexit is legitimate. A tough and ethical defence of the European Union is as vital now as it was before 23rd June. This battle is not lost. And now, as before 23rd June, make the case for the EU, and Britain’s enduring membership of it, on its own terms. Don’t waste time and effort on a bunch of fantasists who actually have no sodding clue how to actually deliver on Brexit. They ought to be the ones moaning at the government that Article 50 has not been triggered, rather than deluding themselves that the Remain folks are the problem.
[* UPDATE 19.8.2016, 1145]
Alan King rightly points out on Twitter that it was not the EU, but the EEC, in 1975. So the facts change, so the country then votes again. Strikes me that then, if the Brexit promised to the British people before 23rd June (inc. £350m week saving, and it going to the NHS) is hence not available, i.e. the facts have changed, then there’s no problem with a further referendum. There’s no reason why the 23rd June referendum must be the final word on all of this.
Back in 1994, Sweden voted to join the European Union. The opponents, organised though Folkrörelsen Nej till EU (http://www.nejtilleu.se/), did not stop campaigning after the ‘yes’ vote, and the organisation still exists and does some minor campaigning. For the same reason, British organisations shouldn’t stop campaigning only because they have lost a referendum.
Hi Jon, thanks for this committed post and for the insightful and well-referenced thoughts of your previous posts.
I disagree with your claim that Brexit ‘won’t happen’. Negotiations on Brexit will be difficult, but the referendum has led to a game change. We can expect that the British government will leave an empty chair during the negotiations on the next MFF, and the consequence will be that the British rebate will lapse in December 2020. Without being able to participate in the next MFF at acceptable financial conditions, the only available alternative to secure at least a partial access to the internal market will be something inspired by the agreements with the EFTA states and/or the micro-states. I would personally not say that this has a good option, but it would have the advantage of being able to change the design of passports, driving licences, number plates, and health insurance cards, and reduce the nominal amount of the transfer to the EU budget (by repatriating the CAP and the regional cohesion policy, whose European added value is close to zero anyway). In the same time, it will not cause any major harm to business, finance, and academia, and thus reduce the mobilization of the Bremain camp. The most frustrated category will be made of civil servants, diplomats and experts, who will be downgraded to observers in the comitology and the Council.
For Bremainers the big question will be on the stance to take towards such a scenario. Provided that hard-core Brexiteers will still consider that such an agreement is not satisfactory, and request something much more extreme, the question is which side to take. Refusing to cooperate with pragmatic Brexiteers would imply the risk of loosing the right to move and reside freely in the Union. Accepting this compromise would imply losing the right to vote in European elections and in local elections abroad.
Completely agree. Keep up the good work Jon!
Well said. It is not moaning or whingeing to ask, “Well ok, how are you going to achieve what you claim to want?”