The Brexit, the EU and British Democracy

by Nicola Ferronato, political scientist, Switzerland

On 23 June 2016, after a long and comprehensive debate, the British people held a referendum on whether the United Kingdom (UK) should remain in the European Union (EU) or not. To the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” a majority of seventeen and a half million people voted “Leave”, which meant the divorce. A certain British elite, unhappy with the result, is calling for a new referendum since the result came out. According to this globalised elite from the “remain” camp, the UK can only survive within the supranational, and increasingly integrated and centralised EU. The decision to leave the EU is “catastrophic” and the people who voted this way “do in no way understand the high challenges at stake”. This is why we need another referendum to overturn the course of Brexit. In the end, the people are ignorant and erratic: they have to vote again, but this time, correctly.

585-page text to decide on divorce

nf. An agreement between the EU and the UK is finally on the table. This complex and very technical text of 585 pages, already approved by the European Commission, is supposed to pave the path for a healthy divorce. It is, however, the subject of sharp criticism, particularly from the Leavers, since it does not take into account the will of the people expressed on 23 June 2016.The present deal would pull out the UK from the decisional process of the EU without taking it out from its normative frame. Summed up, the British people will have no say in the EU anymore yet will be subject and subordinated to EU rules. For most leavers, this is the worst possible case scenario as a no-deal situation, or even staying in the EU would be much better as the UK would at least have a say on the rules it follows. Even on the labour side, MPs reject the “empty deal” that would make a “vassal state” out of the UK. The deal provides, for example, that if no solution is found for the Irish border until 1 July 2020, the UK must stay in the European Union Customs Union (EUCU) and Northern Ireland in the single market. The UK would hence be subject to a great number of commercial, economic, social, environmental and tax rules of the EU (carbon emissions, working hours), without having a say in the making of these rules.
Is former remainer Theresa May making the same mistake as Margaret Thatcher at the end of her career, when she was ostracised and did not listen to her cabinet members who warned her? Worse, is she signing the political submission of the UK to the EU and putting in threat the Unity of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?  Four Ministers have quit due to their discontent over the deal: Esther McVey, Shailesh Vara, Suella Braverman and, above all, Dominic Raab the former Brexit secretary. It is worrying, that the person who forged and negotiated this agreement with his own hands resigned. Mr Raab, who succeeded David Davis, who also resigned because of the detrimental course Brexit was taking, said “I cannot support this agreement, which contains two big fatal errors [...] with a clear conscience, as it threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom on the one hand and imprisons the country in a system in which it no longer has a say for an indefinite period of time [...]. This will harm the economy and destroy democracy.”

The mandate the British Government received from its people on 23 June 2016 is clear and precise. The British citizens have shown their will to take back control of their borders and recover political, economic and judicial independence and sovereignty. But more precisely, it was demanded the UK gets out of the free movement of persons’ treaties, the single market, the customs union, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Common Fishery Policy (CFP), the Court of Justice (ECJ) and the judicial system as a whole etc. The mandate is as clear as day. Yet it turns out that the democratic decision does not please a certain globalised remainer elite, which since 23 June 2016, is tirelessly fighting to overturn the course of the referendum, whereas the leavers, thinking the battle was over and won, rest on their laurels. Today this elite calls for a “People’s vote”, as if it did not already take place, to validate or reject the treaty that is being finalised at this very moment.

The negotiations

On 25 November, the European Commission signed and thus validated the divorce deal after more than a year and a half of troublesome negotiations. Now the EU has given its green light to the text (that strikingly resembles the treaty of Rome), the Prime minister has to pass it through Parliament and therefore convince a majority of colleagues that they should back the deal. Although aware she does not enjoy a majority to uplift her deal yet, she plans to persuade a majority of MPs who if failing to back the deal will take Britain “back to square one”. There is no way, however, that the so-called hard Brexiters and even the labour party will ratify the text in question, as its’ “inacceptable” clauses remain unchanged. It is hard to imagine that the deal will pass at this stage indeed. The probability of a “no-deal” divorce remains likely and it would pave the path for a World Trade Organisation (WTO) based relation between Britain and the EU.

The real matter: democracy or bureaucracy?

The left and the remainer elite argue that Theresa May’s “empty” deal and the dark economic perspectives are reason enough to make people vote again. In reality, the actual situation, although complicated, does not at all justify a second referendum on Brexit. In 2016, the British people took the most important decision in its’ history, and consciously. The people have expressed their long-term vision for a United Kingdom outside of the supranational institution of the EU. They have expressed their vision of an autonomous and independent country, where the people can democratically hire and fire their representatives. Therefore, one can say that the problematic to which the British people responded in the June referendum largely exceeds the mere question of the short-term economic consequences of Brexit. The question on the ballot was, before anything else, about the freedom and sovereignty of a people. A people that does not anymore approve the non-elected European leaders, the EU rules, the EU flag and the anthem it never voted for. The result was clear: the people want to self-govern their country.  
And yet, this is nonsense according to the remainer elite. Indeed, history tells us it is not the first time that an elitist minority expresses its’ lack of respect towards democracy. The episode of the 2005 referendum on the European Constitution is a sad example. The French and Dutch people had voted “NO”, hence against the project. Yet at the time already, the democratic decision was ignored by a Euro-fanatic elite that decided to implement the text of the Constitution through the Lisbon treaty. This had not been a surprise of course as Jean-Claude Junker declared, before the referendum results came out: “If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it’s a No we will say ‘we continue”.
In 2008, it was the turn of the Irish people to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and to suffer the same experience as the French and the Dutch. When the Irish people voted “NO” to the treaty in question on 12 June 2008, Brussels immediately rejects the referendum result. Worse, it organised a second referendum on the same question (2009), to overturn the result.
Strangely enough, the same elite who fiercely opposed a first Brexit referendum, arguing that such a complex question could not be given to the people, now wants a second referendum on the exact same question. This is how the campaign for a “People’s Vote” started. By announcing apocalyptic economic conjectures, the remainer elite hopes to scare off people enough to overturn the course of Brexit. During a conference in Freiburg on 1 October, Jean-Claude Junker said that “if talks go wrong, then no more British airplanes can land on the continent”. This is an absurd propaganda campaign. Yet they had done it before: the remain camp had announced between 500,000 and 800,000 job losses right after the 23 June 2016, if people voted for Brexit. An immediate recession was announced as well as a diminuation of salaries and exports. And all of this would be felt right away as a direct consequence of the vote. But what really happened? The exact opposite. Unemployment has not been this low for decades (approximatively 4%), exports increased and salaries were raised.  
This disrespectful behaviour towards the democratic process poses an enormous challenge to European countries, which is commonly called “democratic deficit”. It is the combat between globalisation and the people. Brexit epitomises this phenomena as foreign global and leftist elites intervene in the internal affairs of the UK to stop Brexit. The most compromising example of foreign intervention in UK domestic affairs is George Sorros’ financing of the remain camp and the “People’s Vote” campaign. He offered around 80,000 pounds to the remainers, according to the BBC. Although we do not know how heavily he financed these groups in total, we also know he has given 400,000 pounds to an NGO called “Best for Britain”, which organised the pro-EU demonstration in London end of October. In the end, one can say that Mr Sorros hit the Bank of Britain in 1992 and now wants to hurt democracy in Britain. By the way, is it not funny that everybody finds it normal that an American with Hungarian ancestry is financing with millions political campaigns abroad? Would we not be a little more critical if such amounts of money came from Russia?

The democratic deficit in Europe: a challenge for all

The European democratic deficit can be noticed in politicians’ discourses. It then crystallises in their actions. Similarly to Mr Junkers words on the 2005 Constitution referendum, numerous personalities from the British and European elite lashed out at the decision of June 2016. Here are just a few examples:
In a discourse of 5 April 2017 at the EU Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt called Brexit “a loss of time […] a stupidity”. Likewise, Andrew Adonis, former British Minister, has encouraged the project of a second referendum during one of his interventions at Chatham House when he said: “the problem is not to decide what Brexit we want because the problem is Brexit itself […] we can and we must stop Brexit”. A little quip imposes itself here: let’s replace the term “Brexit” with the synonym “the people”, the result being: “the problem is not to decide what the people want because the problem are the people itself […] we can and we must stop the people”. This shows the contempt some politicians have towards the poplar’s will.
In an open letter, three eminent former British politicians also insulted the democratic decision saying there were two types of people in favor of Brexit. In the letter, one can read: “There are two sorts of advocates of a blindfold Brexit in Britain. The na´ve optimists and the cynical pessimists”. Hence, according to the three politicians, it seems that people who voted for Brexit are either stupid or dumb. These very eminent politicians are no others than Tony Blair, Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister from 2010 to 2015 and Michael Heseltine, Deputy Prime Minister from 1995 to 1997.

A much-needed reconciliation of the rulers and the ruled ones

The EU cannot continue to develop without the peoples. Rather than more political integration, more democratic integration would be needed. In fact, the rise of the populist parties in Europe is an immediate response to the EU’s failure to tackle unemployment and the migration questions. Yet what is important to the peoples is not necessarily important to the rulers. The democratic deficit has played a major role in the Brexit referendum and has tipped the balance in favour of the leavers. The British people, who had the impression not to be heard anymore in Europe, wanted change. Now the relations between the divorced ones need to be safeguarded. It could be beneficial for both parties involved in the divorce, for example, to find a solution similar to the Swiss model based on the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Of course, Switzerland never had to separate itself from the EU, and a relationship can certainly continue on a factual level following a divorce.    •