Democracy is about much more than simple rule by majority. It requires freedom of speech, it protects the rights of minorities and it confers upon them the right to oppose
“It’s DEMOCRACY get used to it.”
So said a tweet in response to an impassioned debate between myself and David Buik, the prominent city commentator who is a Brexiter friend of mine (I still have one or two of them even if the relationships have frayed). The aforementioned Twitter user blocked me when I politely suggested that they had a rather shaky understanding of what democracy actually means.
They are hardly alone. You’ll regularly hear similar arguments to the one they deployed from Brexiteers when those of us on the other side put our cases. Because 17m people voted “no” when asked should Britain remain a member of the EU they seem to think that should be the end of the discussion.
The result of a poll following a Leave campaign characterised by a tissue of lies, exaggerations, and, occasionally, out and out racism, is used to try and stifle any and all debate. Just look at the numbers! It’s democracy, so belt up.
The shouty tweet that appeared on my feed is actually mild in comparison to the Facebook post by Terry Nathan, a Ukip councillor, shortly after the referendum. He suggested that it was “time to start killing these people till article 50 is invoked, perhaps retainers will get the message then.” He was, of course, referring to Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty which needs to be invoked before the formal process of Brexit is started. Nathan subsequently apologised and said his comments were “intended to be taken with a pinch of salt” as if that makes such violent and undemocratic statements alright.
Then there was the Tory MP Lucy Allan, who suggested that a 50,000 strong pro-EU march in London was “a protest against democracy”. She appeared to have forgotten she got into Parliament despite having won just 39.6 per cent of the vote in her Telford constituency. These people, and their allies and fellow travellers really ought to enroll in some civics classes – elected officials in particular.
Democracy is about much more than simple rule by majority. To work effectively it requires freedom of speech. It has to protect the rights of minorities (Remain voters represent a very, very large minority) and it confers upon them the right to oppose.
When a political party, like Allan’s or Nathan’s, loses an election it doesn’t go to sleep for four or five years. It campaigns, it debates, and it criticises its victorious opponent. It tries to convince people of its case with the aim of winning the next election. Given that our Government still doesn’t have the faintest idea of what Brexit will actually mean in practice, the wide range of views among those in the Brexit camp and the misleading nature of the referendum campaign, there surely ought to be a next one when it comes to Brexit so the country can either endorse or reject the Government’s plan when it finally comes up with one. All the more so given that Brexit represents a major constitutional change that is being pushed through on the back of the votes of a minority of the electorate.
A sizeable number of people didn’t vote in June. I’m not making excuses for them; they should have turned out and made their views clear. But, like we Remainers, they too face being stripped of numerous rights and privileges they may value. Among them is their de facto European citizenship, their right to live and work wherever they want on the continent, their ability to claim healthcare if they fall ill while working or holidaying in Europe, the visa free travel they enjoy, and much more besides.
“Why don’t you just leave, then?” is a response you’ll often hear from Brexiters when raising points like this. Why the hell should I? And why the hell should anyone else who agrees with me? This is our home too.
There are 16 million people in Britain who voted to remain, and millions more who failed to back Brexit by not voting. They are entitled to express their views. That’s democracy. Get used to it.