The Importance of Liberal Values in Defeating Brexit

On 20th October, there was the “People’s Vote” march in London. Whilst I support the march, it’s important to remember that 700,000 people showing up on Parliament Square and then going back to their keyboards just isn’t going to shift the political landscape or change anyone’s mind. The overwhelming majority of people who took part in the march will have voted or supported Remain in the referendum in 2016, including a huge number of young people and EU citizens who were denied a vote at the time.

Don’t get me wrong – if you went on the march, you have exercised one of the greatest freedoms of democracy – but don’t leave it at that. Showing a presence is important, but we have to go beyond the occasional march. If you really want to change things, knock on doors and campaign with your local party.

As liberals, we have to recognise that nothing could be more reflective of our common values of tolerance, decency and kindness towards others than being able to lead respectful conversations, and even more importantly, being able to listen and understand, especially when it comes to topics we strongly disagree on. The only question is, how do we treat people whom we disagree with? Do we disregard their point of view, or do we respect it and have a sensible conversation? The current political climate is toxic, emotions are running high and people are at each other’s necks, but if we really want to hold true to our values, we must try and find common ground.

Holding up placards calling Leave voters racist, ill-informed or stupid, and sneering at them, doesn’t help our argument and shuts down any attempt at sensible political debate. I’m also of the strong opinion that standing outside parliament or Downing Street every single day, shouting and harassing our elected representatives isn’t doing us any favours. It creates a toxic environment where it just becomes about who can shout the loudest. Draping ourselves in the EU flag and making emotionally driven generalisations of Leave voters online isn’t going to recruit anyone to our cause. It drives people away and makes reasonable, respectful conversation impossible. We shouldn’t demonise or disregard Leave voters’ concerns about the European Union just because we don’t share them. People voted for Brexit for a variety of different reasons. Their concerns are legitimate and need to be acknowledged, understood and addressed.

If we are serious about stopping Brexit, we must break out of our self-created echo chambers and start respectful and rational conversations with those whom we disagree with. We need to present people with examples of why the EU is good for us, not bombard them with speculations on why or how Brexit is going to be detrimental to our country.

Marching on Parliament and being active online is good, but the real difference is made on the doorstep in real-life conversations. When I’m out canvassing, I speak to many people who have lost faith in politics and just don’t bother voting anymore. It’s our duty to change that, and it starts on a local level – fixing that pothole down the road, saving the vital local bus service that connects a community or even just running a petition and presenting it to the council about setting up speed cameras on the High Street.

I strongly believe there should be a vote on the final deal with an option to ‘Remain’. After all, a healthy democracy needs scrutiny and should allow the electorate to change their mind at any given time. That time is now.

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30 Comments

  • Democracy is already at an all time low & ignoring the Brexit vote will destroy democracy for years to come. I for one will not vote again in elections if the vote is ignored & will not vote in a second referendum.If a vote is not good enough in a referendum then it is not good enough to elect politicians.

  • A good piece, we need to remain respectful and conducts ourselves as adults. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that in an online conversation there are observers as well as participants. You might not convince the angry person you are directly interacting with, but the contrast between ANGRY ALL CAPS and a reasoned argument is often enough to sway the onlooker.

    But you do risk stereotyping Remainers and their arguments as much as you complain of our stereotyping of people who voted leave. There were precious few placards that accused people who voted leave of being racist, or ill-informed, or stupid. I saw none. At all.

    I also disagree with your characterisation of, I presume, SODEM (these are the people outside parliament). Pro-EU parliamentarians, both Lords and Commons, have frequently expressed their gratitude to SODEM. The SODEM protests give important, visible (and audible!), support to people who have been ploughing a lonely furrow over the past two years.

  • William Fowler 22nd Oct '18 - 2:13pm

    “Democracy is already at an all time low & ignoring the Brexit vote will destroy democracy for years to come. I for one will not vote again in elections if the vote is ignored & will not vote in a second referendum.If a vote is not good enough in a referendum then it is not good enough to elect politicians.”

    Destroy it for who? All the youngsters now able to vote, all the 16-17 year-olds who might be given the vote in a second referendum, all the people who voted to leave on the assumption that there would be an easy deal only to find that the most likely deal is probably going to be WTO rules.

    I do think the EU need to front up some modifications to freedom of movement, mainly on access to housing, benefits, tax credits etc – at least five years residence before they can be had, which would hold back the tide of low skilled workers and placate many who voted leave. It would also be another reason to have a second vote as the game has changed.

    Simple choice between WTO rules and staying in with the residence test, enough difference to the first referendum to make it necessary.

  • nvelope2003 22nd Oct '18 - 4:17pm

    The latest effusions from Conservative politicians do not indicate a raional state of mind – talk of sticking a knife into Mrs May for instance. All the talk from Brexiteers seems to indicate a fear that they have lost the argument and are not going to get what they want because it is not available.

    TERRY: Would you vote if there was a referendum on whether to accept the terms for leaving the EU and not on the principle of whether to leave or remain ?

  • Great article Dominic. Every point you make is absolutely right.

  • Terry,
    It is your choice whether you vote in future or not. It has no bearing on democracy in fact the very act of choosing not to vote is actually a fundamental part of the democratic process. To be honest I’m getting a little bit cheesed off with the snowflake attitude of Brexiteers with there “If I don’t get my way I’m taking my ball home” it doesn’t impress me and it doesn’t make me feel we should tag along with the bad decsion leavers made.

  • John Marriott 23rd Oct '18 - 8:19am

    How many more variations on the Brexit theme can we get? Obviously there are more to come. We had a vote, one side won. There was a campaign of sorts before, which some would argue brought out the worst on both sides, hubris from those who campaigned for remain and wild ‘wing and a prayer’ optimism from those who campaigned for leave. On the evidence before us it would seem that optimism trumped fear.

    As I have said many times in this increasingly frustrating debate, had those in Europe privately wringing their hands at the prospect of losing all those billions if we do leave without a deal, been prepared to compromise over ‘freedom of movement’, something that may play an ever increasing role in the upcoming EU parliamentary elections, we and they might not be where we are today.

    We are now being told by Raab and co that we are 95% there on a deal. It’s just the Irish question that needs sorting out (it’s always ‘the Irish question’ that bedevils British politics, isn’t it?). So let’s see what happens.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Oct '18 - 9:45am

    Let’s be clear. Democracy is not a single event. It is a process by which each eligible voter can express an opinion at any time. Democracy allows people to change their minds or their MPs, MSPs, Assembly members, councillors, their government or their council or indeed their view of the EU.
    Frankie is right. Brexiteers now fear that if there were a further referendum, they might lose and so they define democracy as sticking rigidly to one decision, made on one day in June 2016, rather than acknowledging that fluid nature of democracy with changing views or circumstances. Of course, if their view was correct, then the 2016 referendum would be wholly out of order, since the decision had been made in 1975. They argue that we had the right to change our minds in 2016, but not of course in 2018 or 2019.
    Nevertheless, we have to be careful. A referendum on the same terms and with the same franchise and with no safeguards against the shenanigans that took place last time could and most likely would be manipulated by Russia, the US alt right and others and a new pack of lies would be spread. If the remain side campaign as they did in 2016, then the referendum would be lost. We need a highly positive campaign that stresses the benefits the UK has and would receive inside the EU, not a litany of the dire consequences of leaving.
    I’ll be frank. I’m not at all hopeful that a referendum would be won, even if it is agreed to have one. I simply don’t believe that remain is capable of offering the sort of positive campaign that will be needed and I don’t think parliament will ensure the necessary safeguards against dishonest campaigning that are necessary nor do I think 16-17 year olds will get the vote nor UK Citizens abroad nor EU citizens here.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Oct '18 - 10:00am

    @ Mick Taylor,

    Let’s be clear. Democracy is not a single event.

    It certainly isn’t when democratic results don’t go the way of the EU and it’s supporters. We’ve seen it happen before in the EU when the voters have ‘got it wrong’. They’ll be asked, like school pupils failing an exam, to repeat the process until they get it right and are awarded a pass mark!

    If we do have another referendum and the Remain side win we’ll never ever be asked again. There won’t be any repetition of EUref16. Which I would say would be one of the strongest arguments the Leave side could use.

  • Daniel Walker 23rd Oct '18 - 10:52am

    @Peter Martin It certainly isn’t when democratic results don’t go the way of the EU and it’s supporters. We’ve seen it happen before in the EU when the voters have ‘got it wrong’. They’ll be asked, like school pupils failing an exam, to repeat the process until they get it right and are awarded a pass mark!

    The EU does not have the power to compel a member state to hold a referendum, or to honour or otherwise the result of one. This is entirely down to national parliaments.

    In addition, the Danish Maastricht referendums and the Irish 28th amendment referendums, were on materially different proposals as exclusions and assurances were sought and received. The Swedish and Danish euro opt-out referendums have been honoured.

  • @Peter Martin. Great leaver stuff. Selectively quote, ignore the main argument and build a riposte based on half a story. If you are going to attack my argument at least do it in full and not selectively.

  • Peter Martin. Oh and by the way, I am on record as opposing ALL referendums, which I regard as contrary to Parliamentary Democracy. We elect people to make decisions for us and they should just do that. If we don’t like their decisions we can change our representatives at the next election. That’s called democracy! So for sure, I would never have a referendum ever again on anything. I want a better democratic system with the single transferable vote and devolution of power to bring it out of London and nearer the people.

  • Malcolm Todd 23rd Oct '18 - 12:33pm

    Peter Martin 23rd Oct ’18 – 10:00am
    “…when democratic results don’t go the way of the EU and it’s supporters. We’ve seen it happen before in the EU when the voters have ‘got it wrong’. They’ll be asked, like school pupils failing an exam, to repeat the process until they get it right and are awarded a pass mark!”

    Except that’s nonsense, isn’t it? There have been precisely two occasions when governments have asked voters to think again after failing to get their way on an EU matter: when Denmark voted by 50.7% (which almost makes our 2016 Leave vote look like a landslide) against Maastricht in 1992, negotiated several opt-outs (similar to those the UK had already secured) and then voted on the revised deal; and in Ireland in 2001/2 when voters rejected the Treaty of Nice in a referendum with a turnout of under 35%. That’s it. Nobody’s ever been asked to vote more than twice on the same matter, and numerous other votes have gone against the EU ‘project’ without being re-run:
    Norway accession 1972
    Greenland secession 1982
    Norway accession 1994 (go on, claim that that’s being “asked to vote again”, a mere 22 years later!)
    Denmark euro accession 2000
    Sweden euro accession 2003
    Denmark opt-out revision 2015

    So this oft-repeated claim about voters being “asked… to repeat the process until they get it right” is just nonsense, isn’t it?

    Now, you might notice the absence from my little list of two referendums in 2005, when France and the Netherlands rejected the Constitutional Treaty. There, no one was asked to vote again, and the treaty was effectively smuggled through by another name (also allowing our parliamentarians to wriggle out of a promise of a referendum on the constitution). That was undoubtedly anti-democratic chicanery: the equivalent would be parliament deciding to undo our withdrawal notice without another public vote, and (pace Mick Taylor, and however foolish I think both the referendum process and the result in this case) that would be quite wrong.

  • If like me you think some direct democracy would improve our governance, then referenda are to be encouraged as long as they are carefully supervised, the message clear and the electorate informed. If not then perhaps it does not matter how the result is reversed. I see the Brexit process as an opportunity to achieve a more informed public and so pave the way for more of the above.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Oct '18 - 1:49pm

    @ Mick Taylor,

    I agree with some of what you’ve written. Naturally the Leavers don’t want a rerun – just as Remainers wouldn’t want one if they’d won in 2016. I agree too that the result could go either way if there is a rerun.

    @ Matthew Todd,

    There’s what happened in 2015 in Greece too. The voters wanted an end to austerity, both in the election result and the later referendum. That was simply ignored by the EU. It would have been slightly better if they had ordered a re-run!

    @ Malcolm Todd

    “We elect people to make decisions for us and they should just do that.”

    I’d go along with this with the proviso that our elected representatives shouldn’t do anything which can’t easily be undone by later elected representatives. We’re seeing in these negotiations just how difficult it is to extricate ourselves from the EU web.

    We should have had referendums on the powers that were being given away over the years and long before the 2016 referendum.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Oct '18 - 1:51pm

    Sorry. The 3rd part of the last reply should have been directed to Mick Taylor.

  • Peter and Terry,
    I wouldn’t worry about it. The chance of second referendum along the lines of the “heads we win, tails you loose” so-called- peoples-vote as championed by maybe a dozen Lib Dem MPS is pretty much nil because it would not get through the parliamentary stage let alone any further. There are simply not enough MPs willing to back it. It’s a grandstanding last ditch push by true-believers in a dying cause and it won’t work.

  • Daniel Walker 23rd Oct '18 - 2:06pm

    @Peter Martin “There’s what happened in 2015 in Greece too. The voters wanted an end to austerity, both in the election result and the later referendum. That was simply ignored by the EU. It would have been slightly better if they had ordered a re-run! “

    They were ignored by the national governments in question, which had the legal power to do so by their own rules, not by the EU. Your argument is with the governments of Greece, France, and the Netherlands.

  • Malcolm Todd 23rd Oct '18 - 2:15pm

    Peter Martin
    “There’s what happened in 2015 in Greece too.”

    Come off it. What happened in 2015 is that the Greek government, entirely against the will of the EU, held a profoundly biased, hastily organised referendum, got the result they wanted (!), which was to authorise the government to demand something that wasn’t in their power to obtain, and then ignored the result anyway and decided to capitulate to the very dubious decision-making of the so-called Troika. It was a powerful mess and democracy had very little to do with it, but the referendum itself was a meaningless and badly managed piece of political theatre, nothing else.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Oct '18 - 3:09pm

    @ Malcolm Todd,

    I suspect, but I can’t prove, that the Syriza govt organised the 2015 referendum with the expectation that they would lose. This would have given them a slightly more face saving way out of their conflict with the EU.

    The central problem remains though that the EU needs, but refuses, to rethink just how the EZ has to work. National Govts can’t control their own monetary policy. That has to be done centrally by the ECB. National Governments can’t control their own fiscal policy. Even a budget deficit of 2.4% of GDP, which is ultra tiny compared to what happens without problem in the USA and UK, and nowhere near what is actually required to reflate the Italian economy, is rejected by the EU. There are no tariffs allowed in the EU. There’s nothing allowed by the EU that would enable the Italian Govt to regulate its own economy.

    So even when eurozone voters vote for change there’s nothing that Govts can do and still stay within the rules.

    So where is the democracy in all this?

  • Malcolm Todd 24th Oct '18 - 1:07am

    Peter Martin
    Yes, you should stick to this sort of thing rather than peddling Europhobe myths!

    Because I’m afraid you’re right about EZ governance, and I don’t have a good answer to that. I wish I did – other than winding us all back to about 1995 and not embarking on the crazy project in the first place. I’m just not at all convinced that the godawful mess that Brexit is and will be is a good answer either. (The only possible good thing about it is that without us there’s more chance of the EU turning into a proper federalised state, with better democratic control and the necessary budget transfers, thereby saving Europe from an economic meltdown that is bound to drag us in. But frankly I doubt it will happen.)

  • John Marriott 24th Oct '18 - 9:07am

    @Peter Hirst
    So you’re a fan of referenda. I gather that a certain Herr A Hitler was as well!

  • Malcolm Todd 24th Oct '18 - 9:22am

    John Marriott
    That was the most random Godwin swerve I’ve seen in a long time.

    Herr Hitler was a fan of motorways too. Which tells us what, exactly?

  • John
    He was also a fan of uniting Europe. So much so that he attempted it.

  • Hitler also opposed hunting which is apparently still banned in Germany but that is not the point. Referenda have always been used by dictators and would be dictators as a simple direct way to appeal to the ordinary people using a barrage of state financed propaganda whilst either banning or in some other way restricting the propagation of other views. It is normal to rerun these votes until the “correct” result is achieved if the vote counting process has not managed to do that first. There were 2 referenda before the Constitution of the French Fourth Republic was approved in 1946 after some slight changes. I would be surprised if every French voter read this lengthy document before they voted. They probably voted at their party’s call and never thought of thinking for themselves at all.

  • Andrew Tampion 24th Oct '18 - 5:15pm

    Mick Taylor
    If as you assert in your post of 09.45 on the 23rd of October democracy is a process not a single event does it not logically follow that in the event of a People’s Vote resulting in the UK remaining in the EU then Leave supporters would be entitled to argue for another referendum after a couple of years to confirm that the electorate were still happy with the way things were going and so on endlessly? If not why not?

  • John Marriott 24th Oct '18 - 8:48pm

    @Malcolm Todd
    The ‘Volksabstimmung’ (plebiscite or Referendum to us over here) was a device that a Dictator like Hitler used to justify his ambitions. After all, it conveniently bypasses parliamentary democracy. Come to think of it, ‘nvelope2003’ put it far more succinctly.

    As for the motorways, not only did they enable him to get his troops more quickly to where they needed to be; but they also aided the Allies in getting their troops to where they needed to be. So, what does that tell us? Well, you could argue that, if you are on the road to ruin, a motorway helps to get you there faster. Is that Godwinian enough?

  • John Marriott 24th Oct '18 - 8:53pm

    @Glenn
    He was indeed a fan of uniting Europe, as was the Kaiser a generation earlier. What both gentlemen were thinking of was a united Europe under German control. The cynic might argue that that’s what we’ve got right now in the EU!

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