Why we must stop Brexit: 1 “Let’s get it done”

After carefully considering the case made by the Leave campaigners ahead of the Referendum, examining the likely consequences of leaving, trying to evaluate the leavers’ motives and the benefits they predicted from leaving, and weighing these against possible disbenefits, I came to the firm conclusion that leaving the EU would be a disaster for the UK.  Despite a number of deficiencies in the European bureaucracy and the federalist tendencies of a few of the European leaders, that conclusion has been reinforced by subsequent events.

 In this first of a series of pieces that will review that evidence and reconsider the disadvantages, as well as the overwhelming benefits for Britain, of Remaining a member of the European community, I examine the superficially appealing Tory slogan, “Let’s get it done.” 

Of course, we all want to get quickly past the hugely damaging ‘Brexit process’, as does the whole of Europe. But Brexit does not ‘get it done’! Brexit would extend the agony for a year or more of trade negotiations with the EU, and that only if the Boris withdrawal agreement is approved by Parliament, an approval that was withheld three times from the rather less terrible May deal.   

The only quick and inexpensive way to ‘get it done’ is not to Brexit at all, an outcome quickly achievable by revoking Article 50.

But how legitimate would it be for Parliament thus ‘to ignore the will of the people’ and vote to Remain? The answer is clear: entirely legitimate. Referenda do not make the laws. Parliament does that; and Parliament always minutely scrutinises proposals for legislation (parliamentary motions, green papers, bills – and referenda!). It is this agonisingly protracted, but vital, Parliamentary scrutiny that has given spurious appeal to the ‘Let’s get it done’ slogan.  

Like everyone else, I’d like a decision as soon as possible, so long as it’s the right decision, which means a decision taken after the most careful scrutiny of an issue whose outcome will affect Britain economically, socially and psychologically for generations to come. Arguably it is the ‘democrats’, claiming that “the people have decided”, who have held up a decision that commanded a Remain majority among their elected representatives. I’m not arguing that the referendum result should be ignored, only that ‘Let’s get it done’ is no good reason on its own for rapidly terminating the scrutiny process in favour of either outcome. It is vital that on this crucial issue we get the right decision, as with any parliamentary bill, but bear in mind that the referendum vote was narrowly decided without access to the voluminous, relevant information that has emerged since it took place.   

It might more properly be asked how legitimate would it be for Parliament to enact any EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill without further reference to the people on the narrowly decided outcome of a vote held before the detailed scrutiny and uncovering of much key information.

* Frank Brierley is a Lib Dem member in Esher and Walton

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  • John Marriott 26th Nov '19 - 5:31pm

    I am sure that the author of this first of what he intends to be “several pieces” on EU membership thinks he is trying to help but, if the content of the first is anything to go by, I reckon we have heard it all before. But who am I to deny an individual’s right to express their opinion?

    I will, however, draw his attention to one statement he makes. He is quite prepared, he writes, for Parliament to ignore ‘the will of the people’ as expressed presumably in the 2016 referendum and presents perfectly cogent arguments in his favour. Well, so would I under normal circumstances, because the ‘will of the people’ actually represented around 38% of those eligible to vote back then. However, I would hate to face the ire of over 17 million people, most of whom reckon that they were told that their decision would be final. You see, the time for the kind of argument that the author chooses to use is long gone. That’s why, in my opinion, the decision to go with revocation without another referendum, while it may make sense to some and may indeed be perfectly legal, would, instead of healing the wounds of the past three years, merely rub more salt into them.

  • Laurence Cox 26th Nov '19 - 6:40pm

    There is inevitably a tension between representative democracy, as we have in this country, and direct democracy as represented by the series of referenda we have had since 2010 (AV, Scottish independence, Brexit). One factor should be clear: unlike the AV referendum which was solidly lost and for which there has been no demand for a repeat, both the Scottish independence and the Brexit referenda split first Scotland and then the UK almost down the middle and both have resulted in demands for further referenda. The ‘once-in-a-generation’ pledge has conveniently been forgotten.

    This leads to a constitutional issue. If we normalise referenda by having more of them, then we weaken representative democracy as the MPs become delegates of the people rather than representatives. We must not forget Edmund Burke who said ‘that his behavior in Parliament should be informed by his knowledge and experience, allowing him to serve the public interest. Indeed, as he put it, “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. … Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”.’

    Electors are better educated now than they were in Burke’s time, but there is no evidence that they are any wiser.

  • The problem with the whole Burke thing though is that in his day, fewer than %5 of the populace were electors. Burke was saying that an MP should listen to the large majority of people who did not have the franchise. Since the end of WWI however things have been a little bit different – we decided to institute this strange thing called democracy. We even decided to add the word “democrats” to the name of one of the parties. From the moment that the general franchise was enacted, Burke’s ideas became indefensible.

    To be honest though they were on dodgy ground before. Many people are fond of that Burke quote, but fewer know what happened to him at the next election – he got chucked out.

    And indeed before that, it was Daniel Defoe who walked up through parliament with 16 armed men of repute and contemptuously thew a letter to speaker Harley before turning and walking out. That letter – written in the wake of the unjust imprisonment of the 5 good men of Kent by Parliament (and this is all after the Bill of Rights by the way) informed Parliament in no uncertain terms that Englishmen had not deposed a tyrant king to replace it with a tyrant parliament, and that MP’s were lent their power by the people – and that the people could take it away if MP’s did not do their (the people’s) bidding.

    Some people think this is just boring old history – usually the same kind of people who throw about the only Burke quote that they know. They play with fire – Defoe was right.

  • Arnold Kiel 27th Nov '19 - 4:33am

    John Marriott,

    it is statistically impossible for the LibDems to win 300 seats AND 17.4 million voters still wanting to leave.

    Laurence Cox,

    the 2016 referendum was not direct “democracy”, it was Putin-bought popular abuse.

  • John Marriott 27th Nov '19 - 8:24am

    @Arnold Kiel
    As they say, some people use statistics like a drunkard uses a lamppost at night – for support rather than illumination.

    I reckon that the chances of the Lib Dems winning 300 seats under FPTP are about as likely as finding Elvis riding Shergar on the moon. I’m not really sure what point you are trying to make. It could even be that the numbers supporting Brexit could actually have increased. Certainly, even allowing for the next generation, who had no vote in 2016, to be more sympathetic to remain, I still reckon that the numbers haven’t moved that much.

    Whether you or I like it or not the vote in 2016 happened. It just cannot be ignored.

  • Peter Martin 27th Nov '19 - 8:50am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    I delivered a whole batch of pro-leave leaflets in the 2016 referendum. About 3 or 4 hours work. I still haven’t received any payment from President Putin. Do you think it would be worth sending a bill for, say, £30 addressed to him at the Kremlin?

  • Arnold Kiel 27th Nov '19 - 9:08am

    John Marriott,

    my point is very simple, but let me try even simpler: an absolute majority of LibDem MPs would be irrefutable and conclusive proof that the 2016 majority for leaving has evaporated. This parliament would therefore not “ignore ‘the will of the people’ “, but implement the people’s real (i.e. current and better informed) will.

    Should, contrary to polling, support for Brexit have increased, a LibDem Government would be impossible and a Tory majority practically guaranteed.

    Therefore, the dilemma you are worried about does not exist.

    Frank expresses very clearly that a credible LibDem leave-option to put to a referendum does not exist. Consequently, you and other advocates of a second referendum imply that the LibDem manifesto should not be a program to govern, but an assortment of policy-positions based on certain coalition-scenarios.

  • Arnold Kiel 27th Nov '19 - 9:15am

    Peter Martin,

    Putin buys votes indirectly from people who do not notice it. In the Brexit-case, the payment has, among others, gone via Arron Banks to Cambridge Analytica. Of course the real cost to the many destabilised countries, not just the UK, is much higher.

  • John Marriott 27th Nov '19 - 9:54am

    @Arnold Kiel
    Sorry if I haven’t got your brain power. The problem with resorting to a General Election to sort out the mess is that people cast their votes for different reasons. Believe it or not, there are some Lib Dem voters who actually favour Brexit.

    As for manifestos, if we had a PR system which would virtually guarantee permanent coalitions, all parties might then have to produce two lists of promises, one of things whose implementation would be a prerequisite of a deal being struck with another party and another of things that were ‘negotiable’. That way the electorate might have a better idea of what they were likely to get instead of having their expectations raised too high. I reckon that’s simple enough; but perhaps not sophisticated enough for your taste.

  • Peter Martin: No do not send your bill to Mr Putin now as the organiser has already been paid by him.

  • Andrew Tampion 27th Nov '19 - 1:56pm

    “After carefully considering the case made by the Leave campaigners ahead of the Referendum, examining the likely consequences of leaving, trying to evaluate the leavers’ motives and the benefits they predicted from leaving, and weighing these against possible disbenefits, I came to the firm conclusion that leaving the EU would be a disaster for the UK. Despite a number of deficiencies in the European bureaucracy and the federalist tendencies of a few of the European leaders, that conclusion has been reinforced by subsequent events.
    Very interesting, but most Leave voters would say that their opinion that Leave was the best option has also been reinforced with a much justification. What is the point of making such a trite statement?
    As far as the legitimacy of Parliament ignore the will of the People by revoking Article 50 Pareliament is sovereign so it would be legitimate. But would it be wise? Apart from anything else the “revoke without a referendum if we win a majority” policy has gone down like a lead balloon. It was obvious to me and I think anyone without EU tinted spectacles that unhappiness with the EU has been growing since the year 2000. Gordon Brown’s decision to ratify the EU Reform Treaty without a referendum that many thought he had promised is only one example of the reasons that this might be the case.
    While I respect your views cand concerns I suggest that the damage to our Democracy and the effect on the social cohesion of our society of revoking would be far worse than the worst possible effects of leaving the EU.

  • Peter Watson 27th Nov '19 - 2:40pm

    @Martin “Even if a new referendum backed Brexit you would still oppose it they said.”
    I agree with you, and I have written a few times over the last few years that campaigning to revoke Article 50 would have been a clearer and more honest approach than campaigning for a second referendum solely (cynically?) as a way to reverse the 2016 referendum.
    However, for good reasons (wanting to remain in the EU and seeing another referendum as a democratic way to achieve that) the party chose to campaign for a second referendum, repeatedly described the 2016 result as a decision to depart but not a choice of destination, and aligned itself closely with the People’s Vote and made it the mainstay of the successful 2019 European election campaign. Suddenly changing horses at this late stage has not helped (voters already knew the Lib Dems were a Remain party) and it simply confuses matters.
    I’m sure it was all done with the best of intentions and perhaps there was a cunning plan, but it just looks politically inept.
    The Labour Party has been able to attempt an occupation of the People’s Vote territory, and Lib Dems have had to waste time defending themselves against criticisms of being undemocratic and questions about whether they really want to stop Brexit despite that having been their raison d’être for nearly four years.

  • Peter Martin
    Us leave voters are always being told we’re nostalgic for the 1950s, but I can’t help noticing it’s the Remainists that see the work of Ruskies under every bed and would probably happily come up with something like The House Of Un-European Activities if they had the chance. Apparently them Ruskies is everywhere controlling minds with a few E-mails and tweets. We need a senator Joe to hold a special enquiry and every one should be issued with a tin foil hat to stop the populists mind waves.

  • Peter Watson 28th Nov '19 - 7:45pm

    @Peter Watson “Suddenly changing horses [to revoke] at this late stage has not helped (voters already knew the Lib Dems were a Remain party) and it simply confuses matters.”
    And now the party has switched back?

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