I’m bored of being lectured about democracy by Brexit supporters. Given the events of the last few years, they’re the last people qualified to pontificate on such things.
As was clear in that snapshot of British public option, last night’s BBC Question Time. The paucity of Brexit options laid before us was, it seems to me, a testament to just how limited our nation’s understanding of democracy has become.
Leaving the EU is the single most pressing issue facing our nation. Whatever form of Brexit we end up with, or even if – gulp – it doesn’t happen at all, what is negotiated now will define our nation for generations to come.
Given its importance, it is surely essential that the outcome, whatever it might be, commands majority support. It’s far too important for narrow interests and people with fixed views to impose their will on everyone else.
But this is exactly what’s happening. We’re being shoehorned into a hard to moderately-hard Brexit by Theresa May’s government. Decisions are being made about future immigration policy, for instance, that simply do not reflect broad opinion across the UK.
And this is being done on the premise that we are tied to the outcome of a badly-conceived and terribly-debated EU referendum, at which we were all patently misled. The referendum was a failure of politics on a grand scale. Even Brexit supporters among the Question Time audience believe they were lied to.
Yet these very same Brexit supporters are adamant that we should never stray from their Brexit path because that’s ‘democracy in action’.
This is nonsense. Given that very few people, even the Brexit cheerleaders themselves, had any idea what they were signing up to, why shouldn’t public opinion shift? Are the Brexiteers really telling us that we’re not allowed to change our minds?
Because, if they are, then they obviously have no care for democracy is. Democratic decision-making is surely not fixed by one point in time. It’s a process over time. And it would only be natural for opinion to change now we’re starting to get a glimpse of where Brexit is actually taking us.
At the very least, the British public should be allowed to vote on the final deal before Parliament applies its rubber stamp because it will be different to what the Leave campaign promised us at the referendum. Surely, that’s democracy.
Otherwise, the outcome might not command majority support. And, given its significance for our future, any perceived democratic deficit today could poison our political system if Britain turns out to be a weaker, poorer, more divided nation as a result.
Having said all that, it might be that Brexit really does turn out to be the best thing we could have done. Personally, I voted Remain, but it was a close-run thing because, despite its strengths, the EU has many serious flaws – economic and political. To use the opinion polls analogy, I supported Remain 55% to 45%.
But I’m writing as someone who is is trying to weigh up the pros and cons. At least I’m open to the possibility that Brexit could be a great success.
Such a balanced viewpoint and a willingness to consider the evidence is not one of the Brexit contingent’s strengths. They are, and want us to be, of fixed opinion, regardless of the evidence and the potential consequences. They’ve got what they want and believe that, as the winner, they can take all.
But such an approach makes a mockery of their frankly pathetic calls for national unity around building a better future, whatever that might be.
Until they reflect a grown up view of what democracy actually is, I’ll accept none of their pious lectures, thanks very much.