by Emanuele Barrasso
Let’s get this straight: I am in no way a Brexit fan; in fact, I voted against it. I so wish Britain would still be busking under the EU starred flag and be sitting at the grown-ups’ table in the control room of the European Union. But, an active role, it will no longer be. Whatever the on-going negotiations will throw up, Britain’s chair will sensitively be smaller than it used to be. Switzerland, move over…
We had been offered the world. Literally. We had been told that, without the oppressive and suffocating trade ties of the European Union, Britain would now be free to run wild and sign trade agreements –as it pleased- with any countries in the world; it would be able to create its own destiny and decide who could come in –and, I guess, leave. It all seemed pretty straightforward and hysterically A-W-E-S-O-M-E. Yes, let’s do it! So the majority (well, sort of) of voters leaped.
Nineteen months on, two PMs in and after numerous ministerial resignations and Theresa May’s countless trips to Brussels and back (way more than to any other British province), the British public still hasn’t been given a detailed and timed action plan (political soundbites aside) of what exactly is going to happen when the UK officially checks out of the EU.
A leaving date has been set: 29th March 2019. But after that, a foggy oblivion: to date, nobody still knows what trade agreements will be put in place or what EU laws will be chucked out and what others will be allowed to stay. Will we have to give up chomping on croissants on our daily commute? Or will we simply need to re-name that bloody crumbly thing? An ‘all-butter flaky bun’ anyone? I actually over-heard someone suggesting it the other day as I was riding the Tube, to which I simply couldn’t contain my laughter. Thankfully, I was reading a book behind which I was able to hide my face.
To start off: in Britain, referendums are NOT legally-binding and the parliament is sovereign. Did any voters know that when they went to vote? I am sure some did, but what about the majority of us? Why did no one –including the media- MAKE THAT CLEAR before voters went to the polls? Did anyone mention that? Well, it did sound as if the vote was a life-or-death choice and the world was going to end the next day. If this is true –if referendums truly are not legally binding- did we actually need a private citizen (an incredibly courageous woman nonetheless, by the name of Gina Miller, who put her face to the cause and for which she received disgustingly shameful threats) to challenge the government on triggering Article 50 without consulting and receiving the go-ahead by a formal vote in Parliament?
I was never in favour of the whole Brexit malarkey for three main reasons. First of all, the UK enjoys the workings of a well-oiled representative parliamentary democracy, in which the main decisions have to be dealt with and decided upon by the Parliament. Citizens elect representatives who will do just that. The Brexit vote should have never taken place because ordinary citizens haven’t got the detailed knowledge to decide on such an intricate relationship as the one between the EU and the UK. I am not here to discuss any political (party) games, but if the former PM really wanted the public to have a say on whether or not to remain part of the EU, he should have known that every single voter should have been given the sacrosanct duty to learn about all the ins and outs of the relationship between the EU and the UK, and how it affects everyone’s daily life. Otherwise, what to vote for? Lies and political slogans do not count. Democracy only works with an informed citizenry, and, evidently, information was flawed before the Brexit vote. In times like these, one sees the built-in defects of liberal representative democracy. Winston Churchill put it bluntly, “Democracy is the worst of all governments, except for all the others”. Democracy isn’t perfect, but one thing about it is undeniable: democracy guarantees that, at the very centre of the political process, lies the ‘people’, in particular the equality of all its individuals (think René Descartes’ statement “I think, therefore I am”) for which politics is designed for.
Secondly, Brexit was always going to be a lose-lose vote. Why? If the Remain side had won, automatically this would have legitimated the technocratic and dubiously democratic workings of the EU; whereas, if Leave had prevailed (as it would then happen), it would have been clearly a major setback for the unity of the EU.
Finally, in a more history-related fashion, in a century in which the importance (and role) of individual nation-states is in decadence (we are no longer in the twentieth century, the ‘Short Century’, in which nations reigned sovereign and –for better or for worse- dictated history), I personally see the taking of the solo route as some sort of nostalgia; the clingy, child-like behaviour of not wanting to let go of an era that has passed and will never come back.
But all of the above is only my opinion. Whichever your side is in the big Brexit debate, for the sake not only of Britain but of democracy as a whole, we must all agree on one thing: it did happen and now we must deal with it. Let’s look forward and make sure that the UK’s welfare state can thrive –whether in or out of the EU- and keep on being the global beacon that it has always been since its inception. This should be our battle now.
Rolling back what the British public voted for –with all its imperfections- and the Parliament ratified, would be detrimental in the not-so-long term and will have a lethal effect in a time in which nation-states are increasingly losing legitimacy in the eyes of their own citizens. In the rich Western world, political engagement is at an all-time low; the links between citizens and public authorities are more attenuated than ever; voters (particularly young) are generally disillusioned with politics; a further blow to their will will make matters even worse. Especially in a country considered the cradle of democracy, with a long-established tradition of representative government –longer than any other country on the planet- democracy has to run its course. Setting a precedent would be dangerous. Only history will be the ultimate judge.
The seemingly loud trumpets of the Phoenix Tony Blair and of the Liberal Democrats that have been advocating a halt to Brexit –after all a democratic exercise- carry a dangerously negative hidden message. There is a more at stake here than the result of a single referendum, something way more lasting. Let’s not get carried away or –even worse- be deceived once again.