Saturday 2 September 2017

The case for disregarding the Brexit vote

"Anonymous," who comment regularly on this blog, concludes his contribution to the previous post  with:

What if  [the Leave voters] did understand? What if they aren't stupid, or brainwashed? What if they just disagree with you on a fundamental level?

This is a serious, and politically delicate, point which deserves more than a comment in reply.
Here it is.

Unlike Michael Gove, and I suspect most of the public when they pause to think seriously about it, I have not "had enough of experts."  Indeed, I tend to trust them in many aspects of my daily life.  In many cases there's not a lot of option:  who else can drill your teeth but a dentist?  So an expert  hand surgeon operates on my fingers to straighten them   ( this needs to be done about every ten years as I have Dupuytren's Contracture), expert mechanics service my car, an expert musician conducts the choral society, an expert and astonishingly talented pianist accompanies us at rehearsals: etc etc etc.  Sometimes experts let you down  - I've not had good experiences of lawyers - but on the whole they do a better job than the untrained and uninitiated.

So when the overwhelming majority of economists  and trade experts say that leaving the EU will  have a damaging effect on our economy (and this happens to coincide with my view as a humble teacher of economics) then I'm inclined to believe them.  I agree that the views are not 100%, but they rarely are, not just in economics but in many other fields (eg climate change.)  But when the main "expert" wheeled out to refute the majority and put  the case for fabulous  prosperity following Brexit is Patrick Minford, whom I believe to have been misguided  on most things during my career, my faith in the majority is not shaken.

The political effect of Brexit  is admittedly more difficult to quantify.  I believe that, although Britain's contribution to civilisation ever that past 400 years or so has not been as perfect and flawless as the history I was taught tended to indicate,  I do feel we have made a considerable, and positive, contribution to the world -  in science, art, literature, music, philosophy and, yes, politics. We have been one of the leading powers in creating the world as it is today.

Whilst not adopting the Whig view of history, that things irresistibly get better, I do believe we have been on the side of progress and operated in the "big league."  We have developed out own democracy (a work still in progress) and helped others to do so.  We have fought against tyranny and for the rule of law and human rights.  We have tried to introduce the rule of law into international affairs and been key founder members of both the League of Nations and the United Nations.  We have worked  for international co-operation in trade, the search for stable foreign exchange systems and economic development.

I freely admit that if we leave the EU some  Britons  will still write good books and decent plays and tunes.  (I'm quite sure our "pop" culture will continue to flourish under any circumstances).  But if we leave the EU we shall be turning our backs on much of the progress we have helped to make.  Our voice will not be silenced but its effect will be diminished. Boris Johnson-type boastings about a "global Britain" released from the shackles of a restrictive EU and triumphantly engaging with the rest of the world do not convince me.  I accpt that this is hard to prove, but Johnson gives every appearance of being a showman rather than a statesman

So politically I believe our influence, which by and large is for the good, will be greater and more effective working co-operatively with our European partners than as an off-shore island with diminishing significance in an ever changing (and, for the moment, increasingly dangerous) world.

Given that we are a representative democracy it is the duty of our MPs to take these matters into consideration and do what they genuinely think is right and best for the people they were elected to represent, and for the country and, indeed, the world.


  1. I agree 100% and add two points -
    1. I lived through the second world war. I am convinced that the process leading to the EU is the major factor in avoiding a slide into conflict of this type as was indeed the clear purpose of those who launched that process.

    2. I have also lived through and been directly involved in combatting violent division in Northern Ireland. Brexit carries the real risk of returning to conflict in Ireland.

    1. I agree on both counts. I spent a week's holiday in Ireland a couple of months ago: not long, I admit, but long enough to come to love the place and be enormously impressed by the friendliness of the people. I can see no logical solution to the border problem (other than a United Ireland, which would really set the cat among the pigeons). I see from today's paper that David Davis has had to admit that the proposals for the "innovative" checking by electronic tagging of goods at the border was simply a "blue sky idea" so it has been withdrawn. The Brexiteers give little indication that they are not living in a fantasy world of their own.

  2. None of this is a case for disregarding the vote, though. This is the just a setting-out of case for voting differently.

    But people heard this case, and they disagreed with you, and they voted the other way.

    People who were not stupid, or brainwashed, and who understood what they were voting for, heard your arguments — that you have summarised well here — and, in good conscience, disagreed with you, and voted the other way.

    To tell them that their votes should be ignored because they were stupid, or gullible, or easily-led, or didn't understand… isn't that just incredibly patronising?

    1. I think we've already agreed that there is an element of patronisation in representative democracy. And that's what we are, as are most western democracies, and for very good reasons.

      Most issues are not susceptible to simple Yes/No answers and the pros and cons are often extremely complex. That's why we elect "wise persons" and give them the time and structure to research and debate them thoroughly and make the decisions on our behalf.

      Now that all but the most entrenched of "experts" realise the damage Brexit will do to us, those "wise persons", our MPs, should grasp the nettle and put an end to this self-harm.

      I'm pleased to see we are moving in that direction,albeit very slowly. In the meantime our real problems are being pushed onto the back burner.

    2. There may be 'an element' of it, but do you not think what you are suggesting is incredibly patronising?

      I voted Leave. Do you think I am stupid? Do you think I was brainwashed? Do you think I did not understand the question asked? All three?

    3. Sad to see that you need to call yourself 'anonymous', and it would be interesting to know why. However to address your point I think many Leavers were taken in by campaign lies (£350m for the NHS, etc), but the ones I know are all highly educated graduates with professional positions. From talking to them however they seem to have voted with their hearts not their heads. One wanted to keep out Syrian Muslims, one wanted to show solidarity with the working class, one isn't very clear on why he did and would now voted the other way - he does work for the NHS so maybe is too embarrassed to admit he fell for the £350m lie. The first, by the way, is marrying a girl from Mumbai, the second's son has married a Cameroonian, the last's daughter has four children with her German partner. None are Little Englanders.

      So I believe - from your posts and what I have said here - that you are intelligent, you understood the question asked, that you made your own decision. I also suspect that your decision is from the heart which is often where the best decisions come from, the ones we stick to.

      My concern is that the question was so simplistic that it gives no guidance as to what Brexit should look like. Given that only a third of the electorate voted to Leave and a third voted to Remain, the pursuit of a Hard Brexit is quite clearly undemocratic. Giving carte blanche to the hardliners isn't a response to the wishes of the electorate, it is a hijacking.

      I hope you are fine with me quoting you on my own blog ( - I won't misrepresent you as I entirely respect your vote, even though I believe Leave will be certainly economically damaging and probably will destabilise Europe and Ireland even as the world is becoming more dangerous.

    4. Given that only a third of the electorate voted to Leave and a third voted to Remain, the pursuit of a Hard Brexit is quite clearly undemocratic

      I'm never sure what this 'Hard Brexit' and 'Soft Brexit' means.

      Can you define a 'non-hard Brexit' that isn't just staying in the EU in all but name?

      Would you regard being in the EFTA, like Switzerland or Norway (with of course our own bespoke deal with the EU, as both of those countries have their own bespoke deals with the EU), as a 'hard' Brexit?

  3. You seem to echo my sentiments. It will be a calamity and historians will cast much of the blame on remainders for not continuing to fight for remaining. It is our responsibility to maintain our opposition to leaving our largest trading partner on the basis of a host of untruth and lies fuelled by newspaper editors wanting to increase their circulations.