The people have spoken by Angela Caldin
It is accepted wisdom that on 23 June 2016, the people of the UK ‘spoke’ in the referendum on whether to leave the EU or to remain. The verdict was in and there was nothing to do but abide by it. However, it’s now becoming increasingly clear that the people probably didn’t know what they were talking about.
Clear cut issues
72% of those eligible spoke, which means that 28% didn’t speak which amounts to quite a lot of people – 10 million or so by my calculation. The margin of difference in the vote was a mere 4% and it’s on that basis that we as a country are taking a step which could drastically alter our future and the future of generations to come. There were many different reasons for voting to leave the EU: immigration, sovereignty, distrust of laws made by the European Commission and upheld by the European Court of Justice, restrictions on trade with emerging markets, fears of a EU army to name but a few. Those who voted to stay were concerned to preserve the peace which had reigned in Europe for 70 years, to enjoy opportunities for jobs, travel, study and relationships Europe-wide, to refute the Little Englander desire for isolation, to assert that non-European immigration could not be solved by leaving the EU, to preserve workers’ rights and to ensure the protection of the environment.
Now, a little more than a year on, we have Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats declaring, “I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen. The problems are so enormous; the divisions within the two main parties are so enormous I can see a scenario in which this doesn’t happen.” Meanwhile Tony Blair has emerged from the shadows to say, “I think it’s absolutely necessary that it doesn’t happen because I think every day is bringing us fresh evidence that it’s doing us damage economically, certainly doing us damage politically.” In the House of Lords, Andrew Adonis, a Labour peer has said, in terms which caused uproar, “To my mind, it’s as big a step that we’re taking as a country as decolonisation in the 1950s and 60s and appeasement in the 1930s. We got it right on decolonisation; we got it wrong on appeasement and I think we’re in serious danger of getting it wrong in the way that we leave the EU.”
Where have we got to with our plans to leave? The government has tabled the Great Repeal Bill in parliament which is designed to scrap the European Communities Act and put all current EU law onto the UK statute book so that MPs and devolved administrations can repeal, amend or build on EU legislation after Brexit. But the bill faces an uncertain passage as Labour and the Liberal Democrats fight Theresa May’s so called “hard Brexit”. Meanwhile, in Brussels, David Davies sits at a table on the first day of negotiations with precisely no papers in front of him and leaves for London after an hour. The piles of papers in front of the Brussels negotiators illustrate the monstrous complexity of it all, while the beaming insouciance of Davies attests to the arrogance of the UK government’s stance.
Shift of opinion
Opinion polls show that people are changing their minds about leaving the EU as they become aware of the many unforeseen consequences which are emerging day by day. What to do – particularly as ‘the people have spoken’? Whatever we do, let’s not have another referendum which is so alien to our system of government and which can give rise to the kind of blatant misinformation that we saw last year. But can we trust our elected representatives to make the right decision? I don’t know, but I do know this: strange and unexpected things sometimes happen.