Brexit a gift to Putin, the far right & Trump, a blow to democracy
‘Britain’, we are told, has voted to leave the EU, a move that has cost its economy more than it would have spent in years of EU membership, with the fall-out only beginning. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will be celebrating, together with likely US presidential candidate Donald Trump and all European far-right parties which are already calling for similar referendums.
David Cameron, who should never have called such a referendum, has rightly said he will be resigning. Jeremy Corbyn, whose limp support for the Remain campaign has been criticized within his Labour Party, has now called for the process of leaving to be initiated immediately since this is “the will of the people”.
A huge number of 16 and 17-year-olds, the same age group who were deemed old enough to vote in Scotland’s referendum, were not allowed to vote, although it is their future that is most at stake. This may well be because of different rules in Scotland, but given a result which flies in the face of Scotland’s wishes, this seems a gross injustice.
A large number of other people, many living in EU countries, were also disenfranchised because of an arbitrary 15-year residence restriction.
All of this is especially relevant given that only a simple majority of voters was required, regardless of turnout or of how people voted in whole areas of the UK. Scotland and Northern Ireland, for example, both wanted to remain. So too, and overwhelmingly, did Gibraltar.
There was effectively no restriction on misinformation, meaning that a large percentage of the 52% who voted to leave did so under misapprehension about immigration, the economic costs and benefits from the EU, etc..
This is surely a critical point. The voters were constantly lied to about £350 million being paid to the EU every week, although the reality was much lower. Even if the promises that the fictitious £350 million would instead go to the National Health Service can be attributed to normal election promises that you either believe or disbelieve (and UKIP leader Nigel Farage has now called it a ’mistake’) the initial misinformation cannot be brushed off so easily.
Boris Johnson in front of the campaigning bus
One such correction was finally made by the Daily Mail, but not by the Sun, and Boris Johnson continued driving a campaign van with the wrong shocking figure. Any penalties imposed on the media for spreading lies will post-date Brexit, and not help rectify the grave misinformation of the population.
This is no small point. According to the Financial Times, support for leaving the EU was greatest in areas most economically intertwined with the EU. A huge number of voters were likely duped into voting to leave, not understanding the real consequences.
It was a catastrophic mistake to call such a referendum. It would be interesting to know whether any politician would be willing to risk such a ‘people’s vote’ on the issue of the death penalty. Almost certainly not for very obvious reasons, especially in a society where there is full press freedom and from some quarters partisan press irresponsibility. A few graphic stories with pictures on the front page of child killers, and the result would be clinched.
Here it was clinched through television democracy – talk or radio shows where viewers are swayed by the eloquence of the speaker rather than the substance. If you think that Russia’s democracy-battering, warmongering Vladimir Zhirinovsky, with his lies and primitive ideology would be defeated by veteran dissident and defender of democracy Valeria Novodvorskaya, think again. In a verbal battle between the two, Zhirinovsky won easily – the audience wanted clever answers, a good laugh and easy painless statements.
Michael Gove, one of the main Leave advocates was asked on LBC Radio about all the top economists who warned of the gravest consequences of Brexit. He answered that “Albert Einstein during the 1930s was denounced by the German authorities for being wrong … They got 100 German scientists in the pay of the government to say that he was wrong and Einstein said, ‘Look, if was wrong, one would have been enough’.”
As of Friday afternoon, the dire warnings are all spot on. They are coming on a day when Russia has just introduced draconian new measures against those it calls ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists’, with the law having direct impact on Russian-annexed Crimea.
Not at all a digression since Boris Johnson effectively blamed the EU for Russia’s supposedly being forced to invade and occupy Crimea. Although the Brexit camp tried to be a bit more careful in their language, they were clearly on the same wave.
Justification of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine has been most vocal from far-right and other Eurosceptic parties in Europe. It was, incidentally, they who were entrusted with the task of ‘observing’ and approving Russia’s pseudo-referendum used to try to justify Russia’s annexation. Farage’s UKIP has worked with Marine le Pen and similar parties in blocking votes against Russian aggression.
Brexit is a victory for Putin and all his Eurosceptic friends, and, most ominously, Donald Trump.
It is a disaster for Britain and the EU, and for Ukraine and Russia which are now very likely to be deprived of Britain’s firm stand within the EU.
It is also a travesty of democratic process. The mere fact that the rules were different in this case from the referendum on Scotland’s independence, given the clear loss to Scotland which overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, puts the referendum results in question.
Britain’s parliament is not legally obliged to heed this referendum. It probably will, but should not claim that this is “the voice of the people” when those who will suffer most and the longest had no voice.