By Vexen Crabtree 2019
Allowing reasonable debate in a tolerant atmosphere is a fundamental part of British culture. It allows communities to have their voices heard as part of the democratic system, rather than them having to find disruptive means of being heard. But in the Brexit debate, irresponsible tabloids, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and those around him, are yelling "traitor" at democratic opponents, calling their ideas "surrender bills" and using language so divisive that it makes democracy impossible, and has enraging Brextremists into a series of violent acts.1,2,3. The Daily Mail's infamously ignorant "Enemies of the People" piece that led to three judges facing years of unfounded hate was authored by James Slack: he is now an official spokesperson for the Conservatives4. Even whilst liberal Members of Parliament face a wave of death threats and harassment, the Leave.EU campaign has re-run the "Enemies of the People" piece. Boris Johnson dismissed the fearful cries of Parliamentarians saying that their claims that he needs to use more civil language as "humbug"1,2.
Democracy is being damaged by a Brextremist government that only represents the one-third of the population that voted to Leave in 2016: Boris Johnson has argued that this 1/3 must get their way, else there will be riots. Unless the Conservative Party adopts a strong stance on civility, adopts a democratic stance where Government represents all 47m of the electorate from 2016, the instability is going to get somewhat worse. The only possible way out is such a large scale move away from The Conservatives, UKIP and The Brexit Party that the agitators learn without doubt that the UK is not prepared to go down another multiple-decade fight against sectarianism.
Tolerance and reasonable debate, even with opponents, is a fundamental part of our British culture. It allows communities to have their voices heard as part of the democratic system. Our party-based political system, and our country, only works because our political parties regularly sit down and collaborate and compromise on issues. The parties disagree on fundamental elements of policy: taxes, public ownership, austerity, business regulation and so on. But it is very much clear that all sides involved are deeply concerned with what is best for the country, with the exception of those corrupted by factors such as vested business interests or foreign funding.
“Both views of Britain are held strongly by patriots, people who love and are proud of our country.”
Accusations that those who disagree with us are "traitors" or "enemies of the people" is itself the most un-British and damaging form of attack. The claim is in most cases ignorant and offensive, especially as it is often shouted by those who do not support democracy nor the civility of calm debate. Those who shout insults such as this are tearing apart the fabric of British culture, and replacing it with a homogenous, extremist ideology where opposing ideas are not accepted.
The Daily Mail, a right-wing British newspaper famous for peddling hate and division, ran a ridiculous and deeply irresponsible headline which epitomizes a lack of British values. This came after the murder of politician Jo Cox, an outspoken supporter of the European Union. During the murder her attacker, Thomas Mair, yelled out "keep Britain independent" and in court, stated his name as "death to traitors, freedom for Britain". This was against a backdrop of violent extreme-right groups claiming that anyone who is anti-Brexit is a traitor, and Thomas Mair was enamoured with racist nationalist parties such as the British National Party, the National Front and UKIP.
Disagreements and arguments are part of politics, and of human culture as a whole. But it is undemocratic, uncivil and immoral when hot-headed demagogues pronounce that opponents are "traitors", "enemies", and spread hate against them.
On 2016 Nov 04, the Daily Mail published three photos of judges on its front page, declaring that they are "enemies of the people". This is because in UK law, Parliament approves new laws, such as those required to implement Article 50. Judges interpret law but cannot create laws, therefore, when judges are asked if Parliament is still supreme, the only legal answer is "yes". But because this answer thwarted the government's plans to pass laws without Parliament, the Daily Mail's ran its ridiculous and confused piece.
The Daily Mail also calls the judges 'out of touch', but the author of the article (James Slack) and Paul Dacre, the editor, had forgotten what judges do: they study the law. They don't create it: they pronounce on it. The Daily Mail preferred that the judges would lie, or hide the truth.
The 'enemies' article has led to years of hate and ignorant criticism of the judges, amidst a wave of general malaise that in 2019 shows no sign of abating.
“Across social media, there has been widespread anger at these headlines, with many condemning the attacks as wholly unjustified. They point out that the High Court was not making a judgment on the merits of Brexit; it was simply upholding the UK's constitutional arrangements by saying that the executive cannot overrule parliament in the manner that Mrs May and her government seek.”
The Financial Times (2016)6
The first dispute between the Conservative Party and the judges was Prime Minister Theresa May's failed attempts to force her will on Parliament in 2016. The judges found that in the UK constitution, Parliament must still rule by law. This wasn't a "Brexit" or a "Remain" issue, it was an issue of UK law. But the Conservative Party repeated the same mistake in 2019, this time, under Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Now, James Slack, the Daily Mail's author of the horrendous 'Enemies of the People' article who doesn't understand what judges do, had now become the Conservative Party's Official Spokesperson.
A similar series of high-profile legal debates saw a unanimous decision of eleven Supreme Court judges on 2019 Sep 24 find that the Government's forceful shutting-down of an unwilling Parliament was illegal under UK law. This is for exactly the same reason: Parliament is supreme.
On the question of "Did the government legally shut down Parliament?", the answer is clear. The unanimous decision of eleven of the country's top judges is "no". This isn't a case of judges being pro-Brexit or anti-Brexit. There isn't a horde of pro-Brexit legal experts who have been somehow silenced, and whose legal opinion is being ignored. The reason for both the decision, and for the lack of legal counter-argument is that the answer is clear and true: Boris Johnson's shutdown of Parliament was illegal. Hence, Parliament returned to work.
It was Leave.EU's turn to run the next "Enemies of the People" article7. But they didn't offer any legal arguments or defences of Boris Johnson. Their article wrongly says that Supreme Court "defies the 17.4m": The Supreme Court did no such thing. They judged the law: and under the law, Parliament was shut down illegally. But Leave.EU, like the "European Research Group" that has taken over the Conservative Party, has too poor of an understanding of UK democracy to be able to make sense of it, so, their headline article on the judges is full of nonsense and personal attacks. Not only are the judges victim to this ignorant attack, but so are the general public who trust the Leave campaign to keep them informed of progress. This isn't democracy: it's a large-scale disinformation campaign, with the public being lied to and misled by writers who simply don't know enough to be able to comment fairly or sensibly.
The Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has embarked on a campaign not to debate and convince, but to stir up hate and division. Instead of engaging with others and bringing people together to push forwards as a whole, he uses language which makes it impossible for others to work with him; a similar problem that several of his inner circle share.
“Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff had earlier rounded on the Prime Minister, saying his use of words like "surrender" and "betrayal" to describe opponents of a no-deal Brexit was the same language used in abuse and death threats to MPs like herself.”
“Former Tory Attorney General Dominic Grieve said Boris Johnson's rhetoric in the House of Commons on Wednesday night was "terrifying" and part of a "deliberate" strategy to manipulate MPs. [...] "What he was saying was"... You do as I say and you won´t be subject to death threats.”
“We stand here under the shield of our departed friend [Jo Cox] with many of us in this place subject to death threats and abuse every single day. Let me tell the Prime Minister that they often quote his words: 'Surrender Act', 'betrayal', 'traitor' and I for one am sick of it. We must moderate our language and it has to come from the PM first. He should be absolutely ashamed of himself.”
The warnings being raised by politicians have been echoed by senior police officers, who have said that "the language being used by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others is increasing the safety risk to politicians"3 and security for members of Parliament is having to be stepped-up. Almost immediately after Boris Johnson incitements of divisions, a 36-year-old supporter attacked the home of Labour MP Jess Phillips, yelling political (and completely misguided) abuse at her.
It is a core feature of democracy (and national stability) that Government represents all of its people, and the intentional use of division is to everyone's long-term disadvantage: as the story of N. Ireland shows us, once division turns violent, it can take decades of pain before recovery can begin.
Undemocratic: The United Kingdom is comprised of four countries - England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Constitutional-level alterations to the UK require unanimous approval, but, in the 2016 referendum Northern Ireland voted Remain by 56% and Scotland by 62%. The UK signed the Venice Commission's 2006 document on how to run a referendum. Section 2.3 states that a referendum is only democratic if minority countries (e.g. NI and Scotland) are not forced into decisions by a majority nation (England).8. Brexit only had a mandate in England and Wales.
No consensus, no 'will of the people': 37% voted leave, 35% voted remain and 28% abstained. The victory margin is not enough to force through changes of this magnitude. Before the referendum, Leave campaigners created a petition arguing that if the majority was less than 60%, then, the referendum was not a valid indicator of the will of the people. The result was below this threshold, and this is why it has resulted in deadlock.
Misinformation: There was no informed vote: The UK's citizens are the least knowledgeable about the EU9 and have suffered from many high-profile long-term campaigns ran by sensationalist newspapers with anti-EU agendas10,11. The Leave Campaign Director Dominic Cummings admitted in 2017 that the Leave campaign relied on lies and misinformation12.10
No Differentiation of Leave Options: Section 3.1c of the Venice document on how to run democratic referendums states that there must be clear effects13. The Leave campaigns were based on various kinds of resultant deal with the EU, implying that voters were not envisioning a no-deal situation. This has led to a impassable stalemate between the different camps, disabling the ability of UK government to proceed. A properly-organized valid referendum would have avoided this outcome.
The Leave Campaign Was Illegal: The UK's House of Commons has found that the Vote Leave campaign committed "serious breaches" of campaign law14,15, with millions poured in by anti-EU foreign government and anti-democratic institutions in Russia16. Cambridge Analytica illegally influenced an uncountable number of people with targeted misinformation based on data obtained from a Facebook data breach. Vote Leave intentionally broke electoral law by donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to avoid spending limits17 and Leave.EU has also been found guilty in court of committing four electoral offences during their own campaign17. Illegal overspending influenced "tens of millions" of people, and statistics show that it directly led to over 800,000 people changing their minds18, changing the result of the referendum.10
For the full page on each point above, see: Brexit, Resulting From the UK's 2016 Referendum, is Invalid and Undemocratic.
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
i Newspaper. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Published by Independent Print Limited, London, UK. Respectable daily news paper.
The Independent. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.
The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.
Brown, Gordon. Prime Minister of the UK 2007-2010 for the Labour Party.
(2016) Britain: Leading, Not Leaving: The Patriotic Case for Remaining in Europe. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by Deerpark Press, Selkirk, UK. An e-book.
House of Commons (UK Government)
(2018) Disinformation and 'fake news´: Interim Report. Published by House of Commons (UK Government). Fifth Report of Session 2017–19 together with formal minutes relating to the report. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 24 July 2018. A briefing paper.
(2017 Mar 26) 9 Pro-Brexit Stories Since Proven To Be Utterly Inaccurate. Date last accessed 2018 Jun 12. An article.
The Financial Times (FT)
(2015 Nov 30) on ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/2c3e5366-96a4-11e5-95c7-d47aa298f769.html#axzz40Z0RI5IS. Date last accessed 2016 Apr 15. An article.
(2017 Feb 08) Vote Leave director admits they won because they lied to the public. Date last accessed 2017 Jul 28. An article.
(2006) Code of Good Practice on Referendums. Date last accessed 2019 Apr 20. The European Commission for Democracy Through Law - Venice Commission. Part of the Council of Europe on www.venice.coe.int.