Questioning the validity of the EU vote

For the record – and lest we forget – here are two letters I wrote in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.


To the Alton Herald, (copied to Damian Hinds, MP)
3 July 2016

Dear Editor,

   This week’s front page report (EU Vote sparks turmoil) quotes Damian Hinds saying “The people have spoken” and UKIP member Peter Baillie saying “those who rail against the result of the referendum are railing against democracy itself”. I write to say, hopefully without ‘railing’, why it is vitally important that both of these statements are challenged.

   To start with, the result was close to 50:50 and concealed overwhelming majorities for Remain in some geographical areas, some age groups and some sections of society. Calling it ‘the will of the people’ is, to say the least, disingenuous.

   More fundamentally, the first requirement for democracy, namely a well-informed electorate, was lamentably lacking in this vote. The Remain campaign has been criticised for negativity and exaggeration of dangers, but what it said was broadly accurate and in line with informed opinion both here and abroad. What’s more, early indications are tending to bear out the gloomy predictions.

   In complete contrast,  the Leave camp told lies, deliberately incited hatred and xenophobia, allowed its media to give an exclusively partisan account of the issues, and shamelessly urged voters to discount the wisdom of ‘experts’. None of this should be tolerated in any democratic vote, let alone a vote of such extraordinary national and international importance. But, while we have no laws against such abuses, if there is any possibility that these tactics swung enough votes to produce the shock result, as common sense suggests may well have been the case, then it would be irresponsible not to question its legitimacy.

   A second reason why it is so important to challenge the ‘will of the people’ trope is exemplified by the UKIP leader Nigel Farage. His loutish behaviour in the European Parliament after the vote brought deep shame on our country and on the flag which he so officiously sucker-cupped to his desk, just at the time when we most needed to be mending bridges and making friends.  He spoke in his ghastly way because he felt empowered by ‘the will of the people’, in the same way that the xenophobic haters who have amplified their rhetoric since the vote have also felt newly legitimised. I want no part of this, for me, for any of my friends, or for my country. Our friends abroad are incredulous and think we have taken leave of our senses – I want no part of that shame either.

   One of my friends told me that he rotates through despair, anger and shame, and that as the days go by it only gets worse. But we have to look forward with hope. As the lies and promises unravel, as people begin to discover too late what the vote was really about, and as it transpires that none of the Brexiters had any plan for what to do if they succeeded, and that some of them didn’t even want to succeed, it is absolutely necessary that we question the validity and the democratic credentials of this wretched vote. That is the message we should be sending to our MP Damian Hinds.

James Willis (Dr)


This letter was given prominence in the following issue :

2016-07-07-letter-to-aton-herald-challenging-the-validity-of-the-eu-referendum-resultand I received numerous messages of heartfelt agreement, gratitude and appreciation over the course of the next two weeks or so.

Damian Hinds had also replied to the copy I had emailed to him, very quickly as you will see below. I eventually replied to him as follows – in a thread which had offered my wife’s and my support and admiration to him as our MP following the murder of MP Jo Cox, and after congratulating him on a well deserved ministerial appointment

19 July 2016
Dear Damian,


But I have also been choosing the right moment, and the right words, to respond to your reply to the advance copy I sent you of my letter which appeared in the Alton Herald two weeks ago. Your reply came very quickly and was similar to replies you made to other people who contacted you at the same time.  You said:

“The referendum campaign was rightly fought and debated with passion on both sides […] No one could credibly suggest that the key arguments, including the risks, were not set out […] the result came about on a straight question by universal adult suffrage, and with a high turnout […]  It is now up to everyone in politics and public life to accept the result…”

Now, my letter gave clear reasons why none of this is true and I have had a completely unprecedented number of messages and contacts from people, in Alton, in other parts of Britain, and abroad, thanking me for saying exactly what they were feeling. The most recent email came this morning.

I cannot improve on the wording of that original letter and I will append it below in case you didn’t have time to read it carefully, but here is the part which does indeed ‘credibly suggest’ the opposite of what you asserted in your reply:

“[…] the first requirement for democracy, namely a well-informed electorate, was lamentably lacking in this vote. The Remain campaign has been criticised for negativity and exaggeration of dangers, but what it said was broadly accurate and in line with informed opinion both here and abroad.
In complete contrast, the Leave camp told lies, deliberately incited hatred and xenophobia, allowed its media to give an exclusively partisan account of the issues, and shamelessly urged voters to discount the wisdom of ‘experts’.
None of this should be tolerated in any democratic vote, let alone a vote of such extraordinary national and international importance. But, while we have no laws against such abuses, if there is any possibility that these tactics swung enough votes to produce the shock result, as common sense suggests may well have been the case, then it would be irresponsible not to question its legitimacy.”

You will remember John Major’s eloquent protest prior to the vote against the way the electorate were being misinformed. Many others have said the same thing, but Will Hutton put it particularly clearly in last Sundays Observer.

“The country was lied to by the hard right and its allies on a scale not witnessed in our history. To argue that the result at one moment in time represents Britain’s last word on the matter is a travesty of democracy, especially as the consequences unfold.”

Professor A C Grayling has written to all MPs to make it clear that the final responsibility for doing what is right for Britain rests with them and you will be aware that many other eminent voices are saying the same thing.

This week’s Prospect magazine’s cover message is ‘Brexit – Not a done deal’.

Eminent barrister Geoffrey Robertson has said that a second referendum is not necessary to overturn the result and that parliament could just vote it down:

“Our democracy does not allow, much less require, decision-making by referendum. Democracy has never meant the tyranny of the simple majority, much less the tyranny of the mob.”

Even Nigel Farage, whose appalling and deeply shaming behaviour in the European Parliament (also mentioned in my letter) has yet to be condemned by ministers, and who I would never quote approvingly in any other context, told the Daily Mirror he would fight for a second referendum on Britain in Europe if the remain campaign won by a narrow margin. He said a small defeat for his leave camp would be “unfinished business” and predicted pressure would grow for a re-run of the 23 June ballot. “In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way. If the remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.”

I will express myself less carefully to you than I did in my published letter: Observing the campaign and knowing what we now know about the reasons people actually voted, there is not the slightest doubt that the 3.5% overall majority was indeed swung by these and other factors. If you and other colleagues now feel trapped by the foolish terms of the referendum David Cameron proposed and which MPs agreed to (to the extent that a majority of a single vote would have decided this historic issue irrevocably!!) into working towards what you know to be against the national interest – our exit from Europe – then please at least say so. For I will deny to my dying breath that this was the voice of my country. For you to go on saying that it was, i.e. “The people have spoken”, simply compounds the insult and the shame.

I’m afraid the responsibility for what happens now rests with Parliament. You cannot abdicate that heavy responsibility onto this referendum result, which history, and the world, is certain to regard as having been deeply flawed.

Yours respectfully,

James Willis.

Damian Hinds has made no response to this email (30 September 2016). An American friend, a professor at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton as it happens (an ‘expert’, indeed) said “There’s nothing he can say.”


Tomorrow’s EU referendum- the need to listen to the experts

Does the panel agree with Michael Gove that we’ve had enough of experts?

That was the question I submitted in advance for the EU referendum debate in Alton Assembly Rooms this Monday evening. Unfortunately it was left to the very end – in fact five minutes after the very end (timed for the England/Slovenia match) – and the panel were asked to give it a one-word answer.

I had been hoping for more than that.

I had chosen my question, after much thought, specifically to give the two REMAIN speakers the chance to underline the overwhelming weight of expert opinion that is urging us to stay in Europe. The most recent of endless examples being:

  • The day before: Nine out of ten economists in a survey reported in the Observer urging REMAIN
  • That morning: A letter in the Guardian newspaper from Ten Nobel Prize-winning economists urging REMAIN .

I also hoped they would mention the shameless lack of reporting of these facts in the Brexit press.

I then hoped the panellists would point out that the answer Michael Gove gave recently when confronted with this reality – “We’ve had enough of experts” – was a fatuous and deeply irresponsible one – almost unbelievably so from, of all things, a former Minister of Education.

But there was no time for these points to be made on Monday, so I’m making them now, possibly to a wider audience, and possibly to people who have yet to decide how to vote tomorrow.

Therefore, with all my heart, I urge any Brits reading this to think deeply about what this means. From my background as a family doctor, it is second nature to me that, in the complex modern world, we do have to listen to experts. We simply cannot base decisions, whether they are in medicine or of the historical importance of tomorrow’s referendum, on the kind of gut feelings that Michael Gove was trying to evoke. (And please don’t take my word for it about what the experts are saying – it is perfectly obvious that Michael Gove wouldn’t have said what he said if they were urging us to leave.)

Many people I meet say they are confused by the conflicting statements about the referendum and don’t know what to think. Some say this referendum should never have been called – that it is too technical and too complex for ordinary people. But it has been called and it is time for us to show that we can make a responsible choice. That choice – in my case to REMAIN – is not just because I am passionately involved in the European ideal, or because I reject hatred and xenophobia and insularity and biased press coverage – above all it is because I have not ‘had enough of experts’. I respect the opinion of experts and I know full well that we reject their advice at our absolute peril.

Las Vegas to Calgary in four weeks, and a story with a moral

Our route

Our Route
Blue – self-drive car    Red – rail   Green – bus

The above image is a still from the interactive Google map of our route which can be accessed by clicking the link. If you do that you can zoom down to the detail of where we went and/or superimpose the Satellite view.

Some facts and figures

(All the costs quoted are for the two of us together)

Modes of travel:
Plane:London to Las Vegas 10 hours BA
Calgary to London 7½ hours Air Canada on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

Car: Las Vegas – via 5 National Parks to San Francisco. Just under 2,000 miles.
Jasper – via Lake Louise to Calgary. 250 miles approx..

Train: Amtrak Coast Starlight – San Francisco to Seattle – 22 hours, sleeping on board
Rocky Mountaineer – Silver Service  from Vancouver to Jasper. Two days, with one night in a hotel in Kamloops

Greyhound bus: Seattle to Vancouver. 143 mls – 4 hours.

Boat: Vancouver to Vancouver Island day trip (25% discount for missing first ferry!)
Bicycle: Cycling 8 miles round Stanley Park, Vancouver

Walking: 143 miles – measured on Lesley’s pedometer. 9 days when we walked 7 miles or more: In Las Vegas 10mls,   South Rim Grand Canyon 12mls,   Capitol Reef NP Navajo Knobs 10mls, Zion NP 8mls,   Yosemite NP 10mls,   round San Francisco 7mls,   Vancouver round Stanley Park 8.3mls,   Lake Louise 7mls,  Lake Louise to Lake Agnes 7mls.

Hotels:  We stayed in 13 hotels, mostly booked through, a couple through the National Parks reservations. Sometimes included breakfast and sometimes didn’t.
The accommodation cost was about 15-20% more than we expected from our booking data, as the local, state and US taxes added at least that much each time.

Other major expenses:
Meals of course. We had a good breakfast and then when we were walking or driving we often just had a cereal bar and fruit for lunch – sometimes followed by an ice cream when available! Not noticeably cheaper than at home.
Entrances to exhibitions and museums
National Park pass – £55 – saved money on entrances for five National Parks and one National Monument, plus huge convenience.
Presents and things to bring home
Petrol – £87 (for approx 2,300 miles)
Bus fares, Big Bus tour (£68.39), ferries, hiring bikes
Canada seemed cheaper for everything.

Clothes and packing
We travelled quite light, which was fine. Adaptors and chargers for all the gizmos was a major item. We had good walking shoes – which we wore on the planes – but no boots. Other shoes – always a problem – I had some flip-flops, very lightweight trainers and some light smarter shoes.
James had his Smartphone and I had my iPad which I used for reading. (I did have a phone, but never got it working there). Tea- bags and some snacks – I found I could make tea in most of the coffee makers provided. In Canada they have kettles! Maps and (part of) a guide book.

Simon Winchester –The Men Who United the States. Excellent history of the opening up of the West at different times.
Barbara Kingsolver – Pigs in Heaven – good novel about First Nation American culture and its problems.
The Rough Guides to US and to Canada were very good. And everywhere had maps and guides of course.

One last story, complete with moral for our times

Scene:  Capitol Gorge   Capitol Reef National Park   Wednesday 11 May

Capitol Gorge 2
The scene – image based on a Google Earth screen-grab


Lesley and I were eating our sandwiches (which she, with her usual forethought, had bought first thing down the road from our hotel) and cooling off in the picnic shelter at the head of the Capitol Gorge hiking trail we had spent the morning exploring.

168-P1040663After a few minutes a man we recognised from the trail came and sat at a table opposite. When we passed earlier he had given us a gritty ‘How’re’y’all‘ from under his green stetson, but now he had softened, with two Scottie dogs, which he had just released from his enormous car,  running about on extending leads.

We exchanged the familiar pleasantries about us being English. And, being English, we admired his dogs, straining as they were towards the back-pack of the only other person in the shelter (who stolidly ignored us all, including the dogs, until he got up abruptly and left). Anyway, the dog-owner was anxious to assure us that he had left his his car window open  (slightly surprisingly, in view of pervasive security-consciousness) and Lesley came back  with something about it being a shame dogs not being allowed in the Gorge.

Not that she had meant for a moment that it wasn’t necessary to stop dogs devastating the rich and fragile wildlife we had just been enjoying. In fact Lesley had meant exactly the opposite – we had noticed the ‘no dogs’ sign a little earlier and said to each other how sensible it was.

But he misunderstood her completely: “That’s the Federal Government” he drawled. Then, fixing us with a knowing look, “You got one of those, ain’t you.”

He meant the EU. And he knew about our imminent referendum. And he was obviously assuming that we would be resenting “Europe”, “Brussels” in the same way that he, along with so many Americans, resented “Washington” – as a distant authority imposing regulations which were to a very large extent necessary and responsible, and getting hated and denigrated for its pains.

The similarity with the Brexit mindset struck us both as we drove away. This resentment of imposed responsibility. Like the environmental measures that would certainly never have been adopted in Britain were it not for the EU. And which would quickly be reversed if we left. Like the measures to protect human rights. Workers rights. And so on.

And this reminded us both of the extraordinarily close link between Brexitism and Global Warming Denial – Lawson, Murdoch, Johnson and Farage of course being active deniers (not to mention Trump, another denier who also thinks we should leave the EU).  And, judging from their Commons voting records, Fox, Gove and Duncan-Smith are passive deniers too.

This irresponsibility, which in the case of global warming denial goes beyond mere stupidity, seems almost to be a hallmark of organised Brexitism. We can only hope that, when it comes to the vote, it will not be shared by the majority of ordinary people.

That’s the end of our holiday blog, but no doubt I will find other things to write about here, if a lot less frequently. Meanwhile, it means a lot to me that so many people have apparently enjoyed reading about our special golden anniversary holiday up the West Coast of North America. Thank you all.

The fact that we got six copies of this particular card says something about how our friends see us.

Reflections while flying home – and afterwards

We booked our flights economy through Opodo but we find ourselves flying home Air Canada on the very latest Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Everything state of the art, including a USB outlet for me to keep this phone charged and me writing the whole way (if I completely lose my senses). Best of all, we have three seats for the two of us! Continue reading Reflections while flying home – and afterwards

Flora and Fauna (and Four Lakes) in the Rockies

Lesley’s turn again:

As we approached Jasper in the Rocky Mountaineer we saw a number of ospreys and bald eagles, even one of the latter on a nest with 2 chicks. But, when we were only 15 minutes from Jasper, and we saw a black bear climbing up the embankment next to the railway, the whole carriage erupted in cheers and clapping! Continue reading Flora and Fauna (and Four Lakes) in the Rockies