The asymmetry of the Brexit debate

The trouble with what is now almost certainly the pro-EU majority in Britain is not that they are ‘moaners’. They don’t moan enough. Too many are ‘bored’ with the whole chaotic saga and have switched off. They don’t talk about it, and they dare not think about it. Still less do they try to influence the outcome.

It is not that those who wish to remain in Europe are undemocratic. Exactly the reverse, a great many believe, however despairingly, in the democratic legitimacy of the 2016 referendum. Otherwise the cries of protest would be overwhelming. That is why it is so important to point out, as I have been doing from the start, that the way the 2016 referendum was a conducted was a travesty of democracy.

Even before the revelations of massive social media manipulation, Russian interference, and electoral law-breaking by the Leave campaign, I listed numerous factors (see earlier posts), any of which could have swung the marginal result, and which must, at the very least, have cast it into doubt as an expression of ‘the will of the people’. 

Another trouble with the pro-EU majority is that they are too gentle, too reasonable and too timorous. There is simply no equivalent on the Remain side for the viciousness and hatred which has been employed so systematically by the Brexiteers. Thus the debate has been extraordinarily asymmetrical. There has been nothing remotely comparable in the Guardian or the Financial Times to the “Enemies of the People”, “Crush the Saboteurs” bellowing from Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail. Nor is it conceivable that Gina Miller would have received the same avalanche of threats and abuse if it had been the legitimate rights of the Leave campaign for which she had been fighting so valiantly and so effectively.

I would not wish it otherwise, but I do point out that while the Leave side has gone on breaking rule after rule the Remainers have remained, scrupulously decent and ever so British.

The same asymmetry was seen during the 2018 US presidential election. This may be some explanation for the bizarre fact that Brexit and Trump are so strongly linked in people’s minds. Thus there was absolutely no equivalent in Hilary Clinton’s campaign for the hatred whipped up by the other side. There were no ‘lock Him up’ slogans targeted covertly at susceptible voters – although that message would have been infinitely more justified – and there were no T-shirts flaunted at Clinton rallies showing Donald Trump‘s face overprinted with a shooter’s target.

As the momentum for a second vote builds up, it is significant that people are talking of civil disturbance if the decision to leave should be reversed. It makes me wonder why the thugs are perceived to be on just one side of the argument. It makes me think that it is not very patriotic to bow down to threats. And it makes me wonder why decent Leavers, whose sincerity I do not doubt, are not more vocal in repudiating the fellow-travellers who so discredit their cause.

What is certain is that it is the democratic and patriotic duty of those opposing Brexit to reject apathy and fatalism, and perhaps an element of  cowardice, and draw attention to these facts. Before it really is too late.

March for a People’s Vote on Brexit   23rd June 2018