Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website, www.rhysy.net



Sunday, 26 March 2017

Brexit FAQs

I've written more than enough about Brexit already, and it feels like the same old arguments just get repeated over and over again. To avoid having to do this, I'm collecting my list of stock responses to common objections here, which unlike my earlier rantings I shall try to express as politely and as briefly as I can.

In case anyone would like to link directly to specific issues, here's a list of contents. Just click each one to get a direct link to that response. They should all be readable independently without needing to read the entire list.

It's the will of the people
It's the will of the people and that MUST be imposed no matter what !
You'd be telling Leavers to shut up if Remain had won
We must respect the result of the vote
Anyone who didn't vote should be assumed to be OK with the result
In a democracy we have to do things we don't always like
Anyone still protesting is just a Remoaner. You don't have any right to be angry with the result, you spoiled little child
We don't have these problems at a general election
Anyone objecting to Brexit is unpatriotic
Brexit could be a success if only we all just came together
Protesting won't do any good
Brexit isn't that important, we need to move on
We need to take back control


It's the will of the people
It's the will of a 4% majority of those who voted. This is not an enormous margin. Given the turnout, it corresponds to about 37% of the electorate and 27% of the total population. So it is certainly not the decisive view of most of the population. Moreover, plenty of other non-binding opinion polls have showed a preference to remain. This is not surprising, since the Leave campaign was based primarily on misinformation - freely admitted hours after the result - so it's little wonder that people have changed their minds. Even accepting for the sake of argument that Brexiteers were wholly truthful, the marginal shift in the opinion polls on the day of the vote appears to be transitory.

Given the small majority win and the fact that leaving the E.U. will potentially have consequences for many future generations, is it really sensible to take such a dramatic, definitive course of action on so marginal and transitory a result ? The "will of the people" argument would be entirely reasonable if the result was emphatic - consistency in other polls with more than 50% of the electorate voting Leave - but it wasn't.


It's the will of the people and that MUST be imposed no matter what !
But "freedom under law" has been a guiding principle of "British values" for bloody ages. The fact that the judiciary decided that Parliament needs to vote on Brexit resulted in them being pronounced as "enemies of the people" to cries of "this is how liberty dies" speaks volumes about the Brexiteers. You wanted to restore British sovereignty ? Well, the judges acted in complete accordance with British law that was established long before the E.U. was even conceived. They didn't stop or even try to stop Brexit, they only prevented the Prime Minister from being able to make law without the consent of Parliament. And thank goodness, because a leader who enacts laws without a democratic process is called a tyrant.

More generally, to assume that the will of the people is an absolute, foolproof guide to what is true or even as to the best decision is complete folly. Suicide cults are a sort-of "will of the people", should we just let people sign up and give them our best wishes ? Should we let children play unsupervised around dangerous machinery just because they want to ? Of course not. The will of the people is important, but it's madness to assume that it's an absolutely flawless guide to how we should act, much less in determining objective reality.

Now, my analogy of suicide cults and children may be offensive to some. It's not my intention to imply that all Brexiteers are idiots, brainwashed, or even simply ill-informed. There are certainly those who voted to leave who did so who were intelligent and well-informed, but their judgement simply differs from mine and the majority of experts. Nor is it my intention to imply that expert judgement is invariably better than the judgement of the Great Unwashed or anything like that. I am simply saying that the idea that we should surrender ourselves absolutely to the result of ANY vote without any possibility to ever re-examine the issue and to throw away all safeguards is a very foolish thing to do. And I struggle to see what's so offensive about that.


You'd be telling Leavers to shut up if Remain had won
No, actually, I wouldn't. I don't think that the Scots should have another independence referendum, but I can't deny their right to do so and I certainly have never told the Scottish Nationalists - who I view very unfavourably - to "just shut up and stop whining" or anything of that sort. Nigel Farage preemptively suggested a second referendum if Remain had won by exactly the same margin that Leave actually achieved. I would certainly not have wanted a second referendum in that case, but by gosh I would not have been surprised if it had happened. Nor have I ever, not once, told a Brexiteer to "just shut up and stop whining" as they so often have to the Remain camp.


We must respect the result of the vote
Yes and no. No, because legally we are not obliged to do so because the referendum was non-binding. But yes because this was barely mentioned during the campaign and it was commonly understood that the government would follow the result - there was little point in holding that extremely laborious campaign if the government felt free to simply ignore the result. Not mentioning the non-binding nature was more than a technicality, it sent a very clear implication that the government did view it as binding even if legally it wasn't. It would be a dangerous precedent if the government felt to free to completely ignore the result of a democratic vote, however marginal the result is.

But then again, also no because respecting the vote does not necessarily mean we have to leave the E.U. at any cost. The question asked us about E.U. membership and nothing else. It did not say what terms of exit we wanted or if we'd prefer to stay in if we could alter the conditions. It certainly didn't say that we should ignore any and all extenuating circumstances, such as the government trying to do deals with that monster* across the Atlantic.

* I said I'd be as polite as I can, not "polite to an absurd extreme". If you don't think Trump is a monster, then I probably can't help you.

So wouldn't it make more sense to say that "respecting the vote", given the marginal result and lack of details on the question, meant that we should be in for an extended period of negotiations and a possible second referendum if the mood of the country had shifted ? Why does respecting the non-binding opinion of 27% of the populace in a single poll mean that we have to leave the E.U. as soon as possible at any cost ? Why can't it mean, "trying to get a different arrangement and then reconsidering if and when that's achieved" ?


Anyone who didn't vote should be assumed to be OK with the result
No they should not. Without asking them, you cannot possibly know the reasons they didn't vote or what their preference was. No doubt some of them really don't care either way. But how many ? How many had more urgent pressing personal issues to attend to but wanted to vote ? Since they didn't actually vote, there's no way of knowing. To assume they're OK with the result is putting words in their mouths, which is the exact opposite of a democracy.


In a democracy we have to do things we don't always like
That's true. Every election results in a loss for someone. Yet that rarely stops people from protesting about "things they don't like" if they genuinely believe those things are immoral or harmful. Those things may be enacted, but the right to protest means that decisions are very seldom so irrevocable. If the mood of the people is seen to have shifted, decisions can normally be changed.

Of course, often the government does do things lots of people don't like. It does things which are both popular and unpopular, in accordance with its own (mis)judgement. The thing is, whether people like a thing or not has no bearing on whether or not it's objectively true, and the "you're objecting because you don't like it" misses the point entirely. Yes, of course I'm objecting because I don't like it, but that's self-evident. Very few people object to things they like... but most people don't like things because they have, well, you know, actual reasons for disliking them. In this case I'm objecting because I believe the result will harm my country, to cause it to become an inward-looking, economically and morally impoverished third-rate power.

To ignore the actual reasons for the dislike and objection - to infer that in effect the dislike is the reason in itself - is to treat Remainers like thoughtless imbeciles, as though we were driven by pure whimsical emotion without any logical, rational basis for our conclusions. It is an attempt, deliberate or otherwise, to avoid talking about the actual issues and stifle the debate as to whether Brexit is a good idea or not.


Anyone still protesting is just a Remoaner. You don't have any right to be angry with the result, you spoiled little child.
Really ? I think you'll find that I do. Protests about wars, immigration, medical ethics, animal rights, global warming and a host of other issues happen all the time. Protesters on both sides of an argument can have strong, sincerely-held beliefs. Sometimes they do so purely for subjective, ideological reasons and sometimes purely from evidenced-based reasoning. Yet I've never before heard a response to a vote in which the winning side tried so hard to suppress the dissent from the opposition. In most cases, although people may be on the opposite side of a protest, they rarely if ever object to the protest itself.

For me, Brexit is a linked economic-moral issue. There appears to be a strong economic consensus that Brexit would severely harm the economy. This will translate into real suffering for people as funding for welfare and research are necessarily decreased, hence the economic aspect is also a moral one. On the purely moral, ideological side, the Leave campaign appears to be driven by xenophobes and closet racists. I refuse to side with such people or offer them even tactic support by not protesting. These are profound moral issues which I believe I have every right to protest over, just as much as both pro and anti-abortion campaigners are entitled to. I hardly think it's childish that I believe in the things I believed in from before the campaign even started, and haven't changed my mind simply because of the result of the vote. My principles are not dictated by the so-called will of the people.

It's true that not everyone who voted for Brexit is a racist. But everyone who is a racist voted for Brexit.


We don't have these problems at a general election
That's quite correct. Rarely if ever do we have protests over the result of a general election itself, however, protests over individual governmental decisions are frequent : and Brexit is just such a decision.

In a general election we don't always get the leaders we want. However, even though our own constituencies don't always vote the way we might like, for the majority of us our party gets at least some support in Parliament. So our voice is always heard, at least to some degree, and thus we get some measure of representation. In any case, electing representatives is not at all the same as voting on individual issues. Representatives are human beings that we can argue and reason with; issues are something far less malleable and dangerously absolute.

When representatives vote on issues they first discuss them and adjust them when agreement cannot be reached. The final issue and its results are subject to a series of careful checks and balances - multiple houses both discuss, debate and revise the issues proposed, which are then subject to a further review by the independent judiciary. In the case of Brexit, it appears that all of these careful checks and balances must be disregarded completely. Despite the voting question being strictly about Britain's E.U. membership, Brexiteers feel entitled to pronounce judgement that what it really meant was getting Britain out as quickly as possible under any circumstances.

When you start thinking this way, when you insist the result agrees with your existing bias despite the almost total lack of information contained in the vote itself, you pervert justice and the rule of law and order into something insanely absolute - you create a tyranny by majority. That is not any form of democracy I want any part of. I want the kind of democracy where we actually get to debate issues and can change our minds according to the circumstances. I want a democracy that is, in short, scientific in its approach : its results should be primarily evidence-based and provisional.


Anyone objecting to Brexit is unpatriotic
This is a statement designed purely to inflict pain and cause the responder to lash out. It is utterly devoid of meaning, just like so many other Brexiteering slogans : "take back control", "Brexit means Brexit", or "broken Britain" and the like. It's designed purely to inflict pain for the sake of inflicting pain - because those in pain often want to hurt others themselves. Its intent is not to result in any meaningful dialogue.

It is extremely difficult for me to write a polite response to this statement; the audacity of the level of presumption behind it is staggering. How dare you think to judge me in this manner. How dare you. You've never met me. You utter creep, it is precisely because I want to prevent harm to my country that I'm objecting to Brexit ! You have absolutely no right to presume to tell me that I don't like my country just because you hate all others. And the people who make this sort of statement invariably do hate all other countries; they are not patriots, they are nationalistic idiots. I suppose I should pity them really, and not get so offended by their baseless accusations. Unfortunately, the sheer brazen stupidity and presumption behind this statement well exceeds my threshold for a rational response.


Brexit could be a success if only we all just came together
Economics simply doesn't work like that. The policies of other countries won't change one bit if you and I, the common people, start changing our opinions. Economic reality is not shaped by us directly but through voting. If we vote for an economically unsound choice, then economic damage will be inflicted. Unfortunately no amount of goodwill will change that; if I thought it would, I'd be all too happy to unite in the face of adversity. But alas, this isn't a fleet of German bombers or Irish terrorists we're facing. Economic reality is not something you can defeat by remaining resolute or simply ignoring it; unlike terrorism, it does not draw its power from our reactions.

There's another, subtler aspect to this. Of course, there are some people who voted to leave who genuinely believe(d) that getting out of the E.U. will improve the British economy and/or that it will improve the lives of everyone. For all that I strongly disagree with this view, I can allow it certain sense of begrudging respect. While no amount of co-operation will make a success of Brexit, at least I would be capable of co-operating at some level with these people. But the Brexiteers who think we should stop all immigration and that asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are one and the same, and that people from other countries are all criminals or that we should judge them on the basis of how much money they have ? No, I won't ever work with such people. Laws are set by votes; moral principles are not.


Protesting won't do any good
Perhaps so, but I will protest nonetheless. Why ? Because you can't be certain that protesting won't do any good, and if there's even a small chance it can succeed or lessen the damage, then I believe it's my duty to do so. More importantly, I will not let the record show that I meekly acquiesced to a decision I found to be morally and economically vacant; if, as I unfortunately suspect it will, Brexit leads to a disaster, I will not be on record as responsible for it. Rather, I would have the record show that I tried to do everything possible to prevent it.


There are more important things to worry about; Brexit won't affect ME so I don't care
Yes there are. Unfortunately those much more important things - how much funding to give to the NHS, how to fund education, the police force, and all aspects of national infrastructure - these are all inevitably tied to the economy. And that's heavily dependent on the world's largest economic bloc lying right on our doorstep. Unless you live as a complete hermit (in which case how are we communicating, exactly ?) then you cannot escape the consequences of Brexit, however much you might want to.

Both the political and economic aspects of Brexit are important and should not be ignored. Politically, a large element of the Brexiteers seem resolutely xenophobic, with the rise in hate crimes in recent months being directly attributable to Brexit. Deliberately turning our back on our continental neighbours, many of whom we've been at war with for the last thousand years and more, is morally dubious at best. Yet it is hardly as though this will instantly turn everyone into a bunch of pitchfork-waving racists. Unfortunately the economic effects will be very much harder to escape. If you care about anything that depends on the economy, then you should care about Brexit because it will almost certainly be affected by it.


We need to take back control
Honestly, I'd very much like to know what this means. It's often stated just as this simple phrase, as though it's obviously self-explanatory. Well it isn't obvious to me, so please - I'm not being rhetorical, I genuinely want to know - try to answer these basic questions. You don't have to answer all of them, any one would be a good start.
  • Who do we need to take back control from ? Some aspect of the E.U. presumably. But the European Parliament is elected, and most UK members are from UKIP. So we need to take back control from the UKIP MEPs we put there... and give it to who ?
  • What sort of control is it that you think the E.U. has that we need to take back ? What laws has it imposed that have caused us any problems ? I really want to know this one, because honestly I can't imagine who walks down the street ever thinking, "damn the E.U. for making life so awful because of their laws about XXX". I totally get that the E.U. is too bureaucratic, but I don't understand what actual problems this is causing people. And if it really is a "need" to take this control, you must demonstrate that we'd be better off overall as a result of this. It's no good saying that one particular group of people will be slightly better-off if five other groups are disadvantaged.
  • Why do we need to take back control ? Of what benefit will this be to us by having more control ? The "who" question notwithstanding, it won't be us, the UK electorate, who gets that control directly - it will be our elected officials, presumably. And they currently think E.U. membership is a good thing, so how will having this extra power help them improve our lives ? What makes you so confident that by giving them this control that they don't want they'll be able to use it wisely ?
  • Where... okay, maybe this one isn't important.
  • When do we need to take control ? We've been in the various incarnations of the E.U. for many decades, but now there seems to be a sense of urgency about our departure. Now, if you'd said, for example, that "we need to work from within the E.U. to weaken the union's controls over individual nations and let them have more say in their own trading deals with international countries, in a gradual process over the next decade or so in order to give everyone time to adjust and the process to be constantly evaluated and re-examined", then I'd totally buy that. Heck, I'd even buy the "we should get out" option if I saw a coherent, credible plan for doing so. But what y'all seem to be saying is, "we should get out completely right now", and that I just do not understand at all. Is it really so urgent that we sever the complex economic and political links forged over the last few decades, and is it really credible that we can establish replacements that give us equal benefits in a short timescale ?
  • How will leaving the E.U. actually give us more control ? It seems to me that we'd have very much less. The world's largest economic bloc will still by lying on our doorstep, except now that we're not a member I'm not seeing any reason it will have to listen to us. Our influence will be diminished, not increased. Or have I misunderstood something ? Will we be more influential by being outside this extremely large financial sector, and if so, how ?

Or, if you don't want to answer this point by point, I'll give you another option. The narrative presented by the Remainers is an E.U. gradually forged to ensure peace and prosperity in Europe through stronger political and economic links between countries. I would like to hear a narrative from Leavers presenting how we'd fare if we left the E.U., because all I hear is extremely vague promises of re-establishing the Commonwealth as a trading bloc (we've already been rebuffed) and, far more prevalently, dire descriptions of the E.U. as a bureaucratic monster that's throttling us economically and politically. I want to understand what vision it is of Britain that Leavers actually have, rather than so many incoherent (and often, but not always, wrong) statements about how the E.U. is supposedly such an awful thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment