There may be some good arguments for Brexit, but we’re hearing fewer and fewer of them as time goes by. As I’ve pointed out before (https://bernardjporter.com/2019/03/04/lazy-thinking/), most of the case on that side of the divide now centres on peripheral matters, of which the two main ones are: (a) the validity of the referendum result in June 2016; and (b) what is perceived as the élitist and patronising attitude of Remainers. The arguments here are that going against that 52:48 vote would be a betrayal of ‘democracy’ – that’s usually how it’s put; and, secondly, that Remainers regard Brexit voters as ‘stupid’, which is – quite simply – an insult that is bound to, and should, put Brexiteers’ backs up. Liam Fox touched both these nerves in his wind-up speech in yesterday’s Commons debate on a ‘no deal’ Brexit. As it turned out, it did his side no good. The Government lost (yet again). But these two arguments still seem to be uppermost in the minds of ‘ordinary’ Brexiteers: if, that is, one is to judge by ‘below the line’ comments in the social media. (Perhaps one shouldn’t.)
The ‘democracy’ case is of course arguable, but is also easy to argue against. Cameron shouldn’t have promised a decisive, ‘once in a lifetime’ popular vote on this question, but he did. That could be regarded as having bound the government and Parliament afterwards. But the constitutional legitimacy of that vote in a Parliamentary democracy is highly dubious, as the Commons should have recognised straight away, instead of confirming it in a vote there, which did formally legitimise it. Added to this are the facts that the referendum’s timing pretty well ensured that other factors than ‘Europe’ would come into consideration (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/); that the vote may have been heavily manipulated by malign forces; that it was based on inadequate – often deliberately deceitful – information at the time; and that the electorate then was substantially different from the electorate now, with some elderly Brexiteers being replaced at the other end of the demographic scale with young Europeans. In effect, the present and future population of Britain has been captured by old dead people. So the 2016 referendum didn’t necessarily reflect the ‘will of the people’ in 2019. One would have thought that this alone should justify a second ‘democratic’ referendum, on a slightly different question, of course, now that we know what both of the alternatives are; if only to make sure. But by Brexiteers that’s painted as undemocratic. It’s a curious argument; but you hear it again and again, not least from the hapless Theresa May herself.
Is this simply due to Brexit voters’ stupidity, as many Remainers are apt to think? ‘Of course we knew what we were voting for!’ – Well, I didn’t, and I don’t consider myself to be particularly stupid. In fact scarcely anyone predicted the mess we’ve got into now in trying to extricate ourselves from the EU: a negotiation that Liam Fox (again) originally told us would be the ‘easiest in human history’. It’s for this reason that I’m unwilling to accuse any Brexit voters of ‘stupidity’, from the comfort of my ‘élite’ ivory tower, and so have deliberately tried not to; although it’s possible that I may have occasionally slipped up in this regard in this blog. (It’s difficult not to be patronising, when reading many of those BTL comments.) In truth, I simply don’t know how most people arrive at any of their conclusions, which might for all I know be perfectly rationally, even if those conclusions don’t seem rational to me.
The leaders of the Brexit side, however – the ‘Brexit élite’ as we might call them – are a different matter. Some of those I would dare to call ‘stupid’ – either that, or simply deceitful – on the grounds that they should know better, in their circumstances and with their educations, which are fairly similar to mine. Some of these people might not superficially appear stupid, especially if they are good at putting words together and embellishing them with Latin quotes. Look closely at the arguments of people like Farage, Mogg, Boris and Gove, however, and you’ll find them spilling over with illogicalities, false premises, non-sequiturs and all the other defining features of a genuine stupidity; which I don’t think it’s at all unfair to call out.