Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
British parliamentary democracy is built upon the very simple principle of the consent of the governed, as set out by John Locke in his essay concerning human understanding. This means that political decisions are made by the legitimate government of the day, whose authority is solely dependent upon the consent of the people, as expressed in free and fair elections. The preservation of this powerful contract also places a solemn duty upon our representatives to always enact the will of the people.
Before 2016, most of us acknowledged that an acceptance of this primary concept was a fairly basic precursor to calling oneself a sensible adult. Whatever one’s political viewpoint, however extreme, there was always an understanding of the need for consensus amongst voters and representatives to accept and enact the results of elections. Otherwise, we knew that grave consequences of anarchy and civil unrest waited just around the corner. Of course, upon losing an election, a party would be expected not to give up, but to brush themselves off and start campaigning again. But they would never seek to overturn the mandate of their opposition as given to them by the voters – they would, instead, prepare themselves for the next election.
Our democracy is founded upon the acceptance of the loser. Imagine the uproar that would have swept across our nation had John Major refused to leave Downing Street after his crushing defeat in 1997. Envisage the widespread outrage that would have been felt if Ed Miliband had decided that he thought voters “got it wrong”, and had marched into Number 10 in 2015 without any popular mandate as a result. Of course, these hypothetical observations are absurd, because the runners-up in our stable democracy have always, without fail, embraced the great worth this society places on democracy, and the enactment of democratic decisions.
This is why Vince Cable rightly stated in September 2016 that it would be ‘disrespectful’ to hold a second referendum on the UK’s EU membership. It’s why Alastair Campbell admitted in April that a so-called People’s Vote would ‘possibly’ throw the UK into yet more political chaos. It’s also why Anna Soubry said in June 2016, after the referendum, that ‘[w]e have to respect the result’.
All three of these voices have since abandoned their respect for democratic principles, and now back a second EU referendum. They are doing so on the basis that the situation has changed, that the promises of the Leave campaign were not honest, and even more absurdly, that people didn’t know what they were voting for. Well one idea that these voices for Remain may have failed to understand is that perhaps people knew what they were voting for. Perhaps people did their research (even though the metropolitan elites don’t think that northern working class Leavers are capable of such), that they voted for what they truly believed in, not just as a protest against Westminster.
Maybe, just maybe, they ought to realise that the 52% haven’t only expressed their will in one EU referendum three years ago, but repeatedly. In 2014, UKIP resoundingly won the EU parliamentary elections on a clear manifesto to leave the EU. In 2015, David Cameron secured an unexpected majority for the Conservatives after pledging to hold an In/Out referendum on EU membership. In 2016, of course, 17.4 million voters told their politicians that they wanted out. In the 2017 general election, over 80% of voters opted for parties promising to leave the EU on the 29th March 2019. And most recently, in the 2019 EU parliamentary elections, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party stormed to victory with over 30% of the popular vote.
Our politicians have been told no less than five times that the people want to leave the EU. It’s time for those who give a sympathetic ear to Remain and People’s Vote backers to wake up and smell the coffee: this is nothing less than a betrayal. Far more than a betrayal of Brexit. Far more than a betrayal of these five individual elections. But a betrayal of our entire democracy. For those who make calls for us to temper our language around Brexit, I say: perhaps it’s time for those who are betraying the will of democracy to put up, or shut up. Because I am tired of explaining to supposedly intelligent, well-meaning adults that, however you voted in 2016, Brexit means Brexit, and anything less is a betrayal, pure and simple.