Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

It’s time to stop defying democracy: a rebuttal to Sam Gyimah

 'It's time to think the unthinkable on Brexit' argues pro-EU Tory MP Sam Gyimah. 'It is no exaggeration to say we face the greatest political and constitutional emergency we've had in peacetime. This is not in response to any external threat or challenge. The tragedy is we have done this to ourselves. But because of that, we can step back from the brink'.

Briefly the universities minister, having replaced Jo Johnson (another Remainer who resigned over Theresa May's Brexit arrangements), Gyimah is now an advocate of a second referendum. So what would be the purpose of this proposed plebiscite, and what would be the voting options?

Gyimah is in no doubt that the current two possibilities for our departure on 29th March are against the national interest. Neither the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May and civil servant Olly Robbins nor a clean break from the EU would be tolerable from his perspective. Well, Bruges Group readers would certainly agree with him on the first of these, which the government continues to present as the only deal on the table.

Theresa May is desperately hoping for a guarantee from the EU that the hated backstop over the Irish border will not be imposed, but as Gyimah explains, 'there can be no substantive legal changes to the Northern Ireland backstop because it is firmly wedged in the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement, and the EU have made it clear the Agreement is not up for renegotiation'.

What did we expect from Brussels? Our leaders should have listened to economist Yanis Varoufakis, who experienced face-to-face the intransigence of the Eurocrats: 'You cannot negotiate with the EU', he concluded. And the Greek people were hung out to dry.Politicians are not known for honesty, but perhaps we should appreciate the shoot-from-the-hip candour of Donald Trump, whose straightforward summary of the Withdrawal Agreement is: 'a great deal – for the EU'.

The Withdrawal Agreement, as Gyimah realises, would not give us closure. 'In truth, we would be in permanent negotiation. We will be going round the same Brexit loop we've been going round since 2016, among ourselves and with the EU.' And clearly Britain would be of no more than supplicant status, paying huge amounts of taxpayers' money to Brussels with absolutely no say on laws that we'd be forced to follow. Needless to say, regulations will not be written for British interests.

So let's agree with Sam so far – Theresa May's deal is a dud, revealing a humiliatingly defeatist attitude in our political and administrative class. But Gyimah is vehemently opposed to a 'no deal' Brexit, regarding default to WTO terms as a destructive fallacy. 'If we want to trade, the most important deal we will strike is with the EU.' Certainly we want to continue trading with Europe, but isn't that reciprocal? In fact, it is more than desirable for the likes of the German car industry. EU countries sell four times as much to the UK as vice versa: why would they cut off their noses to spite their faces?

Let us remind ourselves what 17.4 million voted for in that referendum. They voted to leave the EU, simple as that. They did not vote for a protracted half-in, half-out political fudge. They voted to take back control, not to be subservient to the very federalist project that they rejected. As Boris Johnson wrote in the Telegraph this week, 'no deal' is closest to what Leavers wanted. And they want it as much now as they did three years ago: as psephologist Professor John Curtice states, there is little sign of Leavers losing their resolve (despite all the frustrating machinations of the recalcitrant Remain establishment).

Take a look at the government petitions website and you'll see that the biggest current appeal is for a 'no deal' Brexit. At time of writing, 316400 people have signed, and the number continues to grow steadily across the UK, from Bognor Regis to Banff. From Gyimah's constituency of East Surrey, almost a thousand have added their names. Here it is:

So what does Gyimah want? A second referendum, he believes, would resolve this situation. Blocking the biggest mandate in British political history would upset some people, but Gyimah thinks the threat of riots is overblown. 'The strange thing is the same people who suggest that somehow the public is ready to take to the streets, are those who say people are bored of Brexit and want to move on'. Gyimah is being disingenuous with this claim. Imagine a Venn diagram of Remainers, Leavers and the apathetic: Gyimah has the latter two overlapping, ignoring evidence from polls that a high proportion of people who voted to stay in the EU now want the government to get on with Brexit. 

The establishment, no doubt, wants the Leave majority to be disillusioned and to give up the fight. But this is the complacent attitude of people who are accustomed to getting things their way. Stopping Brexit would be a travesty for democracy that would have very serious consequences in the immediate aftermath and in the longer term. Why would anyone trust our political system?

Gyimah sees Brexit as a 'self-inflicted emergency', yet both Conservative and Labour pledged to honour the referendum result in their 2017 election manifestos. Parliament had overwhelming voted for the referendum to take place, and several more layers of legitimacy have since been added (partly due to Gina Miller's legal action). If our democracy means anything, politicians have a duty to deliver the will of the people, as was promised in June 2016.

The fundamental problem with the notion of a second referendum (preposterously euphemised as 'People's Vote') is that it is only demanded by the losing side of 2016. There would be a complete absence of any incentive for the Leave majority to vote again. What confidence could they have in a repeated verdict to leave being implemented, when it was ignored the first time?

According to Gyimah, 'democracy is not a single event', and voters have a right to change their minds. This is poppycock, and Gyimah knows it. A general election is not rerun because the ruling party or influential lobbies don't like the result. I have no problem with Remainers demanding a fresh referendum after we have carried out the verdict of the first referendum. They can campaign to rejoin three or four years after we've left, but not stop us from leaving.

What's Gyimah's magic answer to this morass? He states that neither May's deal nor no deal are viable. And therefore the only option is Remain. A unanimous vote to reverse Brexit, on a 40% turnout. Sorted, Sam? 

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