18 months ago I remember saying to myself ‘if there is an EU referendum, I will campaign with everything I’ve got to remain’. Now here I am trying to persuade you to vote leave. What changed? Me, really. The EU is still pretty much the same as it was a year ago, as is the UK. Under all the same circumstances and with all the same information I became one of those dreaded Brexiteers. But make no mistake, I in no way support the likes of Johnson or Farage or Galloway (although I do have a soft spot for Hannan and Gove, on an off day), and I am most certainly not anti-immigration. I am a passionate liberal and advocate of free movement, it is at the reluctant expense of this great fundamental freedom that I wish to leave, only in favour of an even greater and more fundamental freedom, that which can only be provided by democracy. I don’t like to make a habit of quoting philosophers, especially this one, but Rousseau touched on something extremely important when he said “freedom is obeying a self-prescribed law”. If we leave power in the hands of the unelected and unaccountable, even if they wield it well, we are succumbing to live our lives in the way we’re told to. We give up an essential freedom to rule ourselves.
This may all seem hyperbolic in the context of the referendum, but the EU does have a serious problem with democracy. The only directly elected body has no legislative power. The real power lies in the European Commission. There is one representative per nation state, selected by the government, with no requirement that the selected have any democratic mandate – our commissioner is a Lord. The EU has also been described as a ‘lobbyists paradise’. Big businesses can, and often do, lean on powerful actors to introduce legislation that strengthens them and weakens their opposition. There is also a more fundamental problem with the fact that no one understands it, and the levels of bureaucracy involved in running it put off real action within it. It is highlighted by Catherine Bearder MEP that although everyone disagrees with the fact that it moves location once a month it’s too difficult to do anything about it. How can an institution be accountable if no one knows how to change anything, and the anyone who does are blocked by bureaucracy? The creation of 55% of all of our legislation and the ability to over-rule judges is not the sort of power I want an undemocratic body to hold.
As a liberal I love pushing power downwards, and thus support the referendum itself, but the EU has no interest in this. On the walls of one of EU building is displayed the quote “national sovereignty is the root cause of the most crying evils of our time”. While I don’t hold that national sovereignty should be untouchable, this sentiment doesn’t fill me with confidence that we can find a balance between productive supranational cooperation and democracy, sovereignty of the people over themselves, within the current EU. Democracy works because people know what is best for themselves. This is not a belief the EU holds, just look at its track record of ignoring referendum results that aren’t in it’s favour across member states.
What changed me from Europhile to Brexiteer was a scepticism of the ability of the EU to reform – just look what they offered us when we, the third biggest nation population-wise and 5th largest economy in the world, are threatening to leave – very little. We’ve played all our cards and a remain vote leaves us at the full mercy of the EU.
A vote to remain seems to be to be a vote to limit our own government because we don’t agree with them – at least that’s how the common argument ‘if we vote to leave then we’ll be left at the mercy of the Tories’ goes. This foregoes any respect for democracy. If we vote to leave we’ll be left ruled by who the electorate chose. We are the electorate, and we can chose differently and persuade others to do the same. I don’t like Farage or the way the Leave campaign has conducted itself, but to suggest that voting to leave puts them in power is inaccurate. Voting to leave is a vote to put yourself in power. Yes the UK system isn’t perfectly democratic, but we’re seeing a visible shift towards serious reform, as even the shadow chancellor backs electoral reform.
The democratic argument for leave, for me, transcends all other arguments. We can bicker about economics, immigration, codified rights and the rest, but without proper democracy it is all futile. If we leave we can have our own discussion on all of these matters, a discussion that you and I can be involved in. Don’t let any obscure sense of identity prevent you from voting rationally. It isn’t globalism vs xenophobia or progressiveness vs regressiveness. It’s democracy.
Original Image: Al Jazeera