The Pernicious Tendencies of the Referendum

Hi everyone – I’m Sahil from and I’m guest posting today – if you’re interested in the EU and foreign affairs etc. be sure to visit my blog.


Hugo Rifkind’s article in the Times a while ago summed up my sentiment on the EU issue in a way – all conversations are bound to lead predictably in one direction. I’m already done with those debates because quite frankly the issue is so polarised that those with opinions either side are already decided and unlikely to change. Also I don’t want to know if you’re voting out so that my once happy opinion of you doesn’t dramatically change (for the worse). Normally I would never negate the value of political discourse but in this case I just feel it’s pulling us apart. And specifically in the case of out voters opening up the Pandora’s box of all the worst «little-England» (I’m using French punctuation, can outies cope?) remnants of our ex-colonial nation, I think too is very destructive, misleading and counterproductive.

I will say though (contradicting what I just said above about not wanting a debate) that the one argument not being made at all is the political argument for staying ‘in’: in other words an argument positively for the EU as opposed to half-heartedly staying in the EU. The ‘out’ (wish it had been No) campaign only seem to have a political message of sovereignty and the return Grand Britannia’s (she’ll always rule the waves?) long lost freedom, while for the ‘in’ campaign it’s far too démodé to remotely suggest any benefits of the European political project – one might even say taboo. This is the cunning of Brexiters succeeding and the political elite’s belief that no one actively likes the EU, and that the only way to persuade the public to stay is through fear of the Unknown, failing. This widespread, default Euroscepticism has allowed the rise of statements like, ‘I resent the way we continually confuse Europe – the home of the greatest and richest culture in the world, to which Britain is and will be an eternal contributor – with the political project of the European Union,’ from Boris Johnson, going unchallenged.

In fact I am strongly of the opinion that the two are completely linked and that the European project is an extension of the greatest European values – rule of law; flourishing arts; democracy etc. The ‘meddling’ European Commission that everyone seems to love to hate, has actually done a pretty good job in so many ways in upholding the highest European values – above all they succeeded in averting another war which I would say is quite is nice (you only need to look at Ukraine or Nagorno-Karabakh before you say that wouldn’t have happened in Europe anyway). In addition, they’ve embarked upon some of the most progressive projects in modern history – in fields relating to the environment, employment, competition (Vestager is such a guardian of justice) and now even mobile phone contracts (I mean, seriously, who doesn’t wish for no data roaming) – projects that the UK would never have had ambition enough (or ability – the data roaming abolition requires support of all other member states) to do on its own and that prove the EU is undeniably linked to spreading European culture.

Another value I mentioned the EU defends is democracy – yes I said it. Of course I accept more than anyone the EU needs democratising (in fact I want it loads) but that would mean giving the EU more importance politically. All outies who continually decry the democracy deficit of the EU are really the ones holding up more democratisation. Having an elected commission president/council president is something outies would never agree to because of the symbolic political weight it would give the EU. And yet it is something that should happen and that would democratise the EU. Secondly, the EU isn’t actually that undemocratic. The commission president is agreed by consensus (unless you’re David Cameron) to be of the winning party from democratic European elections and other commissioners are nominated by the democratically elected governments of member states. Furthermore, the commissioners can’t force through legislation – this process is done by democratically elected MEPs and ministers from member states who again, have been democratically elected.

But regardless of all this nit picking, the referendum is undeniably tragic because of the way it is dividing/will divide us. It is a divide from which we will not recover post-referendum, and the issue will continue to haunt us just like in Scotland – indeed perhaps more. I already mentioned how I don’t want to know if someone is pro-Brexit because I feel it will inevitably shock me and make me wonder what their world view is – are they really in favour of little Britain as opposed to an outward looking global one, where were are side by side with our natural partners. Don’t worry, they say, we’ll forge strong ties with the commonwealth (a relic of one of the most debilitating and misconstrued ideologies in history) with whom we have so much more in common – English, common law, political systems and err… Last time I checked the UK wasn’t in favour of anti-homosexuality laws (India + many more) or dodgy democracy (Malaysia + many others). I find it frankly incredible (in the literal sense) that colonially imposed systems can be cited as ways the UK has more in common with the commonwealth than the EU.

As the country has gone from being bipartisan to multi-partisan and having two dominant political parties to one (yes Jeremy who won’t defend the EU you’re not too relevant nowadays), the EU is becoming what divides us in two. We seem to love being in two rather than lots of little camps but it is undeniably destructive, abrasive and seemingly pointless. The referendum exposes so many fault-lines about the political direction of this country that should never have been played with. By not debating with others I’m almost running away from the issue and looking the other way. This lack of engagement could be reasonably seen as naïve or ignorant – it probably is but I can’t bear to think that my home country could consider closing down and turning away from the EU – a bastion against American and Chinese hegemony (and the downsides of both).

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Don Royster says:

    This is probably a bad time for a referendum on the EU. It’s a time of flux and there is way to much uncertainty in the environment. Of course, our presidential election here in the US proves that all the more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Some Guy says:

    I already mentioned how I don’t want to know if someone is pro-Brexit because I feel it will inevitably shock me and make me wonder what their world view is – are they really in favour of little Britain as opposed to an outward looking global one, – Is that really a fair statement. Shutting yourself down from all the Brexit arguments and over-generalising about the characters and world views all Brexit supporters?


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