Brexit: Why I accept it but do not respect it

After Britain voted for Brexit European political leaders have been saying that they regret but respect the decision. I don't. That is, I accept the democratic verdict of the British people, of whom I am part, but I don't find anything to respect in there. Particularly as people like me were excluded from voting.

In saying that, I am thinking of how narrowly the 'Leave'  campaign won. The margin was 1.27 million votes, a figure eerily close to the number of Brits living in other European Union countries (1.2 million). And some of them, like me, were disenfranchised from voting in this referendum.

Before the referendum I wrote here about the UK rule that arbitrarily and undemocratically deprives its citizens who have lived abroad for over 15 years of the right to vote. I discovered then that not only had many Britons who have lived the EU dream of free movement and reciprocal rights lost their voice over this issue, but some foreign nationals living in Britain were being allowed to vote. Not all, only Irish and Commonwealth citizens, but not EU citizens. 

Talk about adding insult to injury for people whose lives have been built on Britain's EU membership, a forgotten constituency in Old Blighty  it seems. So, the vote expressed the democratic will of the British people - just - but this was an inconsistent and imperfect version of democracy.

There is no way of knowing whether the result would have been any different without these imperfections. So it must be accepted. But respected? There was nothing deserving of respect about the campaign or the people involved in it, on either side.

As we all know, David Cameron engineered this vote for purely party political reasons, precisely the kind of politician's manoeuvre that alienates people, particularly those drawn to the 'Leave' campaign.  He sought a rubber stamp for Europe and got a punch on the nose, which he richly  deserved.

Then the 'Remain' campaign and foreign leaders talked down to and threatened some very frustrated, angry and jingoistic people about the consequences for the economy of following their gut feeling and leaving the EU free trade bloc. The Labour Party, now more bobo than blue collar, proved incapable of convincing its traditional base that united we stand, divided we fall. Result: just to show them, the turkeys voted for Christmas, as one disillusioned Brit put it. 

Straight after the result the pound and the stock market nosedived and Britain's credit rating was cut, making everything in the country significantly more expensive in the space of a day. How about this for a campaign slogan for the next general election: 'You've never had it so bad'?

As to the 'Leave' campaign, veering from jingoism into racism by association, menacing voters with the threat of hordes of migrants and a host of Syrian refugees marching on Britain - the word 'respect' is pretty much the opposite of what that campaign showed to truth, honesty and fair representation of the issues. 

Now Cameron's successor and European leaders will have to untangle the ties between Britain and the EU and put something credible in their place. In doing so, all of them should bear in mind that narrow margin in the vote and ask themselves what the mandate from the British people actually is. 

And if EU leaders let themselves be guided by (justifiable) anger at being held hostage by Britain, they will be doing an injustice to the 48% who still see themselves as part of Europe. And that would be a sad day for democracy.







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