Why the EU Referendum Is a Vote on Democracy

17/05/2016 11:20 | Updated 17 May 2016

I've previously written about how the EU harms Africa and called upon Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party away from the misguided dogma that the EU is a force for good. I believe in social justice, equality, feminism and democracy, but find myself struggling to understand why so many of my friends on the left are lining up with banks and big business to defend the undemocratic EU.

EU law is made by the EU Commission, whose members are appointed, not elected. The EU Parliament, whose members we vote for, has no power to propose, make or repeal any laws. It can only amend laws that have been proposed by the EU Commission. Democracy demands that we have the right to vote for the people who have actual power, not an entity that seems to have been created as a talking-shop in an attempt to legitimise an undemocratic system. The EU has created the illusion of democracy in order to hoodwink people into believing that they have the franchise.

The recent farce over the tampon tax is a good way of illustrating how EU membership subverts the proper democratic process. EU VAT legislation prevented the UK from scrapping the tax on sanitary products, but the government was forced into a vote in the House of Commons, which it worked hard to ensure it won - the tampon tax would be staying. The government then went behind Parliament's back and, contrary to the democratic, parliamentary vote, negotiated a deal with the EU to get the tampon tax scrapped after all.

This is a clear case of our elected representatives playing fast and lose with constitutional conventions that have governed our relationship with them for centuries. If it's not obvious why this is so dangerous, the British government overruled Parliament and colluded with EU officials to get the law changed. As harmless as this particular fudge was, such a system, where two people can collude in a room to change the law of a nation, is the wellspring of tyranny.

There's a lot of mud being thrown about immigration and the economy, but the defining issue of this referendum is sovereignty. We never voted to give power to an unelected commission, this power has been taken from us slowly, piece by piece over the years. Reformers throughout history fought for our democratic rights. The suffragettes were prepared to die in order to get the right to elect their law-makers. I simply don't understand why so many people are willing to surrender their fundamental political right, the only right that protects us against tyranny. Today it's the tampon tax, but given the challenges currently confronting Europe, tomorrow it could be your property rights, your right to protest, or even your right to vote. Look at what has happened to the people of Greece to see how the EU treats its most vulnerable in times of emergency.

In his televised address to the nation on Britain's entry to the Common Market, Edward Heath said, "There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified."

Shortly after the British Parliament approved entry, President Pompidou of France proposed that the EC should move to full political and economic union and Heath agreed. When asked by the BBC how such a shift sat with his earlier remarks, Heath said that it should have been obvious to anyone following the parliamentary debate that political and monetary union was what it was actually all about.

If we vote to remain, I suspect that the result will be taken as our consent to surrender our sovereignty. If we remain, in five or ten years time when the EU has taken yet more power from our elected representatives, it will be able to point to the referendum result and, echoing Heath's approach, tell us that it should have been obvious that surrender of sovereignty was what this referendum was all about.

Like many people, I hold Tony Benn in high regard as a parliamentarian and political thinker. He once said that we should ask five questions of the powerful:

1. What power have you got?
2. Where did you get it from?
3. In whose interests do you exercise it?
4. To whom are you accountable?
5. How do we get rid of you?

Ask these questions of the EU, and the answers are truly terrifying. The Brexit Door has answered them here.

Benn went on to say, "If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system." Tony Benn, like Jeremy Corbyn, was a long-standing critic of the EU and believed it to be a harmful, undemocratic institution. I'm dismayed that Jeremy Corbyn, who I took to be a man of principle, is now campaigning for us to remain in an institution that he has vilified for most of his political career.

People will try and tell us that this referendum deals with issues that are far too complex for the average person to understand. I believe that we actually face a very simple question: whether or not we believe in democracy? If we continue to find ourselves ruled by people we can't vote for, who are making laws we can't change, we will only have ourselves to blame.