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Keep Calm And Carry On Remoaning

08/05/2017 13:12 BST | Updated 08/05/2017 13:12 BST

There is a creeping gradation in the language used against those who oppose Brexit. 'Remoaners' has a gently mocking tone to it. But now more menacing terms such as 'saboteurs' or 'treachery' are being used by sections of the right-wing media. Theresa May's rhetoric and political manoeuvres facilitate this process. She justified calling the election because of wanting total unity for Brexit negotiations. She said outside 10 Downing Street that Brussels is trying to undermine June's General Election. Now, to want to stop Brexit is not only denying 'the will of the people', it is failing to do one's patriotic duty.

This kind of debased political discourse should cause alarm. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, as Thomas Jefferson warned. Public debate being constrained because of claims the argument is over, or that debating the matter harms Britain in negotiations, on a fundamental level, threatens free speech. The argument hasn't been won, just because Leave won the vote. Implying that speaking out against Brexit is doing one's country a disservice is more befitting of a post-colonial African dictatorship than the country with the 'Mother of all Parliaments'. The negotiations with Brussels will likely grow tenser still, as negotiation teams compete. It will be fertile ground for a nationalism that throttles free speech for the sake of 'unity'. When the Conservatives are re-elected, the capacity to speak out against Brexit will only grow harder, particularly for Remain Conservative MPs who are shackled by a heavily pro-Brexit manifesto. It's a sobering prospect to imagine politicians not speaking out for fear of ad hominem attacks from the likes of The Daily Mail or The Sun.

The spurious claim that to criticise Brexit is to scorn the will of the people is gotten away with partly because of a certain veneration for last June's referendum. It was democracy in action, a cleansing moment, where 'ordinary' or 'real' people finally stuck it to out of touch 'experts' and an arrogant metropolitan 'elite'.

This narrative must not go unchallenged. The referendum was a crass spectacle, that far from respecting voters or British democracy, treated them both with contempt. Whilst the Remain campaign might have been guilty of citing gloomy economic forecasts as certainties as opposed to informed guesswork, the campaign did not outright lie to voters. That particular accolade belongs to Vote Leave who cared about the health of Britain's democracy so much that they fed voters untruths. Their infamous claim that £350 million would be spent on the NHS after Britain leaves the EU was a lie. Jeremy Hunt admitted on Sunday's Andrew Marr Show that a new Conservative government won't spend that amount after Brexit. The claim that "Turkey is joining the EU", was a lie. When it comes to a referendum of such magnitude, the legitimacy of the debate matters. If voters have been misled, that cannot be ignored. Keep on Remoaning and reminding about the abhorrent cynicism of the Leave campaign. Being a bore about it might ensure the disgraces are not forgotten about.

The ignominy was possible partly because of the farce that the Leave campaign could run a campaign by people who were not accountable to promises. Accountability needs to be reinstalled into the Brexit process. Ongoing questioning of the Brexit process upholds democracy far more than the executive having free reign. There needs to be checks and balances. These are required given how the dominance of various vacuous terms suggests that basic understanding of Brexit has not matured. 'Soft Brexit' and 'Hard Brexit' are slogans devoid of meaning. Clarity about the country's future hasn't got beyond May's platitude that 'Brexit means Brexit'. The greater good is not found in throttling free speech, but instead upholding democratic scrutiny. The calls for some form of second democratic vote on the terms of the deal are fully justified. If Brexiteers were genuinely secure in their claim of the sunny uplands of Brexit Britain, they would welcome such a vote, rather than run scared.