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Brexit Is A Mess, But It Didn't Have To Be

02/02/2017 09:37 | Updated 02 February 2017
Alexandra Thompson via Getty Images

Let's face it: Brexit is a mess. Remainers and Leavers are at each others throats, political parties are divided down the middle, Nigel Farage is actually happy and our Prime Minister is playing her cards so close to her chest not even she knows what hand she's holding. So far, our liberation from European imperialism has been opaque, confusing and angry, and worst of all, it's left a lot of us with a lack of appetite for democracy. But it didn't have to be this way.

First, our lovely unelected PM, who believes it's vital that no one, including the people she serves and possibly even herself, has a clue what Brexit looks like, so that we don't reveal our hand too early in negotiations. This argument could, of course, be used for almost anything. Maybe we shouldn't discuss publicly whether we continue to supply arms to Middle Eastern dictators with links to terrorist organisations, in the interests of commercial sensitivity (with the growing role of private interests in public provision, this argument could be used for almost anything)? Maybe our government shouldn't let us know if they are considering reducing defence spending, for matters of national security? Maybe we shouldn't have a conversation about welfare, health or education due to matters of... well, I'm sure we'll find something.

Accepting such arguments would quickly lead to our acceptance no longer being needed for an awful lot of things. Brexit isn't a poker game: it's people's jobs, people's families, people's lives. The terms of Brexit will be of huge consequence for a good chunk of the rest of this century: it is vital that we all have some ownership and say over what these look like, as well as the slew of trade deals coming our way too. Some concessions have now been made by the government, with a white paper on Brexit promised and a degree of parliamentary scrutiny happening last night, yet it took a protracted legal battle and even more division in the country to get us there.

This is far from the only mistake being made post-referendum, however. The idea that it is somehow right that MP's (or even unelected officials) 'stop' Brexit is dangerously immoral and risks creating a legacy of permanently disenfranchised segments of the population, and setting a dangerous precedent for discarding democracy when it is inconvenient. MP's should have the right to scrutinise the deals proposed and temporarily block the triggering of Article 50 if they do not think it is in the best interests of the country, but to permanently block it should never be on the table.

Yes, the referendum was technically advisory (if you ever have to use the word technically to defend your position, you're in trouble), yes Parliament is technically sovereign, but we are a society that is supposed to value democracy. Think about what that word means. We elect representatives not to cede all authority over to them for the next 5 years, but because it is the most practical way of running a country of over 60 million people: their authority stems from us, the people. You cannot defer to said authority when doing so denies the very thing it rests upon.

Just as culpable as the Remainers are the tabloids that have abandoned all attempts at nuance, balance or middle-ground. Along with Theresa May's dogged determinism to personally decide the fate of the country along with a handful of woefully unprepared and ill-equipped Cabinet members, tabloid reporting has led us to this position: it has created a crude contrast between 'hard' Brexit and no Brexit at all, in which any suggestion of scrutinising the terms we Leave under or starting a conversation about what these should be is misconstrued as defying the will of the people. Our beloved press, owned by a handful of billionaires, has by and large poured resources into ensuring the public stays in its deeply divided state- I wonder why?

Nuance, compromise and morality has been left at the door not because of the 'ignorant masses', but because of the machinations and fumblings of an elite and the prejudices of those that occupy positions of power. Contrary to what most commentators will profess, the aftermath of the referendum debate in fact highlights the need for more transparency, accountability and democracy, not less.

Perhaps then the longest-lasting legacy of Brexit, once we're past the trade negotiations and the inevitable economic turmoil that will ensue, will be the disparagement of direct democracy, the contempt for the idea of allowing ordinary citizens a direct role in deciding their collective future. Yet this is exactly the opposite of the argument we should draw, and plays right into the hands of the few, not the many. Whilst I disagree with the decision to Leave and believe it will cause us to have to face a number of difficult challenges in the future, it isn't the source of our current woes: the shape of Brexit being controlled by a few is.

A Brexit that was open, transparent and democratic from the start, in which efforts from both sides were made to respect the vote, respect the nuance of what that does and doesn't mean and above all respect each other and a press that accurately reported the positions and debates, rather than treating it like a round of Robot Wars, would be producing a much better deal for us all. You cannot claim to be fulfilling the wishes of the people if you deny them the right to clarify them at every turn, you cannot claim to be acting in the best interests of the country if the country is telling you you're wrong and you cannot claim to be doing journalism when you reduce important debates into crude partisan positions. The British people, whatever their creed or colour, deserve better than this.

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