"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
Winston Churchill's words couldn't be more diametrically opposed to the perception of the WWII leader as a people's hero. Combine that with Churchill's internationalist legacy as a champion of European unity - he is widely considered to be a forefather of the European Union - and the military-obsessed nationalists so eager to see Britain detach itself from its nearest neighbours may need to re-evaluate their role models.
Churchill's disparaging comment about the very electorate that handed him the position of Prime Minister may at first seem excessively harsh. However, if any event in our national history has demonstrated the inherent deficiency in entrusting hugely consequential decisions to 'the will of the people', it is June's EU referendum.
Swayed largely by decades of right-wing media bile directed towards the European project, as well as the rise of UKIP in areas of deprivation previously inclined towards the Labour Party, it is now widely accepted that the vote to leave the European Union was in no small part a consequence of a campaign of misinformation, false promises and vague notions of 'sovereignty' with no grounding in reality. The dawning realisation of the magnitude of the decision taken was reflected in a recent survey conducted by the British Election Study, which this week concluded that were the referendum to be held now, 54% of the electorate would vote to remain.
Why wouldn't they? It has not taken long for some of the widely augured negative repercussions of a 'leave' vote to manifest themselves. Measured against the dollar, the pound is currently over 20% down on where it was a year ago, ranked below the currencies of Haiti, Tajikistan, Yemen and Mongolia. This dramatic decline has been attributed to fears that May and associates are pursuing a 'hard Brexit'. On a socio-human level, recorded hate crime rose by 41% in the month following the referendum, with homophobic attacks up a staggering 147%. It is abundantly clear to anyone willing to take a step back and objectively analyse the situation that 23rd June emboldened many right-wing extremists to vent their bigotry openly.
A remarkable taboo has emerged from the ashes of the referendum outcome. Many Brexiteers take exception to any debate on the terms of our departure from the EU, let alone the validity of the vote itself (51.9% is, after all, barely a mandate for the most destructive and disruptive action taken by a government in modern history). Despite widespread promises of a Norway-style relationship with the Union, including access to the single market, we are staring down the barrel of a hard Brexit gun. But is the fatal wound really inevitable?
There are numerous reasons why this referendum cannot - and indeed should not - be viewed through the same lens as any other. First, there is the aforementioned economic turmoil, which is sure to be exacerbated if Article 50 is triggered, despite the finger-in-ears syndrome taking hold of the nation's eurosceptics. Second, this result is an unprecedented threat to the very existence of the United Kingdom. With a second Scottish independence referendum now increasingly likely, leaving the European Union against the wishes of Scotland, Northern Ireland and London could fracture the union irreparably. Lastly, the Scottish referendum issue can be applied to this very situation. While the SNP did, superficially at least, call for the result of the September 2014 referendum to be respected, they have always maintained that a substantive change in circumstances could open the way to another plebiscite. Surely, now that the impact of the mere prospect of Brexit has proven itself more disastrous than anyone could have anticipated, there is sufficient impetus to talk ourselves off the ledge?
In truth, this was a decision that was never safe in the hands of the British public. Our country's future has been jeopardised because of one man's need to placate his party backbenchers and stem the flow of Tory voters to UKIP. Now that the future has been rendered dangerously uncertain, the wound haemorrhaging profusely, it is time for our elected representatives to do their duty and apply the tourniquet. If this means that Parliament vetoes Brexit on the basis of the final direction of travel determined by the government, then so be it. A second referendum on the proposed definitive form of Brexit should not be dismissed so hurriedly either. Far from 'subverting the will of the British people', this would empower voters to make a truly informed decision on the substance rather than conjecture and hyperbole. That is real democracy.