A Vote for Leave Is Not a Vote for Democracy

The EU may not be perfect, but it is by no means as undemocratic and dominated by the commission as Leave campaigners argue. Voting to leave the EU is not a vote for democracy, because just like the EU, the UK political system is certainly not completely democratic.

via Abi Begum on Flickr

The Leave campaign argues that Brexit would signify the rejection of an undemocratic super-state run by unelected bureaucrats, and a return to the utopia of UK democracy, which is run for the people by the people. Neither of these assertions are true.

The kind of nationalism behind promises to 'make Britain great again', obscure the fact that we by no means live in a perfect democracy, mainly due to the House of Lords and our voting system.

The nature of democracy in this country must be questioned when our parliament's upper house is a semi-hereditary, unelected, overcrowded chamber of over 800 members, which still reserves places for nearly 100 hereditary peers (of which the vast majority are men), and 26 Bishops from the Church of England.

As John Harris has argued in the Guardian, "even if the Lords is a better place than it was 20 years ago, it remains a ludicrous affront to the most basic ideas of democracy and accountability." The House of Lords consists of exactly what the Leave campaign criticises in the EU- an unelected elite.

Another reason why it is deceptive to depict leaving the EU as a victory for democracy is our unjust voting system. First Past the Post is designed to maintain a two-party system that is dying out. In a time when disillusionment with mainstream political parties is on the rise, it is all the more important that smaller and newer parties get the representation and the voice they deserve.

Examples as recent as last year's general election clearly highlight the disparity between votes and seats for smaller parties.

In 2015 over a million people voted for the Greens, but they only held onto their one seat. As their only MP, Caroline Lucas said, "the political system in this country is broken. It's ever clearer tonight that the time for electoral reform is long overdue, and it's only proportional representation that will deliver a Parliament that is truly legitimate and better reflects the people it is meant to represent."

On the other side of the political spectrum, UKIP, the main critic of the EU as an undemocratic union, got nearly 13% of the vote but came away with only one seat.

How can we call Britain a truly representative democracy, when the system is designed to create this unfair disparity?

Is the EU really undemocratic?

As well as painting Britain as the perfect democracy, which will be the answer to everyone's problems, the Leave campaign depicts the EU as a totally undemocratic, authoritarian political union that is completely controlled by Brussels. If you look at the complicated inner workings of the EU, you find that this is not the case.

The European Commission, which has executive powers, but also acts like the civil service of the EU, is unelected, but so is our civil service. These 'unelected bureaucrats' that the Leave campaign constantly refers to do have some power, which is set by treaties agreed on by member states, but do not pass any laws.

Leaders of the member states, democratically elected representatives of EU citizens, have an important role in the policy direction of the EU, and meet regularly to form the European Council.

EU laws are then agreed by the Council of Ministers, comprising ministers from 28 EU governments and the European parliament, which unlike the UK parliament is directly elected using a democratic voting system- proportional representation.

There may be a disconnect between voters and their MEPs, and low turnouts at European elections, but this is largely because voters realise how much say the member states and the European parliament have in the running of the EU.

According to Full Fact, an impartial fact-checking website, the political leaders and ministers of the member states are the "main decision-makers when it comes to policies", and they decide the EU's overall direction and political agenda.

Another prominent claim by Brexiters is that Brussels decides most of our laws. An article on Full Fact that looks into this claim, concludes that any statistic on what percentage of our laws are influenced by the EU is unhelpful, because of the complexity of law making and the varying importance of individual laws.

It also concludes however that in agriculture, fisheries, external trade, and the environment, it's fair to say that EU legislation and policy is indeed the main driver of UK law and policy, although the UK retains some freedom of action in these areas, and that in other important areas--for example, welfare and social security, education, criminal law, family law and the NHS--the direct influence of the EU is far more limited.

Even in areas where the EU has more influence, the UK still has a considerable say in this decision making process.

Research by the London School of Economics found that even though the UK is more likely than other countries to vote against the majority in votes by the European Council, it was on the winning side 87% of the time between 2009-15.

Additionally, in Cameron's negotiations, he persuaded EU leaders to introduce a measure that would force the Commission to adapt or drop a law if more than half of national parliaments objected, but this will only come into effect if we vote to remain in the EU.

The EU may not be perfect, but it is by no means as undemocratic and dominated by the commission as Leave campaigners argue. Voting to leave the EU is not a vote for democracy, because just like the EU, the UK political system is certainly not completely democratic.

These issues highlight how crucial it is not to rely on nationalism or even patriotism in such a pivotal decision on the future of this country. Instead of using our hearts, it is important to use our heads as we go to the ballot box.

Full Fact is an impartial website that looks into the claims made by both sides of the debate. There are articles on all the topics relating to the EU referendum at fullfact.org


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