Opinion Editorial/Letter to the Editor
The Irish Times
The Irish Times
RE: The Message of the UK’s Brexit Referendum and Fintan O’Toole’s Fantasy, The Irish Times, June 25 & 26, 2016
After Napoleon fell, Talleyrand—a leading French diplomat—purportedly said of the returning Bourbons: They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing. And here in Ireland, our modern Talleyrand—Fintan O’Toole—can find nothing good to say about Brexit, and nothing but bad on behalf of its many supporters. He casually compares those supporters to: fantasists, drunkards, xenophobes, authoritarian nationalists, racists, chauvinists, chancers, impersonators, etc, etc. But a collection of insults do not make an intellectual argument. More than half the U.K. voted for Brexit. They did so despite the fact that the Remain camp had the support of: the BBC and all of the elite media; the Tory and Labour parties; Prime Minister Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition; the universities and the unions; and the multinational bankers and the City of London. One might think that if Brexit’s supporters overcame all that—and more—they might be entitled to some minimum grudging respect. But Fintan O’Toole, like Marie Antoinette, would rather tell us that—yes, the peasants are revolting.
After losing a fairly fought election, the proper response—among serious people who hope to win the people’s confidence in the future—is to ask: What did we do wrong? What is wrong with our side’s message? What can we do to improve our position for the next time—because in normal democratic politics, there is always a next time. If one’s best response after losing an election is to malign one’s opponents and to call the electorate stupid, then, just maybe, the electorate will give their ear to advisors who show them more respect. It is also possible that losing an election is a sign that one’s position is weaker than one thought. In short, losing an election, including a referendum, is an opportunity for thoughtful introspection, not lashing out at the victors and their supporters.
As for reasons to vote for Brexit: there are many, but one stands out. The European Union is not a meaningfully democratic body. Members of the European Commission—the EU’s powerful executive arm—are not appointed by simple majority action in the European Parliament; likewise, members of the European Commission are not removable by simple majority action in the European Parliament. Had the Remain Camp and the EU’s leadership put forward a real programme to make the Commission subject to normal, parliamentary democratic controls, then a majority of the U.K. electorate might very well have voted to continue with and in the wider European project. But the EU has proven time and again to be incapable of substantial reform along democratic lines.*
Giving up a component of one’s national sovereignty to a larger entity can make sense. It makes sense if, in return for the democratic control one gives up in one’s national entity, one receives a comparable amount of democratic control in the larger entity.** But the voters of the member states of the EU have no such democratic controls through their elected members of the European Parliament, and until such time as they do, those who supported Brexit can justly claim the mantle of 1776, 1789, and—while we are at it—1916.
Seth Barrett Tillman
Éire—19 Sivan 5776
*As one Irishman explained: “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).
**Kaisa Helmbring, Procedural Reforms of the EU Legislative Process—Increased Power for the European Parliament? 6 (circa 2008) (“There is a discrepancy between the powers transferred to the community from the national Parliaments and the control of the E[uropean] P[arliament] over these powers. The EU suffers from a democratic deficit.”),
Compare Professor Laurent Pech & Professor Steve Peers, Referendum Briefing 3: Does the EU have a ‘democratic deficit’?, EU Law Analysis: Expert insight into EU law developments (June 15, 2016, 01:40 AM) (“Furthermore, it’s possible for the Commission [as a whole] to be dismissed by the European Parliament—just like the UK’s House of Commons can pass a vote of non-confidence in a government.”), with id. (failing to mention that dismissal requires an absolute majority of all members AND two-thirds of those voting, which is hardly in line with common parliamentary practice).
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SethBTillman (@SethBTillman )
My most recent prior post: Seth Barrett Tillman, Some Late Thoughts on the American Civil War and Southern Identity, The New Reform Club (June 26, 2016, 3:33 PM).
My recent prior posts (on Brexit) include:
Seth Barrett Tillman, Dewey beats Truman ... Dewey beats Truman ... Dewey beats Truman ..., The New Reform Club (June 24, 2016, 10:32 AM);