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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Message of the UK’s Brexit Referendum and Fintan O’Toole’s Fantasy

Opinion Editorial/Letter to the Editor
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 recent prior posts (on Brexit) include:

Tweet: http://tinyurl.com/htakspz


Unknown said...

It's beyond politics for many of the commentators. They have convinced themselves that they are more than the better side in a political debate; they are, the only reasonable position. It's nothing more or less than a fact, to them, that they are correct. So, by implication, any disagreement must be either foolish or evil.

TBlakely said...

There is nothing more spiteful and petty than a spurned elite. To compromise with their 'lessers' is unthinkable. They must be bludgeoned in line.

Scratch a leftist and find a fascist thug.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Good post, Seth. And not just the usurpations of the executive [European Commission]--but the EU courts as well. Damn, this all sounds familiar to many Americans.


Britain is "obliged" to accept European Union laws and judgments, according to an official report slipped out by ministers ahead of the formal start of the referendum campaign.

The 96-page paper, which was published without fanfare, was described by Brexit campaigners as the "Government report No.10 does not want you to read".

The document highlights the fact that Britain has to adopt EU law and accept the rulings of the European Court of Justice.

Lawrence Serewicz said...

I am always bemused that people say the EU is non-democratic and then demand that they retain sovereignty for their unelected monarchy. If there could be a prize for hypocrisy it would be this argument.
What no one wants to accept is that the UK is not a democracy. It has the veneer of democracy. No one is required to apply for Article 50. The vote was not binding *in any way*. That is not democracy. That is a popularity contest or an opinion poll. The public, and even knowledgeable commentators such as Seth and Tom, have bought this illusion hook, line, and sinker. They will tell us about taking back sovereignty. They will tell us about democracies taking back control of their laws. Yet, none of that has happened nor will any of it happen because the people have voted on it.
The UK has not applied for Article 50. As such, it has not even begun to exit from the EU. At this stage, the vote was an elaborate popularity contest. No government is bound by its result. It is not legally binding in any way.
As a result, we have been treated to the great illusion of "democracy" as if the people have spoken and the government will follow the people's will. The UK is not a popular sovereignty like the US. The people in the US can dissolve their government by vote. The people of the UK cannot do that. Parliament cannot do that for they are not the government. The Crown rules the people through their government which the people are given the opportunity to vote on selecting. To repeat, almost ad nauseum, the UK is not and will never be a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.
At the moment, Boris and company are simply relying on the vote to wring concessions from the EU. They literally held the vote so they could better negotiate their withdrawal from the EU. They do not want to do it and only want to find a way to either wring concessions from the EU, one last deal, or show that their hands were forced since the EU would not accept that deal.
Every day that passes without Article 50 being initiated and the myriad of ways that the next PM will search for it to be avoided (push it to Parliament so that it will not be the PM's fault or his party's fault) will be the likely approach.
One thing is certain, the next PM will not initiate Article 50 as one of their first acts as PM. That will tell you everything you needed to know about UK "democracy".

Cybrludite said...

"I am always bemused that people say the EU is non-democratic and then demand that they retain sovereignty for their unelected monarchy. If there could be a prize for hypocrisy it would be this argument."

Except that Monarchy has no actual power, unlike the EU Commission. Yes, Parliament could ignore the referendum, and they'd likely find themselves out of office next election. What next? Are you going to claim that the House of Windsor are secretly Reptiod aliens?

Martin said...

"But a collection of insults do not make an intellectual argument."

Yet another way in which Brexit and the Trump phenomenon map each other almost perfectly.

Lawrence Serewicz said...

The monarch has no actual power? This seems a strange claim since they exercise prerogative power and can withhold assent and consent to bills.
Also, Parliament has changed laws to suit there interests, in particular the change in the FOIA to exempt them entirely after Prince Charles letters were disclosed.
Not all power has to be exercised publicly to be effective.
The Queen would decide a hung parliament, which was almost the case in 2015. The Queen maintains liason with all government departments. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Households_of_the_United_Kingdom#The_Royal_Household_today
You may wish to acquaint yourself with the work of Fred Greenstein and the hidden hand presidency of Eishenhower. https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20111127112407AA3Dto1
Why do you assume parliament would be out of office if they ignored the vote? We know that 48% wanted to remain. Also the vote is uneven across the country so it is not a party issue (yet) so a purely parliamentary vote would avoid that issue since the voters rarely, if ever, elect their MPs on single issues. There is no evidence, and you have not provided any, that the MPs would suffer for this vote if it ever comes to them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

If the UK is undemocratic, then Brexit was wise, for the EU is even more so, as Seth Tillman shows here.

As for the crown, it seems it serves more as a check-and-balance for it cannot issue laws. Unlike the EU!


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