Wednesday 29 August 2018

Would Another Referendum on Brexit Really lead to Civil Unrest?

Nigel Farage, the ex-UKIP leader, has been warning ever since the 2016 referendum that civil unrest would result from the failure of the British government to fulfil his particular version of (hard) Brexit. In 2017, he went further saying he would "don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines."

More recently, Labour front bench MPs appear to be echoing Farage’s threat, with both Barry Gardner (shadow International Trade secretary) and John McDonnell (shadow Chancellor), opining on the issue, with Gardner predicting:

"If people want to be able to achieve change through democratic means, if they feel that that is being denied to them, they then turn to other more socially disruptive ways of expressing their views, and that is the danger here."

McDonnell added “we have to be extremely careful. A number of us now are worried about the rise of the far right in this country and elsewhere," when commenting on the possibility of another referendum on Brexit. Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary has been more positive about holding another referendum though.

Tory MP, Priti Patel went further writing on the Conservative Home website, that the prime minister’s Chequers compromise plan, would lead to people seeking “alternative ways to express their views and frustrations with those who have the privilege of governing our country.” She, like McDonnell, linked Brexit to the rise of the far right in Europe, although there doesn’t appear to be a clamour to leave the European Union in the rest of the bloc.

It is a possibility that some people might feel justified in causing trouble, including violence, if they perceive their wishes are being ignored. On the other hand, there is just as much chance, even more so, I think, that a disastrously chaotic exit, which people like Patel want, with shortages of medicines, food and other things, could lead to widespread civil unrest. Either way, we should plan for civil unrest.

As always with the Brexit debate, there are reflections on the other side of the Atlantic. US President, Donald Trump, has warned that his policies will be "violently" overturned if the Democrats win November's mid-term elections. He told Evangelical leaders that the vote was a "referendum" on freedom of speech and religion, and that these were threatened by "violent people,” meaning anti-fascist protesters, like when Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville last year, by a far right supporter driving his car into the crowd.

You have to admire the chutzpah, at least, of a Republican president, accusing the Democrats of frustrating the will of the voters, after all the trouble Republicans gave Barak Obama over his health care proposals, and even further back to the ‘gridlock’ in Congress of Bill Clinton’s Democrat presidency. And, lest we forget, Hillary Clinton, got 3 million more votes than Trump at the presidential elections of 2016.

It appears that democracy only comes into things when certain votes have gone your way in the past. Clearly, more self-seeking than noble intention. The mid-term Congressional elections in the US are just part of that country’s democratic checks and balances, existing for centuries, just like the presidential electoral college system, which handed victory to Trump in 2016.

Likewise, in the UK, as ex-foreign secretary David Miliband has said, and I hasten to say I’m not a fan of Miliband senior, by any stretch of the imagination, when he wrote in The Guardian that “democracy did not end on 23 June 2016.” If the Leavers are so confident that they represent the ‘people’s will,’ why are they so afraid of reconfirming this important decision?

There is another possibility, that a sensible compromise can be reached, but the Chequers plan is not it. I have argued before that joining the European Economic Area, perhaps for a temporary period, is the most sensible thing to do, outside of another referendum. Sensible, doesn’t come into it though, for some people.

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