National Security & Defense

Brexit Reaction: Damn the People

Brexit headlines at a London newsstand, June 25, 2016. (Neil Hall/Reuters)
EU supporters question the legitimacy of Britain’s vote.

Those on the left often champion the cause of “power to the people.” That is, until the people decide to go in a direction contrary to their wishes. The decision of 52 percent of Britain’s voters to defy their political establishment has unleashed a torrent of abuse against those voters.

A petition now on the British government’s website demands a second referendum; it has gained more than 3.3 million signatories in just two days. That means that this summer Parliament will have to debate the subject of a second referendum. The basis for the legitimacy of the petition is ludicrous: It demands that the government restage the referendum because the winning vote for Leave was below 60 percent and was based on a turnout of less than 75 percent. But all British referendums (there have been two others in the last five years) have been decided on the basis of majority vote, and the turnout for the Brexit referendum was a full six points higher than the 2015 election that chose the current government.

Nonetheless, former Labour-party prime minister Tony Blair has added fuel to the fire by telling BBC’s Sunday Politics program: “As I’m looking at it here, I can’t see how we can do [another referendum]. But, you know, the point is, why rule anything out right now? As I say, you are going to have a reality to test yourself against.”

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David Lammy, the last Labour-party minister for higher education, went further and urged his colleagues in Parliament to ignore the vote and “stop the madness” of Brexit. “Parliament now needs to decide whether we should go forward with Brexit, and there should be a vote in Parliament next week,” he said. “Let us not destroy our economy on the basis of lies and the hubris of [Brexit backer] Boris Johnson.”

Media opponents of Brexit are now desperately extrapolating from a few letters to the editors of major papers that many Leave voters are already regretting their choice. “There’s a lot of protests going on,” Gillian Tett, of the pro-EU Financial Times, told ABC News. “A lot of people went into this ballot box making a protest vote. They were angry about everything. And now they have woken up and realize the consequences, there is indeed a tremendous sense of remorse. And that has a lot of implications for populist votes and populist politicians more broadly.”

It is absurd for Tett to believe that a second referendum would be dominated by people driven by Brexit remorse. Brexit supporters note that the vast majority of signatures on the petition are from people in London and in university towns, areas that voted heavily to remain in the EU. Their signatures are no indication the vote would be different a second time around.

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The irony is that the petition for a second referendum was actually created last month by William Oliver Healey, a university student who backed Brexit but feared it would lose last Thursday’s vote. He wanted to constrain the British government from using a referendum to expand the powers of the EU. He has since disowned his petition and has turned his anger on the Remain campaign. He issued a statement saying: “I am genuinely appalled by the behavior of some of the Remain campaign, how they are conducting themselves post-referendum not just with this petition but generally. The referendum was fairly funded; democratically endorsed, every vote was weighted equally, and I believe this was a true reflection of the mood of the country.”

But then there are some who believe the country can be held hostage to the will of a few. On Sunday, Scotland’s leader Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC that her parliament may veto Brexit altogether. She claims that under the United Kingdom’s devolution of powers to Scotland, “logic dictates” that a Brexit vote be held in the Scottish parliament. More likely, Sturgeon is using her feeble argument to bolster her case for a new referendum on Scottish independence — something she says is “highly likely.”

#related#All this shows just how reluctant the Left is to accept the sovereign will of the people. Remain supporters’ petulant reaction to their loss has also led, though, to some remorse on their side. The German news site reported on an election-night watch party in Berlin filled with British expatriates. A man named Sam, who is from the British city of Lincoln, had voted in favor of Britain’s staying in the EU. “I’m worried about the world we’re going into,” he said. “This is more regression than progression.” But Sam was also critical of how the Remain camp has conducted itself. “The whole Remain campaign was really condescending. People hate being told that they don’t know what’s best for them.”

That’s precisely why the pettiness of the reaction to last week’s vote by Remain supporters is likely to lose pro-EU advocates more support than they gain.


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