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Brexit and the Mirror-Image of the Truth

Magna est veritas et prævalet—“Great is the truth and its prevails”—is one of the few Latin phrases that I remember. Unfortunately, I do not think that it is altogether true, nor is it true even in its often misquoted form, Magna est veritas et prævalebit, “Great is the truth and it will prevail”—memorably translated by Billy Bunter, an indolent and greedy hero of schoolboy stories of my youth, as “Great is the truth and it will prevail a bit.”

Alas, not even in this somewhat weakened form is it true. I think a more accurate depiction of the sociological relationship with truth would be “Great is the mirror-image of the truth and it will often prevail.”

A fine instance of this unedifying fact is the widespread response to the temporary suspension of Parliament by the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. It has been very widely depicted, both in the world’s press and in Britain itself, as all but a coup d’état, the political manoeuvre of an incipient dictator, at the least an authoritarian measure. In fact it is the very opposite of these things: it is designed to prevent a coup. The mirror-image of truth has very largely prevailed.

The fundamental facts are these. The British Parliament agreed to hold a referendum of the population on the question of Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. Although the referendum had no force from the purely constitutional point of view, it was clearly not intended as a glorified opinion poll and it was implicit that the winning side—that which obtained 50 per cent of the votes cast plus one—would decide the issue.

No strong objections were raised in advance to this foolish manner of proceeding by those in favour of Britain remaining in the Union because they felt they would win with ease. Despite—or perhaps because of—the strong support of both David Cameron, then Prime Minister, and Barack Obama, then President of the United States, for the campaign for Britain to remain in the Union, those in favour of leaving gained 52 per cent of the votes.

The British Parliament, the majority of whose members were in favour of remaining, then passed a resolution in obedience to the referendum result that Britain should leave. It would have been too brazen a defiance of the popular opinion that they themselves had, canvassed, quite without necessity, for them to have done otherwise.

But having done this, they then opposed both the deal with the Union negotiated by Mrs. May, and the withdrawal of Britain without any agreement as to the terms of that agreement. The European Union had plausibly reiterated that it would not renegotiate the terms of the agreement: indeed, I had no reason why it should do so, given Mrs. May’s craven surrender on all fronts.

Thus Parliament wanted neither the only deal then possible, nor no deal at all. The inexorable conclusion is that it was attempting to prevent any kind of withdrawal whatsoever, even in Mrs. May’s extremely attenuated form. In other words, it set itself up against the will of the people as expressed in the referendum. And this is so irrespective of the wisdom or folly of Britain withdrawing from the Union.

In other words, Parliament was expressing its authority over popular opinion, presumably on the ground that it knew best what was good for the very people on whose opinion on the question it had just sought. If anyone could be accused of mounting a coup, albeit a slow-moving and indirect one, and of political authoritarianism, it was Parliament itself.

Let us suppose that the vote had gone the other way—that 52 per cent of those who voted had done so to remain. Does anyone suppose for a moment that the disappointed leavers would not have accepted the vote and instead manoeuvred to thwart the will of the majority? A few enthusiasts might perhaps still have argued for eventual withdrawal at some time in the future, but would certainly not have obstructed or threatened the continuance of the government as the remainers have done. Who, one might ask, are the democrats round here?

Those who now demonstrate against Mr. Johnson’s manoeuvre do so because they claim to want Parliament to have its say. But Parliament has had its say for three years, without resolving the issue, and moreover with a clear determination to thwart any implementation of the resolution it had passed because it never had any intention of carrying out the people’s wishes as expressed in the referendum.

To hold a referendum, or plebiscite, and then ignore the result is now a European tradition, but to call it a democratic procedure is surely to twist the word beyond any possible meaning. Both the French and the Dutch publics voted against the proposed European Constitution by a wider margin than that by which the British voted to leave the Union, but got it anyway in a revised form, as a binding treaty rather than as a constitution. The political class thus triumphed over the population, banking on the fundamental apathy of the latter. But this a dangerous game.

The protesters against Mr. Johnson’s manoeuvre are not trying to defend parliamentary democracy, about which they do not give a fig: what they are protesting against is that the votes of those persons whom they consider ignorant, uneducated, prejudiced, xenophobic, and so forth, have a chance of being taken seriously, indeed as seriously as their own. This is an outrage to their dignity.

But it has to be remembered that the educated are not ipso facto invariably wiser than the uneducated, nor are they necessarily the stoutest of defenders of freedom, a fact evident on many American campuses, where opinion is free only as long as it coincides with the current doxa. Indeed, the educated are among the greatest foes of freedom today, or perhaps, to be fair, I should put it the other way round: among the greatest foes of freedom today, are many of the educated. They are the anointed whose vision must prevail, and mirror-image truth serves that end.

One word of caution: time is short, but ample enough for further betrayal.

Reader Discussion

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on September 04, 2019 at 09:30:18 am

[…] and then ignore the result is now a European tradition, but to call this democracy is absurd. Brexit and the Mirror-Image of the Truth syndicated from […]

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Image of Brexit and the Mirror-Image of the Truth | Best Legal Services
Brexit and the Mirror-Image of the Truth | Best Legal Services
on September 04, 2019 at 13:18:20 pm

"the anointed whose vision "
As per Thomas Sowell's book.

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Image of Neil M. Dunn
Neil M. Dunn
on September 04, 2019 at 17:28:31 pm

A certain amount of dishonesty is to be expected of any government but the mendacity of the Western representative governments has become comprehensive.

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Image of aelfheld
aelfheld
on September 04, 2019 at 19:02:26 pm

[…] Does anyone suppose for a moment that the disappointed leavers would have refused to accept the vote and manœuvred to thwart the will of the majority? A few might still have argued for eventual withdrawal, but would not have obstructed or threatened the continuance of the government as the remainers have done. Who are the democrats round here? […]

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Image of The political class has set itself up against the will of the people | Fans of Theodore Dalrymple
The political class has set itself up against the will of the people | Fans of Theodore Dalrymple
on September 05, 2019 at 15:39:57 pm

"They are the anointed whose vision must prevail, and mirror-image truth serves that end."

Ever get the feeling that what we are observing is an attempt to reconstitute the incestuous interlocking monarchial nexus of 16 - 17 th century Europe.

Goodness, all the Eurocrats are Hapsburg wannabees!

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Guttenburgs Press and Brewery
on September 06, 2019 at 09:38:55 am

"“Great is the truth and it will, HOPEFULLY, prevail”

"A certain amount of dishonesty is to be expected of any government." Possibly not unexpected, after all, any one who thinks they have the answers isn't to be trusted. Expected? Hardly. "...but the mendacity of the Western representative governments has become comprehensive." The mendacity of government IS comprehensive. Remember my axiom of politics. Those who wish to rule can't be trusted.

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willfulknowledge
on September 09, 2019 at 11:45:31 am

This comment seems to me badly off the mark.

The problem about the referendum, was that it under-determined what should happen. Decisions had to be made about what the UK would want outside the EU, and once these were taken, and in the light of the problems of the Irish border, it was not clear that one could have expected anything better than the deal that Mrs May got from the EU.

This, however, was judged unsatisfactory by a number of MPs who favoured Brexit (while those who didn't could well argue that it was not clear why anyone in their right mind would favour Mrs May's deal over continued membership of the EU).

One has, then, had (i) hopes that a better negotiated deal could be achieved (but where no-one who favours this has yet explained how they would overcome the full range of problems associated with the Irish border); (ii) claims - which seem completely baseless - that the referendum result meant that people endorsed a 'no deal' Brexit.

The consequences of all this are, indeed, problematic. But it is not clear that any sympathy should be shown towards those who are trying to push a no-deal Brexit onto the UK - when virtually all the informed commentary about it, indicates that it would be a disaster, especially for poorer people, and in terms of what is likely to happen in Ireland.
Johnson seems to me also to be behaving in dangerously radical ways regarding the conventions that have operated in the British Conservative Party, and also in Parliament, in ways the dangers of which any reader of Burke should recognise.

Should those in positions of power turn their back on the referendum? This looks to me a tricky issue, but it is certainly understandable that they might think that they should, given that the current state of the debate seems to indicate quite clearly that Mrs May's deal is poor, and a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster. The underlying message here would seem to me to be that one should recognise - in the light of the strengths of Parliamentary democracy - that referenda should be dropped from the UK political system, because of their problematic consequences.

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Jeremy Shearmur
on September 09, 2019 at 16:54:20 pm

You cannot decide a posteriori the validity or significance of the referendum, based on the "informed commentaries" which support your opinion. I also can quote many informed commentaries pointing in the opposite direction.
Instead, you have to respect the democratic rules: sorry, but this time you lost.

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Paolo Pagliaro
on September 28, 2019 at 18:10:08 pm

In his otherwise thoughtful comment, Jeremy Shearmur raises a false question: " Should those in positions of power turn their back on the referendum?". In view of the under-determined nature of the choice on offer at the referendum, those in power need to go back to the public for confirmation of any settlement they can obtain. It appears that the only deal in town at this late date is Mrs May's deal, at best modified to allow for customs control at the sea border with the mainland so that the Ulster economy could remain aligned to the EU and the Republic.

In the referendum, 48 per cent voted Remain in greater knowledge of what it would be to remain a member of the EU that the 52 per cent who voted Leave. Various terms of Leave were on offer. Some of that 52 per cent may have voted to leave without any deal. Others may have voted to leave on one of the many options -- for example the Norway option and the Swiss deal -- on offer by the Leave campaigners. Some others may have voted in the expectation of a different ill-defined deal more favourable to the UK than either Norway or Swiss deal. It would be unwise to conclude that 52 per cent had voted for No Deal or any other particular deal

In a representative democracy parliament should have been tasked to find a compromise through informed debate. Informed debate and rational discourse to arrive at policy when voters' choice is under-determined is the finest achievement of a stable representative democracy. British and Irish governments in the final 20 years of the twentieth century demonstrated to the world what rational discourse and compromise could achieve in Ulster. The peace process in Ulster is an enviable outcome viewed from home and abroad. This settlement also makes a persuasive case that majority rule is not necessarily democratic governance. Unfortunately, Mrs May did not understand the role of parliament in a representative democracy. She was focused on trying to placate one extreme wing of her own party and allowing a veto power to a fringe element, DUP, in British politics. Be that as it may, the clock is ticking.

With the clock ticking, there is only one option. Accept that 52 per cent did not vote for No Deal, and hence Mrs May's deal with modification as above is the only Leave option. Put it back to the people to vote.

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S P Chakravarty
on December 18, 2019 at 15:08:19 pm

After three years and more, still the same old furphies are trotted out in defence of a political elite which, with the assistance of jumped-up nobodies, seek to emulate the EU totalitarian crowd in charge of the EU federalisation project. Let’s be clear, the Brexit referendum was mooted, debated and decided upon. The sniping from various EU worthies was there from the beginning. The very notion that the British might decide to get out was met by ridicule and worse. It really was a kindergarten dummy-spitting exercise from the start on the part of the EU apparatchiks. So Cameron and Co decided upon the terms of reference. They were abundantly clear and easy to understand. Debated at length and at last voted upon, the British political class almost to a man and woman, and in between, lost their nerve, briefly, but resolved to choose to sabotage Brexit rather than govern.
The May fudge was a fudge. The UK government should have negotiated on behalf of the UK, not give the game away. Three and a half years have been wasted so far. Boris may waste some more time. He is not to be trusted on this. However, the referendum result should have been honoured, notice served, the country prepared for independence and the rump EU potentates dealt with at arms length. The UK should have stopped negotiating as soon as it was obvious the EU were determined to sabotage the process. However, May and her advisers, aided and abetted by a small coterie of traitors to the nation, went along with the EU in order to sabotage Brexit.
It was clear what people voted for. LEAVE was on the ticket.

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Image of Jacob Jonker.
Jacob Jonker.

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