Democracy And The Will Of The People

owen jones

Synopsis: In this short opinion piece I will be considering what the will of the people (WOTP) might actually be, (and by extension what it is not) and will also consider the argument that Leaving the European Union is a democratic imperative following the EU referendum.


What is the will of the people?

To determine the will of the people who voted to leave the EU it is surely pertinent to ask what were the Leave statements and campaign promises at the time?


Vote Leave Campaign.

1.  Staying within the single market.
Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union was mentioned a lot  (for an explanation of the difference between single market and customs union click here) .

2.  Immigration – better control of our borders.

3. Sovereignty – the principle that decisions about the UK should be made in the UK 

4. £350 million a week for the NHS
(without which, vote Leave director Dominic Cummings believe’s Leave would have lost the referendum)

5. More jobs / be better off


Who Are “The People”?

72% of the UK population who were eligible to vote actually did so.  Of those 52% voted leave and 48% remain.  Of those who voted Leave the majority were unemployed / older (Lord Ashcroft Polls)


The Will Of The People  Part 1.

Based on the winning Leave campaign it would seem that the Will Of The People is:

1: to stay in the single market, for example on a Norway model.
As part of its access to the single market Norway is required to sign up to pay into the EU budget and accept freedom of movement.  While this would seem to be at odds with the desire to have control of our borders and the will of the people in fact it is not.  The majority of people are willing to accept freedom of movement in exchange for access to the single market – including 50% of Leave voters. (see here and here)

2: to have control of our borders
As already shown immigration is considered acceptable in order to stay in the single market.  Newspaper reports and squawks from business leaders are wakening people to the idea that we need migrant labour, not just to keep our businesses running but also the NHS.  Furthermore the original debate confused issues.  The Leave campaign mentioned immigrants from Africa, Syria and Turkey – all outside the EU – we already have the powers to restrict entry as they are not covered by EU legislation.  Lastly we can already expel EU immigrants after three months if they are a burden on the state – something of which most people (Leave or Remain) were not aware and which many Leave voters confirm they are happy with.

3: Assert our sovereignty

Despite what the barrage of anti-EU press said, Section 2.1 of  this government white paper, signed by Theresa May, confirms that we never lost our sovereignty in the first place.  We do need to ask what do we mean by sovereignty?  If it is the ability to assert our will on our citizens without considering or bothering other countries then that is possible only so far as one pulls up the draw bridge and has no external trade or alliances.  As soon as there is trade (whether EU or World Trade Organisation) there will be international agreements and those agreements will be enforced by international (not UK) courts.  Our sovereignty is supreme in that we agree to hand over limited jurisdiction to a foreign body.  It is also worth noting that in the EU the UK won almost every vote it cared about and had a veto (which we will lose when we leave).  See also Professor Michael Duggan from 3:25 .

4: Support the NHS

It is simply not possible to support the NHS and support Leave.  Immigrants make up a significant portion of NHS staff .  While it can be argued that even after leaving they would be employed, granted visas etc, the fact of Brexit is making staff Leave, consider leaving, or not take up posts.  We have a nurse shortage and the number of applicants has fallen since Brexit.  The HM treasury predicted economic hit will dwarf current austerity making supporting the NHS harder/ impossible.  Since some Tory ministers (e.g. Michael Gove, David Hunt, Matt Hancock) want to privatise the NHS this is hardly reassuring.

5: Have more jobs / get richer

Despite a hugely weaker pound UK exports have flatlined, growth in the economy, touted by Leave voters is mostly not in manufacturing.  Companies such as Airbus and Jaguar Landrover are threatening to move abroad and if they and other companies move abroad they have the potential to devastate the local area in much the same way as closing coal mines did in parts of Wales.  The government’s own impact assessments predict disproportionate damage to the NE and even Leave’s much loved Professor Minford predicts that many UK businesses will go to the wall including most of farming (food security anyone)?  The damage once done will be hard to undo.

The first point is this….people voted Leave for the fulfilment of Leave promises – not because they liked the name.  At the very least vote Leave should be campaigning to stay in the Single Market – as they originally said.


The Will Of The People Part 2.

When people talk about the will of the people they tend to ignore two things, the 48% who voted Remain and that the majority who voted neither Leave nor Remain.  If the referendum had been a general election it would have been a hung parliament – and the 48% would have a say.  To claim that ignoring 48% of the people who voted Remain is “democratic” is absurd.  The margins between both groups is in fact tiny – far below what any other advanced democracy would require for major constitutional change.  Furthermore of the overwhelming majority who did not vote at all the evidence suggests that they are pro-remain.  Had the democratic process been that of Australia where voting is compulsory, the polls indicate the result would have been to Remain from day zero, and would still be Remain (see and”  taken from here.

The will of the people argument is flawed in that it captures votes at one point in time, discounts protests votes, forbids a change of mood as new information comes to light or as demographics change.  Were the referendum to be held again on the day of Brexit the evidence is that Remain would win in part because the Leave voters (mostly older) would have died while the Remain voters (mostly younger) became eligible to vote.  Plus of course the initial question was flawed.  Had it been, Do you want to remain, stay in the single market but not the customs union (Norway), stay in the customs union but not the single market (hello Irish border), No deal.  Remain would have won.  By having all the leave voters in a single group not only misrepresented leave views but also made a deal impossible to deliver (as we are seeing).


If the will of the people is really people’s over-riding concern then ALL political parties should be saying there will be a referendum on the deal with a stay in the EU option.


In The Name Of Democracy

  1. Every election has parties which promise X but deliver Y.  In this sense it is unfair to castigate Leave for promising an economic nirvana and then failing to realise it.  But in other democratic institutions there is the option to vote out a party that does not deliver on its promises.  Not in this case.  When peoples opinions / demographics / circumstances change it is possible to turn things around.  Not in this case.  In a democratic government the views of a significant minority are also considered.  Not in this case.
  2. Deliberately lying in an election or referendum is  a corrupt practice  and illegal.  For example:
      • Continued reference to the UK sending the EU £350 million pounds per week, despite this crucial figure having been formally discredited by the Office for National Statistics and others
      • High profile, unsubstantiated claims that “Turkey Is Joining the EU”, and ‘soon’
      • Misrepresentation of organisations and individuals as supporting Leave, such as Airbus, GE and Unilever, and politicians such as SNP MP Stephen Gethins and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas.
      • Leave broke electoral law

3. Democracy – definition: “control of an organization or group by the majority of its members”

    Even ignoring the legal side 72% of the population voted, 52% of these Voted Leave (37% of the population) , of these the majority were unemployed or retired.  Less than 19% of the population, those who have the least to lose if the economy nose dives are holding the rest of the country to ransom, most of whom I have shown want to stay in the single market and even the EU – and Leave voters and even Remain voters call this hard Brexit “democracy”.

It isn’t.


Where Next?

  1. To be consistent with the Leave vote and the Leave campaign the government and certainly the opposition, should be aiming to stay in the single market, increase NHS spend and implement EU legislation which would enable us to enforce a more stringent immigration policy (this might mean ID cards)  ….this probably means the Norway option.
  2. A much stronger electoral commision, better laws and the teeth to enforce them.
  3. Owen Jones and others claim that to merely ignore the referendum result will undermine belief in democracy.  Irrespective of the lies, the illegality and the poor structure of the referendum he may well be right.  A referendum on the final deal with a stay in the EU option would be a democratic response and has precedent – Ireland did it too.  All sides of the political spectrum should be asking for this and would counter the other risk to democracy – that of disillusionment when promises made are shown to be false.


The Fight Isn’t Over

I recently asked Leave voters to give me Remain lies, after a long time they came back with (paraphrasing here) “the economy hasn’t tanked”……yet.

Conversely  we have had Nigel Farage put up this tweet:

He lied.  Actually what Article 50 says is: “3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”  i.e. we still have to fulfil our previously agreed obligations.
And Jeremy Corbyn proposed leaving the single marketThe single market is dependent on membership of the EU” – It isn’t.

Even the pro-Brexit Sun is talking about stockpiling food…..which can’t be a good sign.  The country is in a dangerous place.


Further reading:

How the Nazis used “Gesundes Volksempfinden – Will of the people” legislation to overturn the rule of law.

Leave voter Gisela Stuart and why the referendum was “an abuse of the democratic process

Jolyon Maugham about why Brexit might damage democracy.