By Dr Harry Hagopian
: a word I believe that we Brits coined some two years ago when our former prime minister decided to hold a referendum in which the British people would decide once and for all whether they wanted to remain part of the 28-member club called (since 1993) the EU or whether they wanted to opt out after four rather stirring decades.
In my opinion, and not only as a lawyer or as a Consultant at OTS Solicitors mind you, the referendum was conducted wrongly and was later interpreted let alone marketed wrongly too. Let me elaborate further. First and foremost, the then PM David Cameron called the referendum in 2016 with the self-assured - some would add young and arrogant - belief that he would obtain a favourable outcome whereby the people would vote to stay in. However, he lost his wager and a campaign marked with dissimulation and flimflams, let alone leaks, scare-mongering and acrimony, ended with a result that advocated an exit of the UK from the EU.
A decision of this nature, even if the responsibility were arrogated to the ordinary citizens of our Four Nations, is a huge one. It is not a minor decision the likes of which happens regularly in Switzerland or in other parts of Europe. It is akin to a constitutional upheaval upending forty-five years of carefully-crafted legislation that have tied the UK to the EU. Such a decision should only be resolved with a two-thirds majority, not a simple majority. This is what happens in a democracy, for instance, when there are referenda to amend the Constitution. Moreover, the implementation was also wrong. Hard-line Eurosceptics, known as “Brexiteers”, constantly harp on about the people having chosen to leave the EU. What they, and others, glibly omit to add is that this referendum was of a consultative nature. In other words, Government would consider the opinion of the voters and study its consequences, not be beholden to it irrespective of the dire consequences upon a whole country.
It therefore unsettles me when those who staunchly advocate the exit - a clean no-deal break - of the UK from the EU constantly revert to this referendum as the be-all and end-all of decisions. Granted, it is politically very dicey for politicians to be seen to go against the will of the people. However, politicians have been elected to lead, not to be led or swayed, by public opinions. A great leader, in contrast to one who is mediocre or merely a bureaucrat, is one who has an ability to assume the mantle of leadership and persuasive authority within the framework of the Constitution and the institutions of the country. Surely there are values that cannot be swept away for the sake of self-interest? Or else we would be led by tinpot dictators too! So where are those qualities today as I watch the green benches of a House of Commons where the governing and opposition parties are both splintered equally?
But let me not pause there and let us fast-forward to 2018.
Nobody can deny that we are in a horrible mess. The country is being rent asunder, with arguments and counter-arguments, with resignations, appointments or no-confidence votes, and with constant jockeying between the Executive and Legislative organs of State (let alone the Judiciary) in trying to make sense of this quagmire. Interest groups from all sides are exercising their arguments for and against Brexit
too. And the political zeal of both parties or their retinue of experts to nudge the prime minister one way or the other is well-nigh deplorable and inimical with the overall strategic interests of our country. Worse still when the prime minister flip-flops in a vain attempt to please all - and in the process pleases none.
I do not plan to rehearse the arguments for or against Brexit
or speak about the plethora of facts and figures produced by both parties as well as by businesses or lobbyists. They are all readily available. Nor do I wish to regurgitate the issues of the border with Ireland, the nature of a Customs Union and global trade. Or even the 104-page White Paper that HM’s government published last week detailing some of its thinking for a future UK-EU relationship. Instead, I would simply suggest that our elected representatives should have the gumption to agree on a proposal that sidesteps party politics and opens itself to some proper blue-sky thinking. After all, nothing is legally irreversible or etched on stone, and we can think afresh as we define a way forward with the EU.
Many decades ago, I chose voluntarily to settle down in the UK. I loved - still love - this country and the majority of its people and culture. I enjoyed the fact that I was living on an island that was a bit quirky, but also British and European at the same time. Now, despite our strengths, I witness a political meltdown that questions the mettle and public dedication of our leaders and flirts with populism and xenophobia. We had better check the ebb and flow of this rudderless tide or else it will come back to haunt us sooner than later.
The philosopher FW Nietzsche purportedly suggested that "Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music". Can we apply ourselves long enough to override our primeval instincts and seek the larger good that transcends party politics and power games? And, more importantly, can we make an extra effort to clear our minds and listen - really listen - to the music when dancing?