Threats of vi­o­lence must not si­lence calls for a Peo­ple’s Vote

The most toxic of all ar­gu­ments against a vote on a fi­nal say is the claim it would lead to un­rest, says MIC WRIGHT

The New European - - Agenda -

It took less than four months af­ter the Brexit ref­er­en­dum for Nigel Farage to start is­su­ing warn­ings of pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence in the event of what he calls “Brexit be­trayal” but which some­one with­out an LBC bully pul­pit might call “think­ing again”. Ap­pear­ing op­po­site Gina Miller on the An­drew Marr Show, Farage splut­tered: “If the peo­ple in this coun­try think they are go­ing to be cheated, they’re go­ing to be be­trayed, then we will see po­lit­i­cal anger the likes of which none in our life­time have ever wit­nessed in this coun­try.” Farage, 54, was alive dur­ing the min­ers’ strike, the poll tax ri­ots, the stu­dent protests of 2010, and the 2011 ri­ots, to name just a few ex­am­ples of po­lit­i­cal anger in the UK.

Farage has re­turned to prophe­cies of im­pend­ing re­peat­edly since. And he’s not alone.

The lat­est Jeremiah is the Sun colum­nist, Tony Parsons, who pre­dicted this week that “if Brexit is be­trayed… our democ­racy will be dam­aged for­ever. If the will of the peo­ple means noth­ing, then you will see a na­tion that is forced to vi­o­lent ex­tremes”. He of­fers that pre­dic­tion af­ter as­sert­ing that Bri­tain – the coun­try of Oswald Mosley, Enoch Pow­ell, the Na­tional Front, the BNP, and the EDL – has “no his­tory of ex­trem­ism”. That’s be­fore you even con­sider the fact that a British MP, Jo Cox, was mur­dered by an ex­trem­ist at the height of the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign.

Parsons says “it seems un­think­able that our tol­er­ant, wel­com­ing coun­try could de­scend into the racist, xeno­pho­bic na­tion that was fore­cast by the doom­mon­gers of Project Fear”. Per­haps he should speak more often to res­i­dents of Bri­tain who aren’t pale, male or in pos­ses­sion of one of those pass­ports that Brex­i­teers are so bloom­ing de­lighted may soon be turn­ing blue.

The no­tion that Bri­tain is some cud­dly, Richard Cur­tis cre­ation of a na­tion is just not born out by the ex­pe­ri­ence of black, Asian and eth­nic mi­nor­ity peo­ple, EU mi­grants, Jews, and Mus­lims, all of whom have ex­pe­ri­enced an uptick in abuse and in­tim­i­da­tion in the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate that has swirled up since the ref­er­en­dum.

Even be­fore then, it is far­ci­cal to claim that Bri­tain – where Theresa May’s Home Of­fice paid for vans to in­tim­i­date im­mi­grants and in­sti­tuted a ‘hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment’ pol­icy that has led to the ap­palling Win­drush scan­dal – was some land of milk and honey. It is not just those on the right who have raised the spec­tre of vi­o­lence tied to a ‘Brexit be­trayal’. In Au­gust, Labour’s Barry Gar­diner, the shadow in­ter­na­tional trade sec­re­tary, sug­gested a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum could lead some vot­ers to turn to “more so­cially dis­rup­tive ways of ex­press­ing their views”.

His com­ments were backed by shadow chan­cel­lor John Mcdonnell, who said he feared “[open­ing] up any op­por­tu­ni­ties for the far-right [to ex­ploit] this is­sue”, and pointed to vi­o­lence at demon­stra­tions against the jail­ing of Stephen Yax­ley-len­non (more com­monly known as Tommy Robin­son).

The idea that, should peace­ful ag­i­ta­tion for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum suc­ceed, vi­o­lence on the streets would be the in­evitable re­sult – and there­fore those op­tions should be re­jected – is a truly dan­ger­ous one. It is an ar­gu­ment for a kind of pseudo-democ­racy where the pub­lic view can never shift and that once a ma­jor­ity has been se­cured on a ques­tion – no mat­ter how slim – it is de­cided for­ever, re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances. It also em­pow­ers those most will­ing to threaten vi­o­lence to achieve their aims.

If the Brexit ref­er­en­dum had gone the other way, with a sim­i­larly nar­row win for Re­main, Farage and oth­ers would have been vo­cif­er­ous in their calls for a sec­ond vote. In fact, the for­mer UKIP leader said as much him­self, just a month be­fore the ref­er­en­dum, telling the BBC: “If we were to lose nar­rowly, there’d be a

large sec­tion, par­tic­u­larly in the Con­ser­va­tive party, who’d feel the prime min­is­ter is not play­ing fair… there would be re­sent­ment that would build up if that was to be the re­sult.” Now imag­ine how the Sun, Tele­graph, Mail and Ex­press would re­spond to colum­nists in other news­pa­pers sug­gest­ing that a sec­ond vote shouldn’t be held be­cause of the risk of vi­o­lent protest.

There wouldn’t be enough newsprint to carry all the de­nounce­ments of left-wing ag­i­ta­tors and a de­cline in demo­cratic norms. There can be no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for dis­miss­ing the con­tin­u­a­tion of a demo­cratic de­bate and the idea that the na­tion might change its mind be­cause of the abstract threat of ex­trem­ists opt­ing for bovver boots over the bal­lot box. It is the po­lit­i­cal equiv­a­lent of play­ing Monopoly with a drunken un­cle who’s a bad loser and de­cid­ing to let him win so he doesn’t tip up the board and send the pieces fly­ing every­where. Only, in this case, Brexit has al­ready tipped up the board and we’re now de­bat­ing how to re­set the pieces and stop the money from fly­ing out of the win­dow.

Liv­ing in fear of tantrums is no way to run a so­ci­ety or a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/ Getty Im­ages

VI­O­LENT PROTEST: De­mon­stra­tors clash with po­lice dur­ing a ‘Free Tommy Robin­son’ protest in Lon­don in June

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