Published by The Huffington Post on 23/06/16
Back in 1215, a band of barons decided they’d had enough of the unruly King John who ruled as he pleased. Naturally, the barons were a bit miffed with this. After all, John wasn’t God. Thus they forced him to sign a Great Charter, which enshrined political liberties and due justice for all. John’s unchecked rule was defeated.
Eight hundred years later, we find ourselves in a similar position. Despite both the Remain and Leave campaign’s insistence on focusing on the economy, immigration, climate change and national security, your vote on June 23 is part of something much larger. Yes, it is a vote that will determine our economic and immigration policies. But it is fundamentally about democracy.
And that’s why I’d encourage you to ignore the political elite when it comes to the upcoming referendum. I doubt that will be too hard. The EU debate stage has been dominated by uninspiring politicians spouting uninspiring arguments. Even the darling of the liberal left, Owen Jones, has failed to call people to the barricades. Given that he was touting the benefits of Brexit only a year ago, it’s not surprising that his change of tune has fallen on uncaring ears.
We’ve heard a number of reasons to Leave, but they all link back to a singular problem: whether or not we want to be citizens.
Brexiteers could highlight the dire state of unemployment in the Mediterranean to justify their vote. Youth unemployment in Spain is currently sitting at around 45%, while total Greek unemployment lies stagnant at almost 25%.
Those of us wanting to leave the EU could also point to the brutal manner in which it imposed austerity onto the Greek people, despite the fact they had just elected an anti-austerity party. We could also cite the appointment – not election – of former EU Commissioner Mario Monti as Prime Minister of Italy by Brussels. Who needs a polling station when the EU can decide for us?
But a vote to Leave should not be predicated on individual examples of the EU’s undemocratic nature. Rather, it should stem from the realisation that its very existence is driven by its contempt towards political process. Its very being is based on the conviction that “we the people” cannot be trusted. We cannot be trusted to elect the right people; we cannot be trusted to vote for the right legislation; we cannot be trusted to look after ourselves.
Instead we have the European Commission watching over us, paternalistically ushering us down a path it deems suitable. And while this is horrifying, it is also embarrassing. The political progress of the British people is one marked by increased suffrage. From the actions of the barons in 1215 to those of the Levellers in the 17th century and the Suffragettes at the turn of the 20th, the British people have constantly sought to extend political enfranchisement.
And crucially, this emphasis on political sovereignty is a European value. A brief glance at 18th Century Europe reveals that accountability and popular sovereignty are at the very crux of the ideals that our nations were built upon. Being anti-EU doesn’t entail being anti-European. It is the opposite.
Unfortunately, we have become lazy; lazy to the point that we can’t even recognise the EU referendum is our Magna Carta moment. Leaving the EU will allow us to reclaim control over our economy and our borders. But more importantly, it will allow us to reclaim our democracy.
A vote to Leave on June 23 is a vote for democracy. It is a vote for UK citizens as citizens. Not children.