A tissue of misinformation, non sequiturs and falsehoods, brought to you by HM government

In signing this petition (and I would urge you all to follow suit) https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/235138

I came across this extraordinary response, date 30 January and purporting to come from HM Government, though the fact that almost all the arguments it contains have been heard repeatedly before that date in the mouths of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his acolytes in the ERG* suggests that it actually originates from them.

It is, as one would expect of anything from that source, of doubtful veracity. I print it below with my interpolations and numbered links to fuller refutations of the arguments advanced made in earlier articles here:

( – but first let me declare my credentials as one of the Remainer Elite**, in contrast to multi-millionaire man-of-the-people Jake Mogg, educated at Eton and Oxford, investment banker and hedge-fund manager; I – an impecunious writer – was born in a council house in Clydebank and went to Lawside Academy Dundee, a state school, though I had the temerity to attend Edinburgh University)

‘The Government remains clear that we will respect the result of the 2016 referendum, and we therefore will not hold a second referendum.

A non-sequitur – where is the logical link between respecting the result of the 2016 referendum (which, arguably, they have not done anyway 1, 2 & 3 4) and not holding a second one?

The Government is clear that we will not have a second referendum; it’s mandate is to implement the result of the previous referendum.

It would help if the writers were literate: ‘it’s’ should be ‘its’; how can the 2016 referendum be the previous one if we’ve not had one since? Really, this does not inspire confidence.

The 2016 referendum delivered a very clear instruction to Government – to withdraw from the European Union.

This is certainly arguable. The only clarity that the 2016 referendum delivered was that (a) the country was divided and (b) only a minority actually wished to leave the EU (5)

Since then, this Government has remained committed to honouring that instruction, given to us through 17.4 million votes to leave the European Union – the highest number of votes cast for anything in UK electoral history.

As stated above, 17.4 million is a minority of the electorate (about 38%) and is only 26% of the population of 65.5 million, all of whom will be affected by leaving the EU for a great deal longer than the 5 years it takes to change the government by a general election.
The claim that this is the highest number of votes cast for anything in UK history is, depending on what is meant by it, either false or insignificant: it is certainly misleading. (6 ) and (7) 17.4 million in round terms is the same number of votes cast in favour of staying in the EEC, one of only three occasions in history that the nation has voted on a single issue. The fact that the 2016 figure is 0.18% larger than the 1975 vote is considerably outweighed by the fact that the electorate then was smaller, so that 43.35% of the electorate voted to remain in the EEC as against 37.4 voting to leave in 2016.

That result was reinforced not only by Parliament’s passing of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill with clear and convincing majorities;

again, a non-sequitur : the action of parliament subsequent to a vote cannot (retrospectively) reinforce the result of that vote. And the fact that parliament voted on weak grounds (given the actual result of the referendum noted above) is proof only of their poor judgement and lack of courage.

but also in the 2017 General Election, where over 80% of people also voted for parties committed to respecting the result of the referendum. In fact, both major parties stood for election on a stated policy to respect the decision of the people.

This is disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. In every single General election in the past 100 years the great majority of votes have been cast for either Conservative or Labour; in 1918, it was 59%, the lowest combined total; in the 21 elections since 1931 – the first year in which the combined total exceeded 80% – the total voting either Labour or Conservative has exceeded 80% on 11 occasions (on three occasions it passed 90%).
It is true that last year was the first time since 1979 that the total had exceeded 80%, owing to the emergence of the SDP/Lib Dems as a significant third force from 1983 onwards, but all the same there is nothing particularly surprising or noteworthy about the fact that the majority of voters voted the same way they have for the last hundred years; to adduce that the percentage in the 2017 vote was primarily because the two main parties said they would stand by the referendum does not stand up to scrutiny, since it is a fact that both parties are divided on the issue, and a vote for one or the other cannot be construed as a vote to leave the EU (a point made by Sir John Major, who opposes Brexit but voted Conservative) (8).

The Government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will expressed by voters in the referendum – respecting both the will of the British people, and the democratic process which delivered the referendum result.

As pointed out above, the British People amount to some 65.5 million people, of whom 46.5 million were entitled to vote in the 2015 referendum. 17.4 million is a large minority of the electorate and cannot be equated with the British People nor supposed to express their will. The referendum result as a whole expressed the will of the electorate, which – as stated above – was that they did not speak with a single voice on the matter and that only a minority of them wished to leave the EU.

The British people must be able to trust in its Government both to effect their will, and to deliver the best outcome for them.

This is a pious hope, not a logical argument. Nor does it address the reality we are confronted with now, where the government has misinterpreted the will of the people and is committed to an outcome which, if consonant with that misinterpretation – i.e. leaving the EU – will not be the best outcome and could well be the worst, if we leave with no deal in place.

As the Prime Minister has said: “This is about more than the decision to leave the EU; it is about whether the public can trust their politicians to put in place the decision they took.”

It is astonishingly arrogant of the Prime Minister to suppose that trust in her government rates higher than leaving the EU. We can rid ourselves of an untrustworthy government at the next election, which at latest will be in 2022 and probably sooner, but we will live with the effects of leaving the EU for a generation.

The Government therefore remains committed to delivering on the instruction and the mandate given to us by the British people – to withdraw from the European Union.

Again, this is a non sequitur – ‘therefore’ has no force here. And as has been pointed out many times already, no such instruction has been given ‘by the British people’. Only 17.4 million have expressed a desire to leave: what of the remaining 48.1 million who will also be affected, almost certainly to their detriment in the immediate, short, middle and probably long term? In any case, how can a desire to respect the will of the British people expressly preclude asking them what they would like to do now that the shape of Brexit has become clear? (9)

We continue to work to reach consensus on the deal we have negotiated, to enable a smooth and orderly exit,

Yet ‘the deal we have negotiated’ has already been rejected by an unprecedentedly huge majority in parliament. (10)

and deliver an outcome which betters the lives of British people – whether they voted to Leave or to Remain.

It does not look, by any credible forecast, as if leaving the EU will leave us better off than remaining in it; on the contrary, it looks likely to make things worse for most of the British people.

Department for Exiting the European Union’

As dictated by the ERG, I would suggest

*European Research Group, a pro-Brexit alliance of MPs – is it just my fancy, or does the initial resemblance to David Stirling’s LRDG – Long Range Desert Group, the forerunner of the SAS – suggest that the Haunted Pencil (as Mogg is known) sees himself as something of a latter-day Phantom Major?

**a curiously large elite, comprising many tens of millions. How many? why not find out by having a second referendum? My own guess would be between 25 and 30 million, but I’m happy to be proved wrong.

Mogg Mendax

Jake Mogg is associated, in the popular mind at least, with Latin, so perhaps we can open with the Latin axioms suppressio veri and suggestio falsi : the one means to suppress the truth, the other to suggest a lie. They are often coupled, the action of suppressing some truth – e.g. omitting key facts from an account –  amounting to the suggestion of a falsehood.

This morning, not for the first time, Mr Mogg referred to the 2016 referendum as ‘the biggest vote in our history’. It is a formulation that others who share his views also use, such as Mr Charles Moore [see here]

The claim is clearly intended to impress: it suggests that a special significance attaches to the referendum (and its result) in terms of its sheer scale: the implication is that the 2016 referendum is more entitled to respect than any comparable vote in our history and that it ‘must be respected’ and to go against it would be ‘a betrayal of democracy’.

But what does Mr Mogg’s claim actually mean?

It is typical of his utterances in being an unqualified ‘sound-bite’, casually slipped into his conversation without any explanation or elaboration. The effect of this – if unchallenged – is that it lodges in the listener’s mind as something that is both significant and true, something they will repeat themselves should any discussion of the matter come up (and I have heard it parroted by commentators, I am sure). 

But is it true, and if it is, is it significant? The short answer to both questions is no, to which I should add the qualification that the only sense in which it might be called true is insignificant, and in every other case it is untrue, so the question of its significance does not arise.

As noted above, Mogg’s claim is unqualified, and might mean any one of several things. Let us consider each in turn.

Was the 2016 referendum ‘the biggest vote in our history’ in the sense that it represents the largest number  of people ever to take part in a democratic vote in this country?

No. That was the 1992 General Election, when a total of 33,614,874 votes were cast, as against 33,577,342 in the referendum. 

Was it the largest percentage of the electorate ever to turn out in a democratic vote, then?

No. That was the 1950 General election, when 83.9% of the electorate turned out. As a matter of fact, the referendum turnout, 72.2%, is slightly below the average for UK votes from 1918 to 2017, which is 72.9%

But isn’t 17,410,742 the largest ever number of votes cast for a single issue in our history? Surely that is what Mr Mogg means?

Maybe. This is the case where the claim might be true, but is of doubtful significance. Some context is essential. The expression ‘In our history’ is misleading – intentionally so, I would suggest, with its implication of  a vast sweep of time in which a great number of votes have taken place, with this one being far and away the most significant. 

Yet the total number of occasions on which the UK has voted on a single issue is 3.

In the Alternative Vote referendum of 2011, 13,013,123 voted to retain ‘first past the post’.

The other two referendums were effectively on the same issue: should we remain in the EU in 2016 or its predecessor, the EEC, in 1975.

In terms of actual numbers very slightly more people voted to leave the EU in 2016 than voted to remain in the EEC in 1975, so this is the only case in which Mr Mogg’s claim (that the 2016 referendum is ‘the biggest vote in our history’) could be said to have any truth in it at all.

However, the figures are worth comparing: in 1975, 17,378,581 people voted to remain, as against the 17,410,742 who voted to leave in the 2016 referendum. So the latter figure is greater by 32,161 – a difference of 0.18%.

The difference is so slight that any claim for significance in terms of size – and that is what Mr Mogg is saying, ‘the biggest vote in our history’ – applies equally to both: if one is ‘massive’ ( a claim that is also made for it) then so is the other; in round terms, they are same – 17.4 million. The implication that the 2016 referendum vote is uniquely huge, and so dwarfs all others in importance, is surely false. Of the three votes the UK has had on a single issue, in terms of actual numbers, two have been equally large, with one fractionally larger (0.18%) than the other. That is as much truth as Mr Mogg can claim for his oft-repeated statement.

However, it should be borne in mind that the electorate in 1975 was substantially smaller than that in 2016, so that the actual number voting is of less significance than the proportion of the electorate it represents in deciding which is the largest vote on a single issue in our history.

In 1975, the electorate was 40,086,677, so 17,378,581 amounts to 43.35%;

In 2016, the electorate was 46,500,001, so 17,410,742 amounts to 37.4%.

So in percentage terms, the largest proportion of the UK electorate to vote for a single issue, on the three occasions when that has been possible, is 43.35% in 1975.

It is the job of journalists to challenge the claims made by politicians and subject them to scrutiny. Why has this not been done in the case of the oft-repeated claim that the 2016 referendum was ‘the biggest vote in our history’? It took me, an amateur, a couple of hours to find the relevant data from the comfort of my chair. Those charged with keeping our politicians to account must do better.

When simple arithmetic is the elephant in the room: the collective failure of press and politicians in the Brexit debacle

It should be remembered that David Cameron became Conservative leader by being more interesting than David Davies in a couple of speeches. The bar was set low at the outset and his subsequent career was consonant with that. It is likely that he will be remembered as the worst British prime minister of modern times: his brief career was marked by misjudgement and mismanagement and culminated with his running away from the woeful mess he had almost single-handedly created.

While some might suggest that Theresa May could contest Cameron’s title – if she is ever elevated to the peerage, then a chameleon weathercock would be an appropriate coat-of-arms, symbolising her complete lack of conviction and imagination – we should remember that Mrs May is only prime minister through Cameron’s ineptitude. The best that can be said of her is that she was the least unsuitable of the candidates available.

But the blame does not rest solely with the conservative government nor even with the current crop of politicians as a group, second-rate though most of them are, with a few notable exceptions calling from the margins (Kenneth Clarke, John Major, Vince Cable). The malaise that has spread from Cameron’s blundering has infected the journalists whose task it is to hold politicians to account.

When historians look back on this period, they will puzzle at the apparent inability of both politicians and journalists to perform simple subtraction:

46–17 = ?     

65–17 = ?

If you find yourself similarly challenged, the answer in the first case is 29 and in the second, 48. 

As most children of primary school age could tell you, 17 is a smaller number than 29 and 48. Since these figures, rounded down to whole millions*, represent respectively the difference between the total electorate taking part in the referendum and those expressing a desire to leave the EU and the difference between the total population – i.e. the British people as a whole – and those expressing a desire to leave the EU, it follows as an unassailable fact of arithmetic that there has only ever been a minority of the electorate, and of the British people, who expressed a desire to leave the European Union.

And yes, it really is that simple, and that is not playing with words. If you want confirmation, you need look no farther than the Brexit supporters themselves, who continually assert that ‘the majority of the British people wish to leave the EU’ yet implacably oppose the one sure way of demonstrating the truth of what they say, a second referendum. Why?

They know, in fact, that the 17.4 million figure probably flatters them, and that many voted to leave in ignorance, or out of a desire to express their general discontent, complacently assuming that a vote to remain was a foregone conclusion; unfortunately, so did around 13 million others who did not bother to vote at all. Yet the proportion that matters is what part of the electorate and the population expressed a desire to change the status quo: it is, at best, 38% of the electorate, and around 26% of the population. That is not a mandate for change by any measure, particularly one that will have such far-reaching consequences for the entire population as this. A general election can be undone after five years; leaving Europe will affect the country for at least a generation.

And that is what will mystify historians in years to come: not that the Brexit-supporting minority were desperate to make the most of a fluke result, even to the extent of asserting that it showed the opposite of what it actually does – that much is understandable, though not particularly laudable; rather it is that almost everyone in the body politic and the press acquiesced in their false narrative and gave it currency. 

Only a couple of days ago, the chancellor Phillip Hammond – a remainer himself – became the latest in a long line of politicians to assert the falsehood that ‘the majority of the British people voted to leave’ and John Humphrys, not for the first time, was numbered with the long and ignoble line of journalists who have failed to challenge the point.

This really is a Looking-glass world: having spent nearly two years negotiating to hang onto what we already have (but say we don’t want) the politicians are pressing ahead ‘in the national interest’ with a course of action that they know will make things worse and which only a minority has ever wanted; and the commentators whose job is to call them to account are letting it happen.

Our only hope is that a fortunate combination of stubbornness, opportunism and incompetence in the upcoming parliamentary vote will deliver a chance for the majority of the British people to express what they actually want. Otherwise, it is a bleak lookout for us all.

*The rounding slightly favours the Brexit cause: the actual figures are 46.5, 65.5 and 17.4

Mogg the Mendacious

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 18.21.49

a singularly dishonest man

We know Jacob Rees-Mogg to be a consummate liar – much like Mr Bernard Jenkin,  dishonesty and false representation are his stock in trade -– but in this short interview he excels himself.

In the course of a minute and a half, he makes the following six claims, all of which are demonstrably false or intentionally misleading:

1.  ‘I’m not afraid at all, it’s a singularly silly idea (on being asked if he fears a second ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit)

2. ‘we’ve had three votes on this’ (i.e. Leaving the EU)

3. ‘We had a vote in 2015, the General Election, as to whether or not there should be a referendum’

4. ‘We had an election in 2017 where over 80% of people voted for parties committed to leaving’ (as evidence that this could be taken as a proxy vote for Brexit)

5. ‘The General Election was voting for parties that made it clear that they meant to implement the referendum and the two parties that didn’t – the greens and the Lib-Dems – lost votes’

6. ‘It was quite clear from the General election and the election campaign that delivering on Brexit had very widespread support, as opinion polling still shows.’

Let us take in each in turn. Regarding (1) it is evident from his whole line of argument that Mogg is terrified of a second referendum, so this is simply a lie. We shall return to it later.

2. We have not had ‘three votes on this’ – there has been only one, the Referendum itself, which was bracketed by two General Elections. It is false to represent either of these as a vote on leaving the EU, for reasons we will examine in detail below.

3. We did not have a vote in 2015 as to whether or not there should be a referendum; that is simply untrue. We had a General Election, in which the Conservatives held out the promise of a referendum. Since only UKIP advocated leaving the EU, a vote for the Conservatives could not be construed as a vote to leave the EU, nor indeed could a vote for a referendum be so construed, even if that had been the single issue in the election, which it was not. Another false representation.

4. This is disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. In every single General election in the past 100 years the great majority of votes have been cast for either Conservative or Labour; in 1918, it was 59%, the lowest combined total; in the 21 elections since 1931 – the first year in which the combined total exceeded 80% – the total voting either Labour or Conservative has exceeded 80% on 11 occasions (on three occasions it passed 90%).

It is true that last year was the first time since 1979 that the total had exceeded 80%, owing to the emergence of the SDP/Lib Dems as a significant third force from 1983 onwards, but all the same there is nothing particularly surprising or noteworthy about the fact that the majority of voters voted the same way they have for the last hundred years; to adduce that the percentage in the 2017 vote was primarily because the two main parties said they would stand by the referendum does not stand up to scrutiny.

5. So, the general Election was not just ‘voting for parties that made clear they meant to implement the referendum’. Leaving aside the fact that both Mogg’s own party and Labour are riven from top to bottom on the issue, so that many who voted for either were certainly not pro Brexit, it is a fact that the one party that stands most clearly for Brexit – UKIP – suffered the heaviest loss in the 2017 election. The Greens might have lost 2% of their vote, but they retained their seat; the Lib Dems suffered a fractional loss – 0.5% – but actually increased their number of seats by 50%, from 8 to 12; UKIP, however, lost their sole seat and suffered a spectacular 10.8% decline in their vote, far and away the greatest loss suffered by any party (the sum total of the rest was only 4.6%). Here, too, it is evident that Mogg is trying to bamboozle and mislead: his contention that the 2017 Election can be taken as a proxy for a Brexit vote is not only absurd in itself, it is also unsupported by the very voting patterns Mogg wishes to adduce as evidence.

6. Whenever Mogg says anything is ‘quite clear’, you should doubt it at once. For the reasons given above, it is by no means clear that the 2017 election showed that delivering on Brexit had ‘very widespread support’ (and how ‘the election campaign‘ could show anything of the kind is not at all clear); but as regards the claim that ‘opinion polling still shows’ ‘very widespread support’ for Brexit, I would direct you to this page, which is literally the first I found in seeking to test the veracity of Mogg’s claim.

It gives data for four variants on the question of whether the UK should leave or remain:

in the first series of 13 polls, conducted since March 2017, only one (2 March 17) showed a majority for leave; two (May and November 17) were level; the remaining 10 were in favour of remaining, with the gap appearing to widen in 2018;

in the second series, 13 polls between January and August 18, only 2, both in March, showed a majority for leave; 2 more (27 June and 14 July), were level; the remaining 9 favoured remain, with the gap widening steadily in the most recent.

In a third poll that asked ‘In hindsight, was Britain right or wrong to vote leave?’ Every single one of 13 polls showed a majority for ‘wrong’.

In a fourth poll that asked if Britain should remain or leave, two polls were level and remaining 10 showed a majority for Remain.

(in actual fact, the figures are even more persuasive – the four groups above are based on 42, 72, 85 and 168 polls respectively: see here for details: whatukthinks.org)

So, once more, the truth of Mogg’s assertion is doubtful.

Ah yes – that first question: are you afraid of a second poll? If Mogg is not afraid, as he asserts, then why, on being asked if Britain would still vote Brexit if they went to the polls tomorrow, does he evade the question?

This is a man who has spent considerable time assembling a tissue of specious arguments to show that Britain, not once but three times over, has already voted for Brexit – yet when the question is put directly to him, he prevaricates. Why does he not just say ‘yes of course they would vote for Brexit’ ? It is, after all, what he asserts to be true – that the great majority of people want to leave the EU.

Anyone would think he did not actually believe it himself.

Another way to misrepresent the EU referendum result: the Charles Moore Defence

Charles_Moore,_former_editor_of_the_Daily_Telegraph,_at_Edmund_Burke_Philosopher,_Politician,_Prophet[photo by Policy Exchange – Flickr: Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, at Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30224977%5D

As we have seen ( in Liars in public places) the usual method of misrepresenting the 2016 referendum result, as employed by messrs Rees-Mogg, Jenkin and Johnson, is to lie outright –  these honourable men equate those who voted to leave with ‘the British people’ whose voice, we are told, must be heeded, and whose will must not be thwarted. Yet if we look at the actual figures, this arithmetic is downright dishonest:

British People (total) = 65.5 million

British People (eligible to vote in 2016 referendum) = 46.5 million

“British People” (as defined by messrs Rees-Mogg, Jenkin & Johnson) = 17.4 million.

(i.e. 38% of the electorate, 26.4% of the population – a large minority by any honest measure)

This morning, Mr Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, made another sort of misrepresentation to the people – he told us that the vote to leave was  ‘a massive vote – 17.4 million people, the largest number to vote for anything in our history’   (Today programme, BBC Radio 4, 15 February)

This is a claim I have heard before, from others who, like Mr Moore, are keen to present the 2016 referendum result as something it is not. For what it’s worth, the assertion is true (though only barely so) – but to be honest, it is not worth much at all.

For a start, we must ask ourselves on how many occasions ‘in our history’ the British people have voted on a single issue such as this*.

The answer is 3.

In 2016, as we have seen, 17,410,742 voted to leave the EU;

in 2011, 13,013,123 voted to reject the alternative vote and stick with first past the post;

and in 1973 17,378,581 voted to remain in the EU

that is only 32,161 fewer (or 0.18% less) than the ‘massive’ 2016 tally – from a substantially smaller electorate (40 million against 46.5) and a slightly lower turnout (64.67% v. 72.21%) – sufficient, I would say, to render Mr Moore’s grand-sounding claim void of any worth and confirm it as a clear attempt to misrepresent the 2016 referendum result as some sort of overwhelming landslide which it would be futile to challenge, whereas it was actually very close on the day – 51.89% v 48.11% – and in percentage terms meant that only 38% of the electorate actually voted to leave as against 34.7% who wished to stay and a further 27% who did not offer an opinion.

For comparison, the 1975 result was decisive –  67% to 33%,  17.378 million v. 8.47 million, 43% of the electorate for, 21% against with 36% not offering an opinion.

I have said elsewhere that the 2016 result would be more honestly presented by saying that 62% did not vote to leave. In case I am accused of duplicity, we should consider the 1975 referendum in the same light.

Can we say that 57% ‘did not vote to stay’ ? I suppose we could; on the other hand, since the status quo then, as now, was that we were already in the EU, then voting to leave is the vote for change; so perhaps it would be more accurate to say that in 1975, 79% did not wish to leave the EU, since only 21% expressed a desire to do so.

What is undeniable is that a number of public figures – many of them elected representatives – consistently misrepresent the 2016 result as so overwhelming that to challenge it would be futile and an affront to democracy. 

They do so because they fear that the result – which was actually very close and showed the country to be deeply divided on the issue – will certainly be reversed in a second referendum.

For them, that makes a second referendum something to be avoided at all costs. For us – the British people – it makes it a democratic imperative.

 

*There have been 11 referendums since 1973, but only 3 involved the whole of the UK. General elections, which involve multiple parties, constituency votes and complex manifestos, are clearly not the same as single-issue referendums in  which the overall vote is what counts. For information, since the war, the winning party has generally gained around 13 million votes, with the lowest being Tony Blair’s victory in 2005 (9.55 million votes giving a majority of 31) and the highest John Major’s 14 million in 1992, which gave him a slimmer majority of 10; while Teresa May’s total of 13.63 milion in 2017, though among the highest, left her short of an overall majority – which shows that the total popular vote is of little significance in these contests.

Liars in public places

‘die breite Masse eines Volkes… einer großen Lüge leichter zum Opfer fällt als einer kleinen’ – ‘the broad mass of a nation will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.’ (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf)

‘These are people who are bent on trying to reverse the substance of Brexit and if we finish up with Brexit in name only there will be a terrific backlash in the country because the country voted overwhelmingly to leave.’ (Bernard Jenkin MP, broadcast on the Today programme, 7 July 2017)

As big lies go, it would be hard to find a more consummate piece of public dishonesty in recent times than that.

The country voted overwhelmingly to leave

Did it really, Mr Jenkin?

I do not think that (not quite) 52% to (slightly more than) 48% can be construed as ‘overwhelming’ in any sense of that word; furthermore, a total of 17.4 million out of an electorate of 46.5 million is 37.4%: that is a considerable minority, not an overwhelming majority; an overwhelming majority would be something like 62.6%the percentage of the electorate who did not vote to leave the European Union.

But you know this, Mr Jenkin. You know that every time you make claims like this you are deliberately misleading the public and fostering a lie, just as Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg does when he speaks of ‘the will of the British people being thwarted’ if people have the temerity to  speak against leaving the EU.

Yet you do it, day in and day out. You try to silence your opponents by what the psychologists call ‘projection’: attributing to others the very faults of which you yourself are guilty. Thus, anyone who dares raise any difficulty that Brexit might entail (and as you know full well, there are many) is said to be advancing phony arguments for an ulterior motive; their real intention is to ‘reverse the substance of Brexit’, and that will incur ‘a terrific backlash in the country because the country voted overwhelmingly to leave.’

The truth of the matter – as you know – is that it is your arguments that are phony, and that you are determined to hustle the British people into accepting the views of a vociferous minority despite the fact that an overwhelming majority do not agree with them.

There will be a terrific backlash: but it will be against you and your like, the liars in public places, and against the craven parliamentarians and ineffectual journalists who meekly accepted your lie and did not robustly challenge it every time you uttered it.

Shame on them, and shame on you.

 

The Real Enemies of the People

‘This Bill requires a referendum to be held on the question of the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of 2017. It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions.’

Commons Briefing Paper 7212, giving background on the European Union Referendum Bill

Results of the EU Referendum:

Remain: 16,141,241 (48.1%)
Leave: 17,410,742 (51.9%)
Total Electorate: 46,500,001
Turnout: 72.2%
Rejected Ballots: 25,359

Given that this is a consultative exercise, ‘which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions’ what inferences can be safely drawn from the result regarding the opinion voiced by the electorate, and how should policy be guided by them?

First, the bare facts are these:

a minority of the electorate – 37.5 % – favour leaving the EU;
a smaller minority – 34.7% – favour remaining;
a considerable majority – 62.5% – did not vote to leave (i.e. those who voted to remain plus those who did not vote)

What inferences can be drawn from this, with regard to influencing policy?

  1. The clearest inference is that the electorate does not speak with a single voice on this matter; on the contrary, it is deeply divided – the 52/48% split among those who voted reflects this.
  2. There is not an overall majority of the electorate in favour of leaving.
  3. No inference can be safely drawn about the views of those who did not vote; however, in the context of a decision that will affect the entire country, the fact of their number – 12.9 million – cannot be ignored.

Beyond these immediate inferences, some wider conclusions can be drawn. From inference (1) above, it is clear that there is no warrant for talking in terms of the ‘express will of the British people’. It is not only the voices of the 17.4 million who voted to leave that must be heeded, but also the 16.1 who voted to remain and the 12.9 million who did not vote, for whatever reason. This is not a game show where the winner takes all: it is an instrument for shaping policy for the entire country.

It is evident that some of those who voted may have been under the misapprehension that the result of the referendum would be legally binding. However, anyone who had sufficient interest or was obliged by their position to inform themselves and others about the issue could have been in no doubt that the type and purpose of the referendum was as clearly stated in the Commons Briefing paper quoted at the head of this article, which was published on 3 June 2015 and freely available.

A numerous group of people including all MPs and parliamentarians, News Editors, political journalists and public commentators had either a sworn duty or a serious responsibility to acquaint themselves with the content of Commons Briefing Paper 7212 and therefore to know that the referendum was consultative and not legally binding.

It follows that anyone in that group who implied otherwise, by action or inaction, acted reprehensibly, mischievously, dishonestly and irresponsibly.

Much blame must attach to the previous Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, whose conduct in this matter can only be described as reckless and irresponsible throughout, since he repeatedly used a matter of grave import to the whole country as a party-political tool.

His initial inclusion of the referendum as a manifesto promise appears to have been intended primarily to stem the haemorrhaging of Tory support to UKIP and there are strong grounds for supposing that he did not expect to have to implement it, since he did not think he would be elected outright and would be required to jettison it as part of any coalition deal.

His failure on taking office to make clear the status of the referendum is reprehensible and negligent. He then aggravated matters by embarking on a process of renegotiation with the EU prior to the referendum. This was completely wrong-headed and appears once more to have been motivated by his own political situation. It is evident that he hoped to use the threat of the UK’s possibly voting to leave as a means of pressing the EU for concessions which he hoped would sway the referendum outcome in his favour, i.e. a vote to remain.

However, since the express purpose of the referendum was ‘consultative, [to enable] the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions’ it is clear that its proper use should have been to form the basis of any renegotiation of membership – that is the very policy which it was intended to influence.

Had the actual result (i.e. a vote in favour of leaving) been put to its proper use, the Prime Minister would presently be engaged in renegotiation of our membership (and reform of the EU as a whole) in good faith but with a strong hand since the option of leaving would remain a possibility if the results were not to our satisfaction. It is hard to see that this would not be better, from everyone’s point of view – leavers and remainers alike – than the situation we now find ourselves in, having closed down our options and effectively resigned all influence by a premature (and unnecessary) commitment to leave.

For that, Mrs May is to blame. Mr Cameron’s abrupt departure (his final irresponsible act) may have pitched her into a situation that was more febrile than it need have been but she came in with a clean slate. The opportunity was there for her to show leadership but she has failed to take it.

She has never challenged what she knows to be the mistaken assumption that the referendum result commits the government to leave the EU. She could have done so and defied contradiction since every other MP, parliamentarian, News Editor and political journalist knows it as well as she. Instead she has confirmed the error by her frequent reiteration of the idiotic mantra ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and aggravated it by challenging the High Court’s decision that sovereignty of parliament cannot be circumvented in this matter – something which she and all these others know very well.

It should not have been left to the courage of a private citizen to have the courts reaffirm what every parliamentarian not only knows, but has a duty to uphold, namely the sovereignty of parliament. They should have been foremost in asserting it, not shying away and attempting to deny it.

The response of certain newspapers to the Court ruling was disgraceful. The fact that we expect little better from the British press does not exonerate the editors from blame. They know that they have been instrumental, from the outset, in encouraging their readers in the false belief that the referendum binds the government to a course of action, whereas – as they know perfectly well – ‘It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented.’

We are now in the ridiculous and entirely avoidable situation where a large minority of the populace believe erroneously that they have been given (or won by their vote) the right to compel the government to do their will and take the United Kingdom out of the European Union. This misapprehension has now been suffered to continue uncorrected so long, and indeed been reinforced by the ill-judged actions of such a number of people, that any attempt to remedy it will probably result in considerable civil strife and violence, since it will be seen as the ‘Establishment’ attempting to thwart the will of the people and deprive them of what is rightfully theirs.

Who is going to have the courage to stand up and state the facts, and defy anyone to contradict them?

Here they are, once more:

The referendum was consultative and did not bind the government to any course of action.
It was intended to ascertain the voice of the people, in order to influence policy. It is evident from the result that the people have not spoken with a single voice and do not have a settled will in this matter. The nation is divided. There is no majority in favour of leaving the EU. A large minority wish to do so; a similar but slightly smaller minority wish to remain. A further group, nearly 13 million people, did not express a view. The majority of the electorate did not vote in favour of leaving.

The situation, though dire, is not irrecoverable. Probably the most honest course would be to admit that almost everyone concerned, across all parties and on both sides of the debate, has created an unnecessary and dangerous mess, call a general election, and let the people decide.

In the meantime, there is an onus on those who have contributed to the creation of this dangerous situation to do their best to defuse it, by speaking calmly and honestly and confining themselves to the facts. A collective act of contrition on their part would be a good beginning. They have deceived the people and endangered the country.