The people of the United Kingdom have spoken: They want out of the European Union.
At least, that’s what a 52 percent majority of voters, divided along geographic and demographic lines, said during last Thursday’s popular referendum on “Brexit.”
Given the prevalence of anecdotal news reports about voters’ morning-after regrets, the immediate negative reactions in the marketplace and the realization of warnings about short-term job losses — we can’t help but wonder if last Thursday’s “Leave” result would be the same if the U.K. held a “do-over” referendum this coming Thursday.
It’s one of the many dangers of governing via referendum. People’s minds, and their moods, change on a daily (perhaps hourly?) basis. A referendum election, much like a telephone opinion poll, is only accurate inasmuch as it records the pulse of the population at a given moment.
If the officials who call a referendum do so with the intention of establishing what people think, here’s our short answer: Most people don’t think. They feel.
The widespread response to Brexit from many in the intellectual class in the U.K. and the EU has been to characterize the result as an “unthinking vote,” and further to denigrate the victorious voters as being xenophobic, reactionary or outright racist. We consider those explanations to be too facile, elitist and even offensive.
Rather, the reasons why most British voters — particularly English people living outside major urban centers — cast their ballots for “Leave” include that they felt dissatisfied with the EU and its immigration policies, the net financial outflows from the U.K. treasury, and, especially, the accumulating forfeiture of U.K. national sovereignty to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels and their ever-expanding reams of regulations.
Our issue isn’t with the outcome of the referendum (although editorially we supported it), it’s with the referendum itself.
Considering the magnitude of the issue, its impact over generations, and the international/intergovernmental nature of the U.K.’s relationship with the EU — the Brexit decision should have been made by the U.K.’s elected representatives, not by individual voters in polling booths throughout the nation.
In choosing to call the Brexit referendum, while counting on its failure, Prime Minister David Cameron committed a colossal and cowardly political miscalculation that will be read about in history textbooks for ages to come. For the sake of his own political career, and the myopic interests of his party, Mr. Cameron wagered the future of his nation — and personally lost. Mr. Cameron and U.K. officials should never have ceded responsibility for such a dire decision to “citizen-experts.”
Here in the Cayman Islands, there is a pervasive misperception that the people have the right to “micro-vote” on each and every issue that crops up between general elections. That is not so.
We do, however, have the absolute right to speak up and speak out on the issues that are in front of our elected decision-makers. That’s why we have free speech, and the free press.
The real “referendums,” if you will, should be the regularly scheduled general elections.
As opposed to the “direct democracy” of classical Athens lambasted by Plato, the whole idea of representative democracy is that individual citizens do not have to be experts on, nor even be involved in, the decisions being made by their elected government.
That includes “one man, one vote” or the adoption of the 2009 Constitution in Cayman, the issue of same-sex marriage in Bermuda, or Britain’s relationship with Europe, which, thanks to Thursday’s “Leave” vote, now remains in an uncertain state, somewhere between strained and severed.