Tony Blair’s Democratic Insurrection

LONDON – Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s recent call for voters to think again about leaving the European Union, echoed in parliamentary debates ahead of the government’s official launch of the process in March, is an Emperor’s New Clothes moment. Although Blair is now an unpopular figure, his voice, like that of the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s story, is loud enough to carry above the cabal of flatterers assuring Prime Minister Theresa May that her naked gamble with Britain’s future is clad in democratic finery.

The importance of Blair’s speech can be gauged by the hysterical over-reaction to his suggestion of reopening the Brexit debate, even from supposedly objective media: “It will be seen by some as a call to arms – Tony Blair’s Brexit insurrection,” according to the BBC.

Such is the tyranny of the majority in post-referendum Britain that a “Remainer” proposal for rational debate and persuasion is considered an insurrection. And anyone questioning government policy on Brexit is routinely described as an “enemy of the People,” whose treachery will provoke “blood in the streets.”

What explains this sudden paranoia? After all, political opposition is a necessary condition for functioning democracy – and nobody would have been shocked if Euroskeptics continued to oppose Europe after losing the referendum, just as Scottish nationalists have continued campaigning for independence after their ten-point referendum defeat in 2014. And no one seriously expects American opponents of President Donald Trump to stop protesting and unite with his supporters.

The difference with Brexit is that last June’s referendum subverted British democracy in two insidious ways. First, the Leave vote was inspired mainly by resentments unconnected with Europe. Second, the government has exploited this confusion of issues to claim a mandate to do anything it wants.

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© Project Syndicate

© Project Syndicate

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