Neo-authoritarians push for new Brexit referendum

The dreary spectacle of a neo-authoritarian insurgency will remain long after Brexit is done and dusted. Those calling for a second referendum will fail. But these enemies of democracy will be with us for a long time to come

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Faces of neo-authoritarianism
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the commentator
On 16 April 2018 12:15

They're a desperate bunch, and a shameless one at that. Sunday's launch of the wildly misnamed "People's Vote" campaign for a second referendum on Brexit sported such dubious luminaries as Conservative Anna Soubry, Labour’s Chuka Umunna, the Greens's Carline Lucas, and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran.

Given the ongoing instability in British politics due to Theresa May's botched attempt to increase her majority last year, there is a theoretical chance they could pull this off. In practice, given that neither the prime minister nor the leader of the opposition want one, it has no chance.

We have already written about the fate that awaits these Canute-like rejectionists of the tides of history. They are the "Broken People"; dust on the steps, who await the sweep of history's broom, as the Russian revolutionaries once put it in another context.

But their antics cannot be allowed to pass without comment. While even the head-in-sand fantasists in Brussels have largely accepted by now that Brexit is inevitable, Britain's negotiating hand is still weakened when we are seen not to show a united front.

Remainers do, of course, have the right to continue to voice their objections to Brexit. What they cannot expect is to be shown anything other than contempt for their petulant refusal to accept the results of the 2016 referendum in particular and democracy in general.

For, beyond the bluster, that is what this is all about. And we saw this in the United States too, when millions of Democrats sought to overturn the results of the American election. Say what you like about Donald Trump. We hold no candle for him. But his election was free, fair, and in line with the US Constitution. To far too many of his opponents, that mattered little.

These past two years have seen new battle lines emerge in Western politics. Yes, there is a populist insurgency. Yes, its manifestations are troubling. But more troubling still is the emergence from the mainstream of politics of a neo-authoritarian rearguard action that believes it is entitled to reject democratic votes when it doesn't get its way.

It is a shabby development, and it has been brewing for many years, especially in relation to the European Union where anti-democratic shenanigans have been at play for some time now.

The neo-authoritarians in the anti-Brexit camp can plainly draw on precedent. Voters in Ireland were twice told to hold new referendums last decade when the results of the first ones were not to Brussels' liking. The likes of Soubry, Umunna, Lucas, and Moran are well aware of this, and their hopes are pinned on a repeat of it.

They will fail, of course. But what a sorry state we find ourselves in. Within our midst there are people who believe that democracy counts for nothing, and they are not on the fringes.

Long after Brexit is done and dusted, it is a challenge that all true democracts will continue to confront. 

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