I voted Remain – and I think Article 50 must be invoked

Martha Muir

Topics Politics UK

I am a Remain voter, in all its smug, elitist, metropolitan glory. I wavered for a while in the run-up to the EU referendum before deciding that the potential cost to the economy was too much for me to bear. And so I ticked the box to stay in the EU.

But here’s where I differ from many of my Remainers-in-arms: I accept that my side lost. And I believe that Article 50, which triggers the UK’s exit from the EU, needs to be invoked, and it needs to be invoked now.

To delay invoking, or to refuse to invoke, Article 50 would be an affront to democracy. The British people expressed their will to leave the EU, and that will, that decision, should be respected and enacted.

Sadly, too many Remainers disagree. They think that Britain’s largely EU-supporting political class should block, or least postpone, Brexit. But just because the majority of politicians didn’t like the result of the referendum, that is no reason to postpone acting on it. MPs exist to represent the democratic will, not to override it when it doesn’t accord with their own will.

I may have been a Remain voter, but I am also a staunch supporter of democracy. I support upholding the result, despite it not being the result I wanted, just as I would expect Brexiters to have upheld the result had it been in favour of staying in the EU. That is why I am siding with the electorate against the politicians and bureaucrats who are now treating democracy with contempt.

Calling the legitimacy of the referendum result into question is another common tactic of the anti-democracy lobby. It appears to be a legal argument against accepting the referendum result as a binding obligation, but its motivations are political. So when pro-EU lawyer Geoffrey Robertson described the referendum result as ‘purely advisory’, something politicians can debate and choose to reject should they wish, you can bet that had the result been in favour of remaining in the EU, Robertson would have had no such quibbles. Besides, if parliament was never obliged to accept the result, then why go to the immense trouble of calling a referendum in the first place?

The consequences of delaying and potentially reversing the referendum result would be severe. To reject the decision of the electorate would demoralise voters, and deepen their already profound popular disenchantment with parliamentary politics. Is that really a price worth paying to avoid a bit of short-term economic instability?

It is worth reminding those trying to undermine the referendum result that 72.2 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote. That’s significantly higher than turnouts for any General Election since 1992, and, more importantly, markedly higher than UK turnouts for any European Parliament election in history. That just 36 per cent of the UK electorate turned out to vote in the last European Parliament election in 2014 was evidence, then, not of UK voters’ disenchantment with democracy, but their disenchantment with the paucity of choices on the ballot.

Yes, Theresa May, who is now prime minister, has committed herself to securing Brexit. But respecting the democratic will should never have been a choice for politicians. Democracy is not something politicians can opt in to or opt out of; it is (or ought to be) the fundamental source of political authority. I would therefore entreat anyone who cares about sustaining a healthy democracy, Remainer or Brexiter, Labour or Tory, to demand the invocation of Article 50 now.

Martha Muir is a writer and student.

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Topics Politics UK


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