Frenemies of the people

Remainers desperate to overturn Brexit are now posing as democracy’s champions.

Joanna Williams

Joanna Williams

Topics Brexit Politics UK

Democracy is suddenly all the rage. Those who have spent the past three years fighting to overturn the referendum result are now taking to the streets in its defence. Those who have been quite happy to see power drip from Westminster to Brussels are now enthusiastic converts to parliamentary sovereignty. Of course, the brand of democracy that’s fashionable with EU-loving protesters is of a very specific variety. It’s the type that places the votes of a few hundred MPs above the 17.4million members of the public who voted for the UK to leave the EU. It’s the type of democracy that demands we bend the knee to our representatives in parliament, who are expected to think and act on our behalf. This takes us a long way indeed from the concept of people power.

It is not just the role of the people that is being redefined to suit the purposes of those determined to stop Brexit. Who counts as ‘the people’ in the first place is also being redefined. Once, ‘the people’ might have referred straightforwardly to the electorate, and the will of the people meant the decision taken by a majority of voters. After three years of chipping away at this definition, ‘the people’ is now being used to refer to a far more selective group.

With the Labour Party having dropped all pretence of backing Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn is keen to show his faith in the people. ‘Final sovereignty on Brexit must rest with the people’, he wrote in the Guardian this weekend. Of course it must. That’s why those of us who voted Leave three years ago are still waiting for our decision to be implemented. But it’s clearly not the likes of us that Corbyn has in mind. No, the select group of people he wants ‘final sovereignty’ to rest with is the ‘rapidly growing movement of people determined to stop No Deal’.

‘It is the people, not an unelected prime minister, who should determine our country’s future’, notes Corbyn. And I couldn’t agree more. But who are ‘the people’ Corbyn is referring to exactly? The 17.4million Leave voters or the million-or-so people always on the look out for a pro-EU petition to sign? The millions in the north of England who backed Brexit or the few thousand who turn out to protest in London? The electorate or Guardian readers? The many or the few? When Corbyn talks of ‘the people’ what he really means is people who agree with him.

Corbyn is not the first to redefine ‘the people’ according to his own selective interpretation. The same commentators and campaigners who argue for ‘a people’s vote’ make clear that their aim is to overturn the result of the referendum. They are not seriously interested in the view of the electorate. Jo Swinson, new leader of the Liberal Democrats, has even said that if a second referendum didn’t return the result she wanted she simply wouldn’t accept it. No, ‘the people’ who will be listened to in a ‘people’s vote’ are those now ready either to vote the ‘right’ way or happy to have their options limited so that the outcome is one that Remainers can accept.

By the same token, those, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, who argue for a ‘people’s parliament,’ or a ‘citizens’ assembly’, to resolve Brexit mean anything other than defending the result of the referendum. What they really want is to bring together a small group that can be presented with curated evidence from carefully selected experts and a limited range of predetermined options in order to arrive at the ‘right’ outcome.

The people throwing themselves behind a people’s assembly or a people’s vote have, at the very same time, decried the will of the people as ‘a myth’. We’ve been told that the will of the people is premised upon confusing democratic government with populist government, as if populism and democracy are mutually exclusive and as soon as a society seeks the views of the majority of the electorate more directly, it stops being a democracy. We’ve been told there’s no such thing as ‘the people’ – a singular entity – but that there are many different people whose views need to be taken into account and carefully balanced. The subtext here is that we can only trust self-appointed experts to do the balancing for us. We’ve also been told that ‘the people’ didn’t vote to leave the EU because when the numbers of those under the age of 18 and those who didn’t vote at all are added up, Brexit becomes a minority position. The idea that we count up the votes of the people who did vote and determine a majority that way is seen as dangerous by those with a vested interest in keeping the people at arm’s length from democracy.

With another General Election looking increasingly likely, we must not let ‘the people’ be redefined as ‘the few’. Allowing Corbyn and other anti-democrats to get away with this risks overturning the referendum result and rendering democracy meaningless. If ‘the people’ becomes a chosen minority, then the hard-won right to universal suffrage is called into question.

We, the people, must mean all of the electorate, no matter how inconvenient this is to those who would like to wish away large swathes of us.

Joanna Williams is associate editor at spiked. Her most recent book, Women vs Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars, is out now.

Picture by: Getty.

Rod Liddle and Brendan O’Neill in conversation at Podcast Live!

Rod Liddle and Brendan O'Neill
– live in London

Podcast Live

Podcast Live, Friends House, London, NW1 2BJ – 5 October 2019, 2.30pm-3.30pm

To get tickets, click the button below, then scroll down to The Brendan O'Neill Show logo on the Podcast Live page.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.



4th September 2019 at 1:32 pm

This blog purports to be supportive of democracy yet wants half the population to shut up and get on with implementing a referendum result from 3 years ago.

The referendum result has so far been delivered. Article 50 was triggered. Exit negotiations began. The Civil Service mobilised to facilitate our departure. Parliament has spent countless sessions debating what future relationships should look like. And billions spent on Brexit preparations.

Yes there is more to do – and we have not yet finalised our departure – yet the democratic process allows us to continuously debate, challenge and change the path that the country is on. If enough people want us to turn around and halt Brexit, the democratic thing is to listen to their voice. I do not know if a majority would vote in favour of Brexit or Remain should a second referendum happen today, but the democratic thing is to give people the right to change their mind and to encourage healthy debate, based upon facts and truths.


9th September 2019 at 3:04 pm

Excellent post. You are a voice of sanity among the cries of the increasingly shrill Brexit mob. Boris ‘Mugabe’ Johnson and the Rasputin-like manipulator Cummings have no real respect for democracy. Who voted for no deal in 2016? No one, not even Daniel Hannan, Nigel Farage or BJ himself.

Marvin Jones

10th September 2019 at 11:55 am

How many times must the voters be given to change their minds? I am counting.

SNJ Morgan

4th September 2019 at 12:05 pm

I think it’s way past time that the British people started their own gilets jaunes movement- wear a different colour if necessary, but it’s time the the UK Parliament was made aware who the servant and who the master actually is.

James Knight

3rd September 2019 at 7:15 pm

People like Corbyn and Guardianistas always claim to be speaking for “the voiceless”. They mean the marginalised groups at the bottom of the income scale. But it turns out their real problem is when “the voiceless” have a voice, as they did in the referendum.

Garreth Byrne

3rd September 2019 at 3:38 pm

It is useful to focus on the concept of The People. Throughout political history rulers and opposition orators wishing to replace rulers have purported to speak ‘for’ The People. Interpreting ‘the People’s will’ has always been a parlour game, often machiavellian. Those who wish to win the favour of The People need to know what buttons to push, what image of sincerity to project. It is interesting at the moment to see antipopulists trying to curry favour with The People.

John Millson

3rd September 2019 at 11:37 am

Yes, the ‘people’ are the electorate.
Give the ‘people’ a crude majority referendum on something as contentious and vital as leaving or remaining in the EU – destroy or preserve – and hey, guess what, you have a close result, leaving many people distressed and worried about their livelihoods, their families and their freinds’ futures.
Given the enormity of the change, anyone with a slither of common sense and compassion would support the need for a transition arrangement.
Leaving with a withdrawal agreement is not ‘betraying’ Brexit.
Even Cumminngs and Johnson understand this but they obviously have to see off the wretched Brexit party.
Isn’t it great?

Neil McCaughan

3rd September 2019 at 12:10 pm

Twaddle, written by someone with a feeble grasp of English.

John Millson

3rd September 2019 at 1:31 pm

Sticklers are always useless.


3rd September 2019 at 3:23 pm

>>Sticklers are always useless.<<
Is a 'stickler' a bit like a 'slither'? Hint: 'slither' is not a noun

John Millson

4th September 2019 at 7:59 am


A malapropism – it should be ‘sliver’ not ‘slither’.
Thank you.

Jerry Owen

3rd September 2019 at 1:54 pm

John Millson
‘a transition arrangement’.
‘destroy or preserve’.
‘a crude majority referendum’.
‘leaving people distressed’.
My my, for a man who never tires of telling us he accepted the 2016 referendum result you can’t stop moaning can you ?
‘Remoaners’ and ‘Remainiacs’.. what truly descriptive words for people like you !
I saw a banner that stated ‘Brexit is a coup’ , i think ‘remoaners’ are truly unhinged.
Just what is it that you love about the EU so much that you simply can’t accept the result of a referendum to the point of absurdity ?

John Millson

3rd September 2019 at 2:36 pm

I am now tired of trying to defend any sort of rational ‘third way’ position. People like yourself are incapable of listening or apparently taking the time to reflect a bit. What’s wrong? When did the permanent anger state set in?
Too right anyone who stands to lose their business or anyone who has a EU citizen partner whose status will change overnight because of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, has every bloody right to ‘moan’ and complain.
I’m gobsmacked by the blinkered and intransigent attitude of so many Brexiteers. Why don’t Brexiteers themselves stop ‘moaning’ and start compromising? Why didn’t the ERG use a bit of imagination and political nous and get UK out on March 29th?
I don’t ‘love’ or ‘hate’ the EU – I just accept it as a lived reality.
The UK has lost so much these past 3 to 4 years because of the Brexit crisis.
‘Moaning’, complaining, rioting…Get used to it – you wanted it. Happy?

Jerry Owen

3rd September 2019 at 3:46 pm

John Millson
Your mask has well and truly slipped away at last for all to see your true feelings about Brexit ..!!

Jerry Owen

3rd September 2019 at 3:48 pm

John Millson
Why should Brexiteers compromise with losers ?
It was a clear cut choice.. in or out.. out won , that’s what I voted for and that’s what I expect.

John Millson

4th September 2019 at 8:30 am

Jerry Owen,
‘Why should Brexiteers compromise with losers ?’
What an extraordinary statement. Do you really feel that way, deep down? How do you manage in everyday life? Always got your own way? I somehow doubt it. Grow up man.

Jim Lawrie

3rd September 2019 at 3:01 pm

You, the judges, lawyers, politicos, SJW’s, all crash into each other at the same juncture, where it says winners go right, losers to the left.
By “crude” majority you hint at what you think. A refined franchise. Filtered. Free of those with impure politics. The challenge is then to devise a test that exposes this. That test existed and worked well until The Ballot Act of 1872 came along and ruined it all. Up till then Ireland sending MP’s to Westminster presented no problem whatsoever. Bloody Liberals.

John Millson

3rd September 2019 at 3:36 pm

With hindsight, a qualified majority requirement of 60% of votes cast would have been wise for this referendum.

Jerry Owen

3rd September 2019 at 3:50 pm

John Millson
Stop flailing around.. its very unbecoming .. you lost , that’s all there is to it !

Margaret Potter

4th September 2019 at 4:59 am

John Millson 60% ? In any election I always thought a majority of 1 was sufficient to win so why the difference for this vote. And what difference would 4% make to the outcome if Remainers are intent on denying 54% 🤭

Amelia Cantor

3rd September 2019 at 10:11 am

But they are democracy’s champions! When people are lied to, manipulated and exploited into voting for a crypto-fascist measure like Brexit, that is not democracy: it is a CORRUPTION of democracy. Furthermore, we do not allow children or the insane to vote. The right to vote is not universal. And if there were an intelligence test for voting, Brexit would never have passed.

If there were an ethnicity-and-gender test, Brexit wouldn’t have passed either, because cisgender white men wouldn’t have been able to vote.

cliff resnick

3rd September 2019 at 11:21 am


Michael Lynch

3rd September 2019 at 11:36 am

Wouldn’t give this troll any oxygen by replying.

Neil McCaughan

3rd September 2019 at 12:11 pm

Oh dear. Not even funny.

Amelia Cantor

4th September 2019 at 10:32 am

No, Brexit isn’t funny, Neil. And you and your rightard ilk aren’t funny either. You’re toxic and need flushing out of politics.

Jane 70

3rd September 2019 at 2:36 pm

Are you a real person?

Margaret Potter

4th September 2019 at 5:02 am

All your posts refer cis gender white male, have you been let down in love sunshine because your hate is so visible

christopher barnard

3rd September 2019 at 10:02 am

These anti-Brexit demos seem to attact white people who look like students or retired local government officers.

Jerry Owen

3rd September 2019 at 11:16 am

Christopher Barnard
It must upset Amelia Cantor having virtually nobody of colour on her side !
I bet she is impressed and jealous by the amount of coloured people in TBP. A truly diverse party if ever there was one.

Neil McCaughan

3rd September 2019 at 12:13 pm

BAME people don’t eat camembert or worry about sandwiches, so it’s very difficult to get them out on anti-BREXIT demos.

Jane 70

3rd September 2019 at 2:42 pm

Yes, we have a splendid gay black MEP up here in the northern wastes.
Amelia Cantor, nota bene

Andrew Leonard

3rd September 2019 at 9:02 am

The UK is a fractured society

Claire D

3rd September 2019 at 8:58 am

The twisting and shifting of words and their meanings seems to be symptomatic of our age. Woman, Man, Democracy, Result, Leave, Sovereignty, Racism, Islamophobia, Rape; there is a cacophony of voices and words, but instead of meaning something definite, which they should do, they have become fluid, sometimes even empty. Maybe fundamentals are important after all. I just hope facts and truth will triumph.

Claire D

3rd September 2019 at 9:06 am

Islamophobia is in there as an example of a word that has been made up to mean whatever someone wants it to mean.

Michael Lynch

3rd September 2019 at 11:03 am

Excellent observation. Logic and rationality have also been twisted out of shape by the redefinition of these words. I’ve just seen Justine Greening on Sky saying how she wants to avoid a GE in order to prevent a Corbyn premiership yet she is going to vote against her own Party today. Hamstringing her own Party by reducing their majority can only lead to a GE. Gosh, and I always thought it was the Americans who couldn’t grasp irony!

Michael Lynch

3rd September 2019 at 8:52 am

Watching Sarah-Jane Mee interviewing various outside Parliament. There’s a bloke in the background shouting ‘stop Brexit, save our democracy’ amongst a sea of European flags. Talk about paradox and these are supposed to be the educated and informed. Our betters, indeed!

Jerry Owen

3rd September 2019 at 9:00 am

Michael Lynch
I listened to an anti democrat telling a reporter that ‘ we fought a war to protect our democracy’.. a democracy that gave him a referendum vote that he lost and now wants to change the result of, the irony is staggering !

John Millson

3rd September 2019 at 9:09 am

Jerry Owen,
Oh dear.

Jim Lawrie

3rd September 2019 at 6:01 pm

They are shameless in their appropriation of the memory of those who paid with their lives.

I didn’t fight a war and that is because my forebears did. And they did so for me and mine.

Margaret Potter

4th September 2019 at 5:09 am

Shame on you John Millson dismissing the sacrifice my uncle made Age 20 WW2 jungles Burma. I think your moral clock needs realignment.

Jerry Owen

3rd September 2019 at 8:40 am

The anti democrats have had three years to gather support , to work out their strategies, to produce swathes of propaganda through the media elites, and chip away at our democracy
The democrats / Brexiteers have had three years of waiting, unable to do anything , three years of frustration. Time is not on our side.
The anti democrats have pushed the battle to one of pushing a more broad socialist agenda, judging by their demonstrations ( albeit small ones ). However the MSM gives them publicity out of proportion to their numbers.
If our exit is delayed again then I suspect it will be the end of Brexit.
The left have hijacked Brexit for their own purposes, they have used it as a trojan horse just like every other form of ‘identity politics’ they create.
Remember the original vote .. it was never about left v right but the left have made it just that, the left love to divide.
The left have made this problematic division in our country, this is why socialism always ends in division misery and the death camps and prisons. The left don’t do tolerance and diversity of opinion.
History shows this and i wonder how the nominally left ‘Spiked’ and its writers such as BON and T Slater see us getting over the hurdle of the undemocratic left.
These people as I have said are a minority but looking at their demonstrations the hatred is very real, these people should be nowhere near the levers of power.

John Millson

3rd September 2019 at 8:30 am

(As the roots of ‘spiked online’ are from a tradition which distrusts and despises all ‘bourgeois’ forms of democracy, as ultimately the ‘bourgeoisie’ will always the ‘betray’ the ‘prolerariat’, the tone of this asinine bilge isn’t surprising.
It’s a 14 year old’s understanding of ‘democracy’.
We are talking about governing a large complex nation. It’s not a commune or a sports club.)
Get real.
Yes, the ‘people’ are the electorate.
Give the ‘people’ a crude majority referendum on something as contentious and vital as leaving or remaining in the EU – destroy or preserve – and hey, guess what, you have a close result, leaving many people distressed and worried about their livelihoods, their families and their freinds’ futures.
Given the enormity of the change, anyone with a slither of common sense and compassion would support the need for a transition arrangement.
Leaving with a withdrawal agreement is not ‘betraying’ Brexit.
Even Cumminngs and Johnson understand this but they obviously have to see off the wretched Brexit party.
Isn’t it great?

Jerry Owen

3rd September 2019 at 2:17 pm

John Millson
I have answered your virtually identical post on another thread , please don’t post repetitive posts on multiple threads , it isn’t necessary.

Margaret Potter

4th September 2019 at 5:14 am

Agreed, but he obviously only has one script so it necessitates repeats. Wonder if he works for the BBC 🙈


9th September 2019 at 3:06 pm

Leaving is economic suicide. What are the supposed advantages of sticking two fingers up to our major trading partners and political allies? If the EU is so dreadful, why have we had 30 years of robust economic growth in the EU? The Greeks shafted their own economy through corruption, laziness and bad government.

Michael Lynch

3rd September 2019 at 12:41 am

Corbyn is going after the 48% Remain vote in the vain hope they’ll see him as their champion. However, how can they with all seriousness? Yes, the ardent Remain contingent will, the insufferable snobby types, but a large proportion of the Remain population would have settled for a deal. Just like a large proportion of the Leave voters. However, The Labour Party consistently voted down any chance of a deal so have themselves created the current situation. Public patience is paper thin so they are not going to fall for this duplicitous tripe. Blair was right this morning; the Labour Party cannot win a GE. Boris has laid the trap perfectly.
Can’t wait to see what Hammond and his creatures do tomorrow. Will they or won’t they support their PM? Will self interest win over conviction? If there is a GE on the 14th October then it’ll be Tory rebels and Labour’s doing. What a ‘get out of jail’ card Boris will have then. Who ever said that this man was an amateurish Buffoon?

Jim Lawrie

3rd September 2019 at 12:52 am

Boris always works out the percentage shot and plays it. As when he jumped ship from Remain to Leave, late in the day.

John Millson

3rd September 2019 at 8:32 am

And I’m guessing he’ll get your vote.

Jim Lawrie

3rd September 2019 at 6:04 pm

John Millson my vote is none of your business, although you have just confirmed my suspicion that you would repeal The 1872 Ballot Act. Not the brightest, are you?

John Millson

4th September 2019 at 10:22 am

Eh? Why would I want to repeal the 1872 Act?

Jane 70

3rd September 2019 at 5:57 am

Hammond has just been selected again, by his local association, so he probably will join the move to oppose BoJo.
According to Sky News, the Remainers are gathering support by means of a secret facebook network:

Secret Facebook network helps boost anti-Brexit protests

Kent Willumsen

3rd September 2019 at 6:50 pm

Hammond’s re-selection was a bit dodgy if you look around in the news.
I sounds like the selection never went to the full association to decide.

John Millson

3rd September 2019 at 8:38 am

Labour are unlikely to vote for a GE to take place before 31st October.
Yes, Labour missed a chance to see off the ERG. Big political miscalculation.

Jerry Owen

3rd September 2019 at 9:03 am

John Millson
Labour would be demolished in a GE this is why Blair advised against Labour agitating for one.

Kent Willumsen

3rd September 2019 at 6:52 pm

Spot on, the whole left/leave side will be in trouble if Tory’s team-up with the Brexit party in a GE before 31/10.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.