A glorious victory for democracy

Brexit is the most stirring political achievement of the postwar period.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill

Topics Brexit Politics UK

We did it. Against all the odds. Against the barbs and defamations and underhand tactics of a hysterical establishment. Against a Remainer Parliament that had been hell-bent on reversing what we voted for. Against the best efforts of Remainer agitators at home and the bureaucratic machine in Brussels to prevent our democratic voice from being heard.

Against all of this, we did it: we secured the UK’s exit from the EU. And now, on Brexit Day, on this day when the Eurosceptic wishes of the British people finally become a reality, let’s be frank about what Brexit represents: it is the most significant and stirring political achievement of the postwar period.

As we approach 11pm, the moment at which the UK will no longer be a member of the EU, there is much discussion about what tone we should adopt in our celebrations of Brexit Day. Brexiteer Tory MP Steve Baker is calling for ‘magnanimity’. Have a quiet one, at home, so that you don’t upset pained Remainers, he suggests.

Remainers, for their part, are furious about all the talk of parties. We’re rubbing their noses in it, they say. Everything from the Brexit Day gathering in Parliament Square this evening to Sajid Javid’s issuing of a commemorative 50p coin is being cited by the establishment’s bruised, Remoaning anti-democrats as proof of the vile populist streak in the Brexit movement. London mayor Sadiq Khan is even fretting that tonight’s Brexit bashes could give rise to xenophobic hate crimes.

Of course he is. That’s how they see us: as a pogrom-in-waiting. As a racist blob. As an unthinking mass driven almost entirely by hatred of the Other. They’ve been hurling these insults at us, at the millions of men and women who voted for Brexit, for three-and-a-half years now.

But all sides in the Brexit Day discussion are wrong. Baker and other timid Brexiteers are wrong to suggest we should play down the significance of this day lest we offend Remainers, and the Brexitphobic wing of the elite is wrong to say these celebrations are a screech of populist arrogance against the defeated side in the referendum. No, the reason this day must be marked — loudly, firmly and colourfully — is because it represents a glorious victory for democracy. What is being celebrated today is the defence of democracy against one of the greatest threats it has faced in modern times.

One of the peculiarities of the Brexit era, and of the contemporary era more broadly, is that very small and very unrepresentative sections of society are in control of the political and moral narrative. So even as 17.4million people, the largest electoral bloc in our history, voted for Brexit, and stood by their vote for Brexit in the face of the most extraordinary campaign of demonisation that I can remember, still the Remainer elites got to write the story of Brexit.

The powers-that-be — from the business elites to more than 70 per cent of MPs to virtually the entire academy and cultural sphere — were pro-Remain. And they used their influence in the worlds of commentary, letters and culture to paint a picture of Brexit as disastrous. As toxic. As fascistic. Or, at best, as very, very difficult to enact. The disjoint between public enthusiasm for Brexit and elite disgust with it was, at times, staggering.

As a consequence, it became incredibly difficult to draw out the historic significance, the magnificence, of Brexit. Even those in public life who supported Brexit, no doubt feeling the pressure of the often deranged establishment narrative around Brexit, became defensive. Brexit was manageable, they insisted. It would be okay. ‘Get Brexit Done’, as the Boris Johnson campaign said in December — a tellingly apologetic slogan which, thankfully, was enough to win the support of vast numbers of Leave voters, but which implicitly played into the denigration of Brexit, the reduction of it to a difficult, pesky task. Hardly anywhere was there an assertion of the historic, epoch-defining nature of Brexit.

So let’s do that today. Let’s now celebrate the meaningfulness of Brexit. It really cannot be overstated. Brexit is one of the finest acts of democracy in the history of this nation. It ought to take its place in the history books alongside the Levellers’ demand for universal male suffrage in the 1640s, and the mass march for democracy in St Peter’s Field in Manchester in 1819, and the Chartists’ agitation for the right of working-class men to vote in the 1840s, and the civil disobedience of the Suffragettes in the 1910s…

Because Brexit, and, more importantly, the post-referendum battle to protect Brexit from the anti-democratic elites, shares something incredibly important in common with those democratic leaps forward in British history. Which is that it embodies the patient but determined assertion of ordinary people that they have as much right as the rich and the well-educated to determine the political fate of the nation. That belief in the rights of the people energised the men, women and children on St Peter’s Field in 1819, and the women who gathered outside parliament on Black Friday in November 1910, and also the millions of us who voted to leave the EU and take back democratic control. Brexit is in keeping, entirely, with the great democratic struggles of our history.

Brexit did not only entail the British people reprimanding and rejecting the European Union and its anti-democratic ideology, which would have been wonderful enough. No, even more importantly than that, Brexit was a revolt against the domestic elites. Against the establishment that pleaded with us to vote Remain in 2016 and which devoted so much of its moral and political energy to sabotaging our vote for Brexit after 2016. Against a political class which, alarmingly, called into question the right to vote itself after the 2016 referendum and openly suggested that this mass vote should be ignored, erased, thrown into the dustbin of history.

This is why the vote for Boris in December last year was so significant. That so many ‘Red Wall’ Labour strongholds fell to the Tories was the clearest sign that the people still wanted Brexit and that the working classes had finally broken from the Labour bureaucracy and asserted their political and moral independence. The December election was the first time in the history of the European Union that a people refused to allow their vote against the EU to be overthrown or stitched up, as tragically happened in Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Greece and elsewhere. Across Europe, under extraordinary pressure from Brussels, Eurosceptic votes have either been ignored or overridden. Not this time. The people of Britain voted against the EU and then voted against the EU and the British establishment’s attempt to crush our vote and to deny us our democratic rights. This was a genuinely stirring and determined defence of the ideal of democracy and the meaning of the vote itself. In response to the most explicit and hateful establishment campaign against democracy in living memory, the British people said: ‘No, no, no.’

If that isn’t something to celebrate, I don’t know what is. Today, we should celebrate the British people’s defence of democracy. We should celebrate their perseverance and patience. We should celebrate the electorate’s capacity to think for itself, as captured in its constant refusal to fall for Project Fear or to heed the desperate overtures of the Remainer establishment. We should celebrate that the populist moment, the Europe-wide desire for greater people power, is not going away anytime soon. And we should celebrate the seismic shock that Brexit — that is, us, the voters — have delivered to a complacent establishment. We have called into question their authority, their power, and their unilateral right to impose their eccentric values and managerial tactics on the population at large. That battle isn’t over yet, by a long shot, but the first victory belongs to the demos.

People fought and died for the right to have a real, impactful say in political life. And Brexiteers have done those people proud. I’m celebrating that.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

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


Robin Ashe-Roy

17th February 2020 at 6:12 pm

I agree a lot with what you say about the so-called New Left which is nothing more than the Cheka arisen but when you talk about democracy being reestablished in the UK because of Brexit I have to laugh. For an intelligent geyser to say this is completely delusional and therefore your definition of democracy is truly distorted and I am not saying that the EU is because it too is a bad joke. There is no justification for saying now we have got it back -you sound like Cummings. The UK has a very feeble representative democracy based on plutocracy and the neoliberal ideology that worships the cult of mediocrity, greed, poverty, injustice, distortion, exploitation, ignorance, authority, war, historical deletion and much more egotistical claptrap. Neoliberalism negates democracy in its form now being used -plutocracy rules so to talk it up shows a complete disdain for free speech and knowledge of what is not talked about because real democracy transcends gagging orders and is freedom of thought,action and deliverance.

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Fred Mutton

2nd February 2020 at 6:19 pm

I am just downright ashamed that the racist xenophobes actually had street parties, military flyovers, church bells ringing and dancing in the streets to mark the end of WW11. OUR hate filled politicians celebrated in Westminster. To think of the insensitivity to the feelings of the poor Nazis.

James E Shaw

3rd February 2020 at 2:08 am

So, just under half the population of this country including traditional Labour areas such as Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Newcastle who felt by and large that remaining part of a club, that for all its flaws, allowed us to have our own currency, our own foriegn policy, appoint commisioners and the freedom to leave if we wished are comparable to the Nazis.

Wow, I only wish the Nazis had been so liberal minded.

This is, as I pointed out, patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel.

And no, I won’t put up and shut because I refuse to show magnimity in defeat to those who display none in victory. Brendan O’Neill lives by the sword by calling me a traitor, I say he is a scoundrel.

James E Shaw

2nd February 2020 at 1:19 pm

Brendan O’Neill claim that “what is being celebrated today is the defence of democracy against one of the greatest threats it has faced in modern times” is pure hyperbole.

Call me strange but I always thought that the Soviet Union, Al-Queda and the IRA always seemed more intimidating; all three of these forms of organisations ACTUALLY KILLED PEOPLE, including British citizens, in order to try and achieve their aim. No person who backed Remain that I can think of has ever recommended killing Leavers in order to achieve their aim and while crass remarks to the effect that it would be a good thing if Leavers grew old and died so that Remainers could take their place and take Britain back into the EU are not to be condoned, they hardly equate with spokesman from Sinn Fein/IRA who argued that civilian deaths were an acceptable way of achieving their objective.

This sort of line of argument is the ‘the EU is a European fourth Reich, EUSSR that I have previously described. What this sort of patriotism represents is the sort of patriotism that Dr Johnson described as the last refuge of the scoundrel, not the sort of patriotism that is designed to create a sense of identity and community but nationalism, which is aimed at blaming others for their problems and trying to silence legitimate debate through abuse.

In other words, the sort of patriotism that is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Jerry Owen

2nd February 2020 at 2:23 pm

James E Shaw
…’one of the greatest threats to democracy’.. there cleared that one up for you!

James E Shaw

2nd February 2020 at 6:45 pm

If anyone represents a threat to democracy it is Brendan O’Neill. The reason? Because he does so ON SPIKED’S OWN TERMS.

Consider the facts.

Spiked has previously attacked and continues to attack the existence of the royal prerogative as anachronistic and an affront to democracy. See here: – https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/07/31/3-rip-up-the-royal-prerogative/

Yet it was this very law that Theresa May used in order to by-pass Parliament and to trigger Article 50.

Sovereignty should rest with Parliament, not a Prime Minister using the powers of the crown, correct? Not least on an issue that will determine this country’s future for generations. So therefore when the businesswoman Gina Miller bought her case against the government and the Law Courts ruled in her favour, she was upholding democracy on Spiked’s own terms.

Her reward for this?

Spiked attacked her as an anti-democratic elitist and denounced the ruling as a legal coup. See here: – https://www.spiked-online.com/2016/11/03/article-50-down-with-this-legal-coup-against-the-masses/

Gina Miller subsequently faced death threats and racial abuse leading to one person being jailed, see here: – https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/13/viscount-jailed-for-offering-money-for-killing-of-gina-miller

I suppose this was something she should have expected to happen, as Spiked argued. https://www.spiked-online.com/2017/12/19/guess-what-when-you-attack-democracy-you-piss-people-off/

By the way, the argument that the High Court Ruling was a legal coup was complete nonsense, as the legal blogger Matthew Scott pointed out in this following article: – http://barristerblogger.com/2016/07/05/dont-abuse-brexit-litigants-action-shows-live-free-country/.

In reality, Mrs Miller was upholding democracy on Spiked’s own terms.

Jerry Owen

3rd February 2020 at 4:03 pm

James E Shaw
Losing is so hard isn’t it!
I’m glad you’re not being magnanimous in defeat. I know you’re hurting inside and I’m rather enjoying it , I have to say!

Fred Mutton

2nd February 2020 at 12:06 am

The hated British media, led by the hated BBC have treated the Brexit victory as they treat any English sports team winning any major event. They are on the side of the opposition.
AND every time they do it they hammer another nail in their collective coffins.


2nd February 2020 at 2:43 pm

‘hated British media’ — the DM, DT and Sun must be included in that statement given the corrosive effect they have had on public discourse and morals.

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