Continuing the EU debate is not ‘undemocratic’
Justin Protts, 17 February 2017
Tony Blair’s intervention in the Brexit debate today will inevitably invoke anger amongst those who campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union. Already Iain Duncan Smith branded his comments as ‘undemocratic’ and ‘arrogant’.
But Blair has not asked for the will of the people to be ignored. He has simply said it is the people’s ‘right to change their mind’ and that it is his ‘mission to persuade them to do so’. Whether or not you believe the former prime minister’s words to be arrogant, they are certainly not undemocratic. Blair is right in at least one area – we cannot simply shut down the debate.
People have, and always will, always change their minds. People have, and always will, put forward arguments to persuade others of their cause. The value of a democracy is that it ensures these arguments are heard and that, if enough people change their mind, someone will listen.
For years genuine debates on issues relating to the EU have been avoided in UK politics. Membership of the EU has meant that debates about immigration, trading relationships and agricultural policy have not been given any real consideration by the UK parliament. This failure to engage culminated in what was, on both sides, a bitter and divisive referendum campaign.
Those berating Blair for being ‘undemocratic’ or attacking his character are now themselves shutting down, rather than engaging in, those same debates. Those who for years have campaigned for referendums on membership of the EU no doubt found that their arguments were until recently shut down or dismissed by those in power. But returning the favour does not benefit our democracy.
Whether you support leaving or remaining in the EU is a matter of personal choice. But everyone should be able to respect the value of free speech in a democracy and this means that arguments should never be shut down or dismissed out of hand. The truth of the matter is that, whatever your views on the EU, the debate about the UK’s future and its future relationship with the EU will and must continue. That debate will inevitably include arguments about whether or not leaving the EU is the right decision.