Brexit is a classic case where populism collides with democracy.

The white people in the Appalachians who believe America (read white America) is under siege from immigrants without realising that they are also immigrants and that immigrants created the America of today. The Anatolian Turkish muslims who keep Erdogan in power who have had enough of having their Islam denied by the Istanbul elite without realising that without the modernising force of Ataturk the country would have become a backwater. The Hindu right wing of today who believe that despite an 80% population majority and superior levels of economic, educational, cultural and political attainment they are under siege by the Muslims and Christians. In all three countries institutions are under siege like never before – because these institutions are designed to implement the wishes of the majority without letting the majority ride rough shod over the minority. They are a tempering force designed to curb extremism. They are the populists I refer to.

The institution of democracy as we practice is full of mechanisms to channel the forces of populism and temper its majoritarian effects. The hoary old institutions of Westminster have not yet spectacularly failed but are close to it. I have been enthralled by how the institutional mechanisms have fought back against a Prime Minister who seems to have succumbed to this populism and abandoned any pretence of leading the country and focuses on the party she leads. For populists, this PM is the best possible scenario they could hope for. Her behaviour is in some small way akin to the legislative coup Adolf Hitler mounted in 1933 through the Enabling Act. (I am not by any means saying that May is a dictator or an anti-semite). But the logic and mechanisms have shades of similarity. If at all any sort of executive dictatorship was avoided, it was only through the actions of the speaker, John Bercow. He will pay a political price but his actions have been self-less in many ways and he is a hero to me.

There are no easy options. The country seems determined to crash out of the EU based on a misplaced sense of “we did it in 1945”. A country bereft of any knowledge of history does not realise that Victory over Nazi Germany would not have been possible without the men and material from the United States and India. And victory over Napoleon in 1815 would not have been possible without the men and leadership of Field Marshal Blucher of the Prussian State.

According to my European readings there is a great sense of alarm in the EU. There is a possibility that the EU may offer to extend Article 50 but not change any terms of exit. The German successor to Angela Merkel wrote a heart-felt letter to the British public asking them to stay. The behaviour of the EU has been statesmanlike. Tough in negotiations, generous in their approach.

2 thoughts on “Brexit: Populism collides with democracy

  1. For once, I have a view contrary to yours with regard to the withdrawal agreement that May reached with the EU and which House of Commons rejected. Granted she could have been inclusive in the first place, carried people along at the start of the negotiations, etc etc (not even her admirers would accuse her of statesmanship).


    There isn’t a better solution possible. Once the majority (however erroneous the referendum may have been) voted for Brexit, some form of exit has to be implemented. A second referendum, people’s vote etc etc will simply call for a third, fourth, fifth referendums from the losing side. Where do you stop.

    If you postulate that you have to curtail immigration, that you have to have some closeness economically with the EU that the UK should remain together and that the inevitable border in Northern Ireland has to be kept as soft as possible, then I challenge anybody to produce a better deal than what May got. It is opposed by everybody who are taking extreme positions . There is no substantially better deal possible. I refer you to the comments of the Father of the House, Kenneth Clarke, a staunch Remainer who voted for the deal for some wise and sober comments.

    Why don’t you articulate what is a pracical and possible deal given the current circumstances, in the next post ? I know you (and I) can prove that remaining in the EU is the best option, but that is not a practical solution now.


  2. Thanks for leaving a comment Ramesh. My post was a lament. An indulgence but totally useless. I think some form of exit has to be implemented now. Assuming that I am allowed to consider a change of leader in the next post let me put down some thoughts on this.


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