The idea that Brexit will release Britain into a world of free trade is delusional

11:51 08 February 2017

PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

85% of world is joining trading blocs... as we decide to leave

There are many things about the Brexit fiasco to make one angry, and one of them – which we will hear a lot at this present moment because of the Article 50 Bill – is the cant phrase ‘the will of the people’ and such variants as ‘the British people have spoken’ and ‘the country has spoken’.

These dishonest, manipulative and profoundly misleading phrases should be challenged vigorously whenever uttered. They come pat out of the mouths of all those who piously claim that they the express the referendum outcome. Either they know that this is false, in which case they are dishonest, or they think it true, in which case they are deluded.

The point to be made and made again, repeated and repeated until one is blue in the face, is the true arithmetic of the referendum. Just 37% of an artificially restricted electorate voted Leave. This number represents 26% of the British population. It ignores the overwhelming majorities for Remain in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, London, Bristol, the university cities, and more. It ignores the demographic and educational split of the vote. It ignores everything but the crude number on the day, which even considered by itself is far too small a margin to permit a huge constitutional upheaval and a complete change of direction for the country.

The point about the artificially restricted franchise is very important. We know that 16-17-year-olds were denied a vote, that a large class of expatriates was denied a vote, and that EU citizens living, working and paying their taxes in the UK were denied a vote. All three groups had the vote in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, correctly so, for this is a referendum franchise and not a General Election franchise. Including the excluded groups makes a proper referendum electorate. Lazy and inattentive David Cameron allowed the franchise to be gerrymandered for the EU referendum, to limit the Remain vote as much as possible. It is unquestionable that if these excluded groups – and they are the groups most materially affected by the referendum – had possessed the vote, the outcome would have been the other way by a large margin.

This tells us that the Remain constituency in the UK is the majority. I bet everything I own on the truth of this claim. It is easily tested: hold another referendum with a properly defined electorate, and Remain will win.

These points need to be hammered home to all our MPs as the Article 50 debate unfolds. Write to them, lobby them, queue at their constituency surgeries this weekend: force them to look the arithmetical facts in the face, and the injustice done to the excluded groups, and force them to address both.

And there is another vital fact for them to stare in the face. Paul Lewis of Oxfordshire has sent me an email reporting a highly significant observation, which I quote in full with gratitude. He writes:

“I have repeatedly heard Brexit ministers, UKIP, and other Leave supporters, suggest that on leaving the EU we will be ‘free to trade like most other nations’ (or words to this affect). I spent some time investigating this claim (which I initially assumed to be true). It turns out it is not, as a matter of fact, true at all.

“Some 80-85% of all nation states are members of, or are in the process of joining (or forming) regional economic, financial, customs and/or political unions. I found this initially quite surprising and had not expected it. This realisation has since had a significant impact on my understanding of international affairs.

“These include: SADC, CARICOM, ASEAN, Mercosur, SAARC, CEFTA, EAEU, SICA, the Andean Community – it is a long list; these are just a sample. Many of these have a flag, anthem and motto. Some are involved in creating a single currency (Mercosur’s ‘Bolivar’, ECOWAS’s ‘Eco’.) Several have, or are creating, a parliament with universal suffrage. Several have (or are planning) their own free movement zones. Some involve mutual or combined security and defence goals. Some nations belong to more than one bloc – and in Africa, some five blocs are uniting to operate (in part, at least) under the ‘super-bloc’ of the African Union.

“I am not an expert on this subject. But I urge you – especially if you were not fully aware of the above – to research this topic. And to consider what it means for the long-term prospects of the UK to be leaving its nearest such bloc: the largest, most successful and most fully developed. If these blocs are evolving with the inertia and purposefulness my own research (admittedly limited) suggests, then what position is the UK putting itself in by setting its course diametrically against the flow of history? And by so doing possibly damaging our own local bloc in the process?”

This is an excellent observation and I thank Mr Lewis warmly for it. It should now be communicated with speed and vigour to every MP because if they even begin to understand its implications it should pull them up sharply; it is yet another grim factor, and a major one, in the harsh realities of the Brexit folly.

Professor AC Grayling is a philosopher and Master of New College of the Humanities

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