Brexit bullies are rot at heart of British democracy

by Luke Lythgoe | 13.06.2018

The self-appointed champions of the “will of the people” in the pro-Brexit press should stop smearing MPs, peers and judges and take a look in the mirror. Their disgraceful front pages – and the trolls they inspire – don’t defend our democracy. They represent a threat to it.

The tabloid splashes ahead of yesterday’s votes on the prime minister’s EU Withdrawal Bill were a textbook example. “You have a choice…” The Sun warned potential Tory rebels, “Great Britain or Great betrayal”. The Express opted for a “simple warning” to MPs: “Ignore the will of the people at your peril.”

Tabloid intimidation is not new. Remember when the Daily Mail denounced judges as “Enemies of the People” and urged Theresa May to “Crush the Saboteurs”? As Brexit Day gets closer, the pressure is ratcheted up on MPs to snap to heel.

Most worrying is Tory MP Anna Soubry’s revelation that an MP didn’t vote with their conscience because of “threats to their personal safety, to members of their parliamentary staff and to members of their family”.

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Labour’s Chuka Umunna called the Express front page a “threat, pure and simple”. He highlighted Phillip Lee’s shock resignation in protest at the government’s Brexit policies, and how a “UKIP supporter has called for him to be hanged, and another individual has called for him to be hung, drawn and quartered”.

Umunna quoted Winston Churchill’s point that the principal role of an MP is to do what he thinks is “right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain”. This idea is at the heart of our democracy. Speaker John Bercow agreed MPs were “constitutionally obliged” at act according to their conscience.

Brexit is the perfect test case. It is for MPs to scrutinise how the government is conducting Brexit. If they conclude it will be bad for our prosperity, public services and power, they should oppose it. The genuinely democratic solution then would be to hand the decision back to the public, by calling a People’s Vote once we know the Brexit deal.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

6 Responses to “Brexit bullies are rot at heart of British democracy”

  • The ‘Freedom of the Press’ is supposed to be a cornerstone of democracy. But in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “With freedom comes responsibility”.

    The bile, hate, xenophobia and downright lies that pour from these publications have to stop, even if that means limiting those freedoms. Make it your habit to turn over or cover them on every supermarket shelf, discourage readership and boycott advertisers.

  • When radio and TV came in, we were smart enough to regulate their broadcasts, with meaningful controls. We’re even moving slowly towards some sort of regulation of online media. So how has the press managed to maintain this aura of ‘defending freedom’, when 80% of what I call the political press is owned by just 5 tax-exile billionaires, who have shamelessly weaponised it to take over the system? This must be close to breaking the law? Public pressure killed off the News of the World. We should be looking out for a test case to crowdfund and take to the courts.

  • Frankly it makes me ashamed that these media giants churn out their rants, and that many of my compatriots have been influenced to vote for an appalling Leave result. The Mail has a new editor, maybe we’ll see a bit more objectivity from them. Wolf Forrow is absolutely right that we should take on the Banks/Farage/Murdoch axis and present a positive Remain arguement which the totally inept Conservative coalition failed to do. I don’t want to rely on Soros….good bloke though he is. I’ll chuck in a crowd funder contribution to take this aberration to the courts.

    The vote by 17 million out of the 65 million affected in the UK does nor seem a mandate to me. For the first time ever I agree with all PM’s since Churchill….be in the EU!

  • It is beyond sick to talk of traitors, betrayal and putting yourself in peril. This whipping up of public rage is reminiscent Nazi era Germany: politicians are traitors, judges are traitors, learned experts are traitors – the patriots are the people, and they’re being betrayed. The papers’ rage is oblivious to that fact that the vote was pretty evenly split, that almost as many people wanted to remain a part of the EU as those who wanted to split. Why does the will of 51.9% count for everything and the will of the remaining 48.1% nothing?

    The argument is based on emotion, not fact. It shows contempt for this country’s long-cherished traditions of tolerance, civility and respect for the law. The fact is that the Leave campaign’s promises have crumbled to dust – not because of betrayal, but simply because they were based on the fallacy of being able to have your cake and eat it. The EU is clearly not going to allow the UK to leave on better terms than it had as a member, that should be obvious who pauses to think for a moment. There is no betrayal, just an effort to minimise damage to our economy while finding a form of Brexit which is palatable to the remaining members of the EU.

    Parliament really ought to issue a statement condemning the press in the strongest possible terms – listing the articles, explaining their wrongheadedness and demanding an apology for each and every one. And if there is any recourse to the law for incitement it ought to be pursued. A press owned by millionaire/billionaire foreigners and non-doms is howling treachery, the hypocrisy is sickening.

  • Absolutely right. The abuse of the Freedom of the Press by the nationalist press in this country is totally unacceptable and should be stopped. The Brexit fiasco has revealed just how dangerous this abuse is for the proper working of our country”s institutions and the havoc it causes the social harmony in the country. When newspapers no longer distinguish between facts and opinion, when professional individuals with power and influence can get away with claiming before a parliamentary committee that elections are not about facts but emotions surely the time has come for a serious review o be carried out of where this country is heading; its present state appears to be a prelude to chaos and serious social disturbance.