Reply to the Labour MP Rob Marris

Written by A.C. Grayling on 01 July 2011.

Here is my reply to the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West, Mr Rob Marris, who responded to my Letter to MPs:

Dear Mr Marris

Thank you for your reply.

You say that the referendum result is ‘the clearly expressed will of the British people,’ and say that the British people voted with their eyes open, knowing what they were doing.

I beg to differ on every count.

First, the 51.9% Leave vote is 51.9% of the 72% of the people who voted, thus representing 37% of the electorate. This is somewhat less than a third of the British people as a whole, taking into account under-18s. So this is not ‘the will of the British people,’ a stirring phrase but a very inaccurate one. Instead we have a deeply and even bitterly divided population, with absolutely no consensus that can be invoked to support so major a change as leaving the EU.

Second, people did not vote with their eyes open. They were subjected to years of distortion about and hostility to the EU by the Daily Mail, the Express, the Sun, the Conservative right wing and UKIP. They were told that £350,000,000 of additional spending would go to the NHS each week. They were given no idea of what a post-Brexit economy would look like, how it would work, what the relationship with our current biggest trading partner (the EU) would be. They heard vague generalizations about continuing to have all the advantages of association with the EU without actually being in the EU. The leaders of the Brexit campaign – all bar one of them now having rapidly decamped the scene of the disaster they have made, since none of them really expected Brexit to happen – offered no plan because they had none; all they had was rhetoric hostile to the EU fuelled by what we know, as a matter of public record, were untruths and willful misrepresentations. It is not hard to believe that many of those who voted Leave did so on the basis of what the Leave campaign said: and we know – and I repeat: as a matter of public record – that they were misled. This is not ‘the British people’ voting with their eyes open.

Third, there should never have been a referendum. But given that one was held, it should have required a supermajority to be legitimate, given that it concerned a matter of major constitutional and national impact. One would say, it required at very least a two-thirds majority, and the voting age for it should have been 16 since it most materially concerns the younger generations of citizens. As it is, a third of those entitled to vote, on the basis of a scurrilous Leave campaign, have jeopardized the country’s future and especially that of its younger citizens, who are overwhelmingly in favour of continued EU membership.

Fourth, you say in your letter that you are saddened by the prospect of Brexit for the reason that, as a Labour MP, you are concerned about those who most voted for it because they are precisely the ones likely to be worst affected by it – namely (in your words) ‘the white working class outside London.’ Now, Mr Marris: is this not precisely why you are a Labour MP, to work in the interests of people you are concerned about? MPs are not messengers sent merely to report the wishes and views of those they serve as representatives, but as their representatives to act in their interests – to take the time and apply the thought required to do this. You say that Brexit is not in the interests of those who concern you. Quite right: so you have a duty to act in their interests, and moreover you have the discretion to so act. You do this often in other respects. You vote taxes, you pass laws that impose obligations which your constituents might find irksome but which you know are in their and their country’s interests. If you do not do your job well you can be voted out at the next election. THAT is democracy: the repeated monitoring at the ballot box of our representatives’ competence and service. It is a very crude and simplistic view of democracy to think that a referendum usurps our Parliamentary system and ties the hands of the people whom our democratic institutions and practices both license and require to do the wise thing. Brexit is, in your own admission, not the wise thing. In addition to worrying about the effect on the less well off, you say that the EU likewise will be ‘weaker and poorer.’ Shall we make what is currently our major trading partner weaker and poorer? What effect will that have on us? Knowing these things, how can you resign your democratic duty as an MP and the constitutional competence you have to perform that duty in these circumstances? It is not acceptable that any MP can believe that Brexit is a bad thing yet choose to stand impotently aside and do nothing.

You say you do not have the lifespan or the inclination to try to reverse the referendum decision. Note that there is no decision yet: you and your fellow MPs have yet to make it. You may not have the inclination but you do have the time to tackle this important matter. That time is now.

We need our MPs to show leadership, determination, boldness, and principle. We know that there is a majority for Remain in the sovereign body in our polity, the House of Commons. That fact should, really should, be what would enable us to say, using your own words: ‘That’s democracy. End of.’
Yours etc

Morris letter:
Thank you for your letter.

Politicians must all now pull together to implement the clearly expressed will of the British people in as fair a way as possible. Every adult had the chance to vote (save prisoners). People voted (or abstained) with their eyes wide open. They knew what they were doing. That’s democracy. That’s the decision. End of. No second referendum. No refusal to invoke Article 50. If Remain had won 52/48, I would not have countenanced a re-run. Would you have?

In this referendum there was a binary question, yes/no. Everyone knew (or really should have known) what the vote meant - perhaps not all the ramifications, but its significance and import. The deed is done. Remain lost. That saddens me, not least because the voting analyses suggest to me that those who I believe will lose out the most from Brexit had the highest propensity to vote Leave; i.e. the white working class outside London.

I do not have the lifespan or the inclination to spend the next 41 years trying to reverse the EU referendum decision. Moreover, without our country as a member, the EU itself will be weaker and poorer, and may well collapse within a decade.

Outside the EU, our country will itself be weaker and poorer than inside, but we will survive and prosper.

Rob Marris
MP for Wolverhampton South West