16 August

The EU Referendum: A Call for Genuine Subsidiarity?

The people of the UK as a whole decided on 23 June to leave the European Union. Brexit won the referendum with 51%+ of the vote, the result was backed by more than 17 million citizens. Turnout was the highest seen since 1992, and the outcome determined by the will of large swathes of the population – especially in England and Wales. The aftermath was marked by political upheaval: David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister, and so did the UKIP leader Nigel Farage; the Conservative Party underwent a leadership contest; Theresa May is the new Prime Minister; the current shambles in the Labour Party is arguably a consequence, too.

Whilst holding no corporate view on the referendum campaign, the Thomas More Institute naturally respects the democratic decision of the majority to withdraw from the EU. The outcome of the referendum should not be seen – though there will always be some extremists – as a victory of populism or xenophobia. To accuse Leave campaigners of manipulation of the electorate will hardly serve, since Remain’s hands were hardly clean either. Rather, the Brexit vote now constitutes an opportunity to reflect on the frustrations and aspirations of voters, a chance, indeed, to think hard about our current political culture.

According to a poll taken on Referendum day, the majority of Leave voters said that ‘the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK’ was the most important reason for their choice. The electorate is quite clearly concerned about what is often styled, or even disparaged, as national sovereignty. There is manifestly a sense, reflected in polls elsewhere, too, in which policy-makers in Brussels – especially those in the EU Commission whose accountability, as even its friends admit, is decidedly shaky – do not effectively represent the peoples of Europe. No legislation without proper representation is a principle driving public detachment from, and unease about, the political class at large.

By voting to leave the EU, the people of the UK are – admittedly among other things – calling for genuine subsidiarity, not simply an occasional concession from the top of the pyramid. Issues should be dealt with as locally as possible; decisions should preferably be made at a grassroots level. People want more control over laws that affect them, and they do want to be included in decision-making. In an age of much talk about democratic accountability, electorates do not readily acquiesce in political elitism, and will not put up with an invariable, deep-rooted avoidance of transparency.

This is, surely, in some measure a call for subsidiarity for everyone, everywhere, and a heartfelt recognition of the same is essential for the reform of Western politics as a whole and for re-engaging voters in the formulation of acceptable legislation.

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