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The EU undermines our rich democratic heritage

One of the most painful things for me to witness in Britain today is the extent to which politics has become as fractured as it has.

3 min read

Tom J. Bell
Tom J. Bell

One of the most painful things for me to witness in Britain today is the extent to which politics has become as fractured as it has.

Where polite discourse and reasoned debate once occupied media rooms and newspaper headlines, our minds have been filled with rhetoric and cynicism.

Recording of my speech at Southampton City Council on this issue in 2019

In a country which stands unique in the richness of its cultural and political heritage, we are living as though there is more that divides than unites us.

As someone who is instinctively sceptical of the political structures and trajectory of the European Union, I have found it as hard as anyone to witness such slow progress these past few years towards delivering on the kind of global Britain that I have hoped and prayed for.

Our principal goal [should be] about building bridges and restoring trust in politics

In my Council ward of Peartree in Southampton, I have spoken to hundreds of constituents about their feelings on Brexit. While there is a distinct feeling that we need to get on with our departure, there are many who are deeply worried about the risks to our economy which leaving the EU without a deal presents.

While my essential objections concerning the EU have not changed since the referendum of 2016, I do have profound sympathy for the case to remain inside the EU and consider our principal goal to be about building bridges and restoring trust in politics.

As with almost any political issue, we are in a complex arena of competing priorities and the path through the haze is not clear. For instance, how should we weigh the short-term economic disruption of leaving against the long-term opportunities to out-pace the EU in terms of access to global markets?

Incidentally, in the coming years I believe we could find ourselves at the centre of a network of new free trade agreements exposing us to the world’s fastest growing markets — only possible once we have left the EU’s customs union.

As someone who believes deeply that free enterprise and free trade form the bedrock upon which a thriving economy is built, there are few political issues I take more seriously than access to global markets post-Brexit.

But there is one issue that surpasses even trade in terms of its centrality to the long-term peace, stability and flourishing of our nation and of Europe as a whole.

That issue is one of democratic vitality.

Democracy is the foundation upon which stable society depends and the platform upon which all other areas of policy are delivered. The electorate is the final source of accountability, guaranteeing that those who govern us cannot deviate too far beyond what the broad feelings of the general population will allow:

  • It enables us to remove law-makers and governments who don’t seem to get what we care about.
  • It provides the mechanisms to keep our leaders accountable and to limit corporate lobbying.
  • It gives us the opportunity to recognise the legitimacy of those who govern even if we don’t agree with their political agenda.

As those who have been to Brussels or spoken to MEPs will know, the political agenda in the EU is directed by the European Commission who do not owe their position to anything resembling a popular mandate from the people.

As countless international organisations testify to, maintaining a strong sense of democratic legitimacy, accountability and transparency is extremely difficult when there are numerous layers of political hierarchy between the government and the people they purport to serve.

And that should concern us very deeply indeed.

Unless our representatives deliver on their repeated solemn promise to take us out, our bridges will keep falling down

I would respectfully suggest, that unless we leave the European Union, it will be impossible to heal the divides and restore trust in our political institutions. Unless our representatives deliver on their repeated solemn promise to take us out, our bridges will keep falling down.

But if we bring the country with us on the journey out of the EU and beyond, we may realise that our greatest song is yet unsung.

This post was originally published on the Above Bar Church blog.

Politics & Culture

Tom J. Bell

Researcher, engineering consultant and local politician.


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