The Scandal that Is Brexit

Call me a Remoaner all you like, but the current state of affairs concerning Brexit is absolutely scandalous. My UK readers will undoubtedly know most of this and so this is more for the benefit of my international readership.

Yes, we hear it all the time: the public have spoken and voted and we should thus dutifully exit the EU.

I will get on to the scandal part in a minute. First, a few points:

  1. The referendum was an advisory one only.
  2. Leave were arguing for the sovereignty of UK Parliamentary democracy; our Parliament overwhelmingly supported remaining.
  3. The difference between the two camps was a 2% swing (in a digital vote of Yes or No, 4% is, in reality, a 2% swing). This is a tiny mandate.
  4. This doesn’t allow for the changing of minds, especially in light of new information.
  5. The public was misinformed.
  6. The public was manipulated by the media.
  7. The Leave campaign broke the law and was fraudulent.
  8. Like Trump’s election, Russia is now thought to have been involved, with the biggest Leave donor meeting the Russian ambassador 11 times.
  9. It’s looking increasingly like a no-deal exit – is that what people would have voted for?

On point 4, I previously wrote this in ‘Brexit Is Not a “Clear Mandate” from the People‘:

Should I walk to the shops now to go and buy some broccoli?

Sounds simple, right? I weigh up the arguments of what I know…

PRO: I fancy some broccoli; I can walk there in ten minutes; the shop sells broccoli.

CONS: I can use cauliflower that is in my fridge instead; I could drive, and it’s raining.

After weighing these arguments up, I decide it is a good idea to go. Broccoli by foot beckons.

But I made that argument without the full knowledge. It turns out that I walked to the shop and was mugged on the way. If I had done my research a little better, or had access to facts that I otherwise wouldn’t have had, then my vote may well have been different. For example, if I had known that there would have been a 50% chance of me being mugged on the way, then I would have chosen differently. I would have driven.

Now imagine I have made my decision, and I am just about to walk out the door when I get a phone call from the police. They tell me to beware, that there are muggers in the area, and there is a 50% chance of me being mugged if I walk to town.

Now I have more information about my original choice. I can change my mind in light of this new evidence. In fact, it is bloody important that I change my mind, that I leave my house and go to town a different way than I had first chosen, or not to leave my house at all. I should be allowed to change my mind in light of new facts. I wouldn’t, on taking the phone call, say to myself, “Well, I decided ten minutes ago to walk, so I must adhere to that original decision!” That would leave me short of a bob or two. Heck, short of my wallet, pride, and feeling not a little beaten up.

That phone call is the equivalent of finding we don’t get access to the single market, the customs union, that EU citizens working here appear to get nothing, that the NHS is haemorrhaging (EU) staff, so on and so forth, with all the financial implications of these sorts of things.

I guess I’ll stay at home, thanks. Cauliflower’s great, and I’ll get my broccoli in due course.

So no, the referendum was not a clear mandate, no matter which way you look at it.

But we appear to be on this car crash course that looks pretty ominous. I will talk about this in another post – one that will concern itself with legislation about the environment and workers’ rights, as well as the UK becoming a low tax haven in a race to the bottom.

I want to talk a little about the manipulation of the electorate. This happens in every election. We are, by and large, a centre-right nation that swings every so often to the left. This is in some manner down to the fact that we have (according to surveys) the most right-wing media in Europe.

One can talk about cart before the horse and the direction of causality here, but I can tell you first hand that the Daily Mail and Express have many times outright lied concerning the EU. They are feeding their readership, spinning tales of fear and hate. (See my piece “The Bias and Downright Lies of the UK Media over EU Referendum” and my pieces “Brexit, the Media, and the Future of Democracy” and “Brexit and the Media“).

What has now happened? Well, not only has the media been doing what they do well in manipulating the electorate, but the Leave campaign has been caught in fraudulent and corrupt activities. To give you the background, campaigns in the UK, such as for the EU referendum, are limited in their spends and have to spend the same amount to give parity to the public manipulation that both sides can do. This is all good and fair so that the vote isn’t won by whomsoever can spend the most money.

The problem is, the Leave campaign have just been found to have broken the law in this regard. Indeed, their leader, Dominic Cummings, is refusing to testify in front of the government:

Anger at Cummings’s refusal to come before MPs has intensified since Vote Leave was fined £61,000 and referred to the police after the Electoral Commission found last week that it had broken electoral law. The watchdog ruled it had exceeded its £7m spending limit by funnelling £675,315 through the pro-Brexit youth group BeLeave – details of which were revealed in the Observer.

The founder of BeLeave, Darren Grimes, was fined £20,000 and referred to the police, along with Vote Leave official David Halsall. Cummings, who escaped censure, had previously been asked by the DCMS committee to give evidence over claims of rule-breaking but refused, accusing MPs and the Electoral Commission of “grandstanding”.

The Observer understands that an interim report by the DCMS committee, chaired by Tory MP Damian Collins, will call within days for an inquiry into how to beef up the powers of parliament to ensure people called to give evidence cannot simply refuse to attend.

Last night a Labour member of the DCMS committee, Paul Farrelly, said: “There is no point in us huffing and puffing about this and allowing people like Cummings to thumb their noses at us. Parliament was the institution that Cummings wanted power to be restored to. The Electoral Commission has now found that Vote Leave broke electoral law. We will certainly call for an urgent examination of how to give the House powers to summon witnesses in the digital age. This should be carried out by the House of Commons Standards committee.”

In an interview with the Observer, Vote Leave volunteer Shahmir Sanni, who blew the whistle on co-operation between Vote Leave and BeLeave this year, said neither the politicians behind the Vote Leave campaign – Michael Gove and Boris Johnson – nor the officials at the top of the organisation were being held to account.

“This debate is no longer about Brexit. It is simply about the law and how democracy was perverted by the breaking of it. None of the directors of Vote Leave or the ministers on its board and committees have been held to account. There are people who oversaw this illegal activity still working in government, deciding the future of this country.

“The sheer disrespect that Dominic Cummings has shown toward parliament and that [former Vote Leave chief executive] Matthew Elliott has demonstrated in interviews toward our authorities is testimony to how tainted Westminster has become. Everyone involved must be held to account, otherwise we’re going to lose a lot more than just cheap flights to Europe come March 2019.”

The Leave campaign overspent by some 8% (with only a 2% swing in the vote, as mentioned). They broke the law. (There is some pushback concerning the Remain campaign having use of the Treasury and their resources for some amount of time prior to the vote). The important thing to bear in mind here is that this was done intentionally – it was not a mistake. They knew what they were doing. Now they have been fined and reported to the police.

And Johnson and Gove are also being called into question…

The second scandalous event to hit the news in this domain happened this last week. Parliament has been voting furiously on amendments to the Brexit bill. I say “furiously” because there is another scandal here: the government have afforded no debate time to these most important issues in UK recent history. As a result, with no proper debate in the House of Commons, these amendments and the bill itself are being rushed through without due analysis and critical examination.

That aside, the government knew that every vote would count. Chief whips were out rounding every MP up to vote for their respective causes. Whips are important party MPs who are in charge of sorting the logistics of votes out – they demand MPs vote one way or another, ensuring there are no rebellions (unless it is a free vote).

There is an agreement within Parliament called pairing – this is where, in the event of an MP not being able to make Parliament to vote, a member of the opposing party (who would vote the other way) does not vote, thus ensuring fairness and parity as both votes are cancelled out. As The Guardian explains:

MPs must be physically in the voting lobbies in order to cast their vote and parliament has no other system to pass important legislation.So when an MP is ill, away on urgent business or on maternity leave, whips rely on an arcane convention called ‘pairing’, where a rival party member will agree to abstain in order to cancel out an absent MP, so the result is not affected.

Pairing can be short-term – even a couple of hours while a minister gives a speech – or it can be long-term, if an MP is seriously ill or has recently given birth.

With the vote so tight, the Tory party chief whip urged at least three MPs to dishonestly break their pairing vows and vote anyway. Unfortunately for them, they were found out. One who did agree to vote was none other than the party chairman, Brandon Lewis:

They admitted that Smith had wanted some MPs to break “short-term” pairing arrangements, where a Tory is asked to skip a vote because an opposition member is unable to attend for good reason, but had made an error in asking the party chairman, Brandon Lewis, to vote because he was paired with Jo Swinson – who only recently gave birth….

Smith was under intense pressure to see off a Tory rebel amendment on Tuesday’s trade bill, which called for the UK to remain in a customs union with the EU if a free trade deal could not be negotiated quickly. The Conservatives narrowly won by six votes….

It is not the first time that Smith has been at the centre of a row about whipping arrangements as the government tries to get through its Brexit legislation at a time when it has a wafer-thin parliamentary majority.

In June the sick Labour MP Naz Shah had to be pushed through the division lobby in a wheelchair after the Tory whips refused a request to allow her vote to be counted without her having to pass through the lobby….

Suspicions about Lewis’s voting came to a head on Thursday. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen seemed to cast doubt on claims the incident was an honest mistake. He told the BBC’s Daily Politics: “I think the fact that Brandon Lewis abstained on six votes and then just mysteriously voted on the vital two – I think it tells you all you need to know.”

Earlier the issue was debated in parliament. Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, apologised for what happened to Swinson, saying it was an error, and that she had texted her own apologies to the MP. “I will continue to ensure that her maternity pair is in place,” Leadsom added.

Labour’s Wes Streeting said there had been further reports that two other Tory MPs had been told by Smith they should vote on Tuesday despite being told they were paired. What happened “was not a result of accident, it was a result of design”, Streeting said, and accused Leadsom of being “set up, to mislead, however inadvertently”.

Dishonesty at a crucial time.

And let me remind you of Arron Banks, Leave’s biggest financial donor. He met the Russian ambassador 11 times. But just yesterday, this story worsened, as Channel 4 unearthed documents to show Banks funnelled Russian money into Brexit campaign coffers. It appears he lied in front of the select committee:

Damian Collins MP, the Chair of the DCMS Select Committee who called Mr Banks to give evidence to the Committee told Channel 4 News: “I think the allegations throw a completely different light on Arron Banks’s relationship with the Russians.

“The papers suggest that he was actively seeking investment with the Russians. He was actively seeking to do deals to support his mining interests in South Africa.

“This all happened before his famous ‘boozy lunch’ with the Russian ambassador. So the Russians knew that Arron Banks needed money and he was looking to them for it.

“Now I think he has to explain once again whether anything came of these meetings and discussions, and why he didn’t tell us when he was in front of the committee about these other meetings as well. It was clearly very material to his interests.

“There is also this issue of the bond he sought to raise. Now some people would say that if he is so rich that he can afford to spend millions of pounds on Brexit, why does he have to go running around the world trying to raise money through a bond issue to support his mining interests? So where does Arron Banks’s money really come from?

“I think this throws up yet more questions about the nature of his businesses, where the money has come from to pay for Brexit, given that a number of his businesses, by different reports, didn’t seem to be making much money at that time. He has clearly got to go to finance his businesses from outside, so where did the money come from that enabled him to spend so much money on Brexit? And what is the full extent of his contact with the Russians during this time to discuss business opportunities, and what came of them? There is clearly a lot more to this that Arron Banks let on when he came in front of the committee.”

I am beginning to think the whole thing is a sham: fraud, corruption, misinformation, Russian meddling, dishonesty, breaking of the law and inter-party agreements,  and so on.

Oh, but there is a clear mandate from the people, so let’s just carry on regardless as we march towards a no-deal Brexit.

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