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To Stop Brexit, Remainers Must Threaten To Break Up The UK

The Palace of Westminster (by via Wikimedia Commons)

Remainers are losing their struggle to stop Brexit. Although public opinion seems to back a second referendum, Theresa May's conservative government is determined to leave the European Union, while Labour's leader Jeremy Corbyn has so far shown no willingness to oppose the right-wing implementation of the 2016 referendum. 

The Liberal Democrats, the major anti-Brexit political force, have proven to be ineffective, in some instances acting sloppily. Back in July, for instance, the former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and his successor, Vince Cable, failed to show up in parliament to vote on two amendments tabled by hardline Brexiters. The amendments passed by a slim margin. 

So how can Brexit be stopped? The answer is: remainers need to resort to more decisive tactics. 

If their demands to hold a second Brexit referendum are rejected on the grounds that there has already been such a vote and Leave won, they should call for a referendum in areas that voted to remain in the EU, namely London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, to break away from the UK. People need to use the strategy of the demagogues against demagoguery, expose the absurdity of Brexiters' argument that a referendum represents the unquestionable "will of the people". 


Right-wing demagogues love referendums because they allow them to circumvent parliamentary democracy, separation of powers and checks and balances. Without checks and balances, referendums are instruments of tyranny, either of an individual or of a faction. That is why, for example, Turkish leader Erdogan used a referendum to change the constitution and give himself semi-dictatorial powers. 

Referendums are the preferred tool of demagogues trying to dismantle democracy. They can deceive the public, lie and promise things they cannot deliver, play with identity politics, and when the vote is done there is no turning back. 

With the demagogues and xenophobes firmly in power, the only way to stop Brexit is to use the strategy of the demagogues against them. British nationalists hate the multiculturalism of the European Union, but they oppose the break-up of the United Kingdom. The only way to persuade them of the absurdity of their argument is to use a referendum to break up the UK. 

Brexit opponents should insist on holding independence referendums in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Tories would most certainly oppose such a referendum, thus revealing that their pro-Brexit fervour is not about democracy and the will of the people, but about manipulating a vote to impose a nationalistic, xenophobic ideology and dismantling checks and balances in the process.  

Furthermore, the threat of independence referendums would give the anti-Brexit camp a powerful argument to demand that in order to avoid the break-up of the UK, the country should restore its constitutional order: parliamentary sovereignty, separation of powers, checks and balances. Brexiters either restore constitutional order, admit that the referendum was only advisory and stop using the vote as an excuse to impose their political agenda, or it will be the end of the UK. 

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