People’s Vote: A final say on the Brexit deal risks the revival of misinformation politics | Liam O’Dell

Expecting the electorate to vote on a Brexit deal they haven’t read is the type of blind faith and naïvety which was easily exploited in 2016.

Most of the general public didn’t look at this week’s draft withdrawal agreement in full. A total of 585 pages in length, it fell on journalists and politicians, each with their own conscious or unconscious bias, to summarise the entire document and inform the British people. The same will happen with the final deal, and if a People’s Vote is granted, it’ll be yet another referendum led by soundbites and manipulation.

Photo: David Holt/Flickr.

It is this, alongside the fact that the vote will most definitely include a ‘remain’ option, which allows for the ‘final say’ project to be easily dismissed as a “loser’s vote” or a re-run of the first referendum. If it does indeed come to fruition, it would not only be met with contempt by Brexiteers, but it would further fuel disillusionment and a hatred of the establishment and public institutions. Misinformation’s revival would put fake news and manipulation back on the agenda, and the tireless work of journalists using investigative reporting to win back public trust in a post-truth climate will be undone.

This wouldn’t be the only detrimental backtrack to occur if a people’s vote was granted. It would also involve significant u-turns from the Conservative government – both on its stance on a people’s vote and going back to the public for a second time. The first decision will damage the party’s reputation amongst Brexiteers, whilst the second will most likely infuriate some SNP politicians who have consistently faced opposition to calls for a second independence referendum in Scotland. Such a decision would be unlikely for a unionist party, and would only lead to an increase in support for the ‘Yes’ campaign.

Not only that, but the Tories’ decision to allow the public to have the final say would also come with a sense of concession from Theresa May (if indeed, she is still negotiating in this hypothetical scenario) that her deal may not be the best option. Whether such a sentiment is explicitly stated, or simply implied, it’s a decision which would harm the case for the public to vote for her deal should that be on the ballot paper. As such, even if there were three choices on the ballot (a ‘no deal Brexit’, May’s deal, or remain), it could still appear to be a remain-leave referendum if it’s deemed that May no longer has confidence in her own deal by calling a people’s vote.

I do, however, think that this would be unlikely, and the government would still urge the public to back her arrangements. In which case, consider this: what’s not to say that they might send out leaflets to households similar to the ones they sent in 2016? Granted, this may be where the Electoral Commission steps in, but could UK households receive a summary of the deal from the Prime Minister, and if so, what would the implications of this be?

While all of this is, of course, hypothetical, if the People’s Vote campaign wishes to win over more leavers and remainers, it must be seen as offering the single, logical solution which is optimistic and would not create further division. This would also involve setting down the foundations for a fair and honest referendum, free from sensationalist language and misleading information.

Unfortunately, those behind the campaign are yet to acknowledge the full scale of misinformation and post-truth in our political processes. In their reportA Roadmap to a People’s Vote, the group say “there is a strong democratic case for much better regulation and transparency in political advertising on the internet, or even going further”, calling for social media companies to be “challenged to show that they are taking all actions within their power to prevent abuse” with the threat of tough new legislation if they don’t. It’s a promising step, but one which completely ignores the other, wider issues which tie into the misinformation machine. If a referendum on the final deal were to see the creation of official campaigns, their activities must be closely monitored for accuracy and fairness.

Yet, in amongst all of this, they recognise that “there may not be time for legislation” around online political advertising. When one considers the fact that there wouldn’t be enough time to call another referendum before the Brexit deadline of 29 March next year, both the plausibility of a people’s vote and its repercussions are called into question.

To truly learn from the lessons of 2016, adequate safeguards and provisions preventing the revival of misinformation in our political discourse must be put in place during a people’s vote. Without these assurances, the campaign will continue to be branded a re-run of the first referendum, and will fail to win over the support from Brexiteers which it so desperately needs.

Liam O’Dell is a freelance journalist and blogger.

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Trump’s UK visit cannot be ignored | Liam O’Dell

Just like you shouldn’t fight fire with fire, you can’t defeat bigotry with ignorance.

The comments on the official Facebook page for protesting Trump’s UK visit makes for interesting reading. In amongst the comments opposing Donald’s presidency are a few suggesting a different reaction to POTUS’s arrival, which is to simply ignore him.

Donald Trump
First people wanted Trump’s UK visit to be revoked outright, now they’re suggesting we ignore him completely. Both are the wrong approach. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.

This is particularly interesting when one considers the response to the news already. When May made the extremely premature offer to Trump just a few months after he was elected, petitions were launched calling for the invitation to be revoked. It hasn’t, and rightly so. At a time where people voice concerns over speakers being censored on university campuses (a place people say is the centre for debate, critical analysis and discussion), it would be incredibly hypocritical for us to take the stance of banning him outright, rather than allowing him to visit the UK to be met with opposition. The former shows ignorance and hostility, the latter sees a fair and decent approach to differing opinions which we need to see in our society.

Now that that option is off the table, the next idea seems to be simply ignoring the fact that the so-called ‘leader of the free world’ is visiting the UK – something which is not only completely impossible, but has failed to get the President’s attention in the past.

Those holding this opinion most likely believe that for a man who came from the world of reality television, not getting the attention of a large audience is the most irritating thing to happen to Trump. Quite possibly, but in all the times that the leader has unleashed anger and frustration in less than 280 characters, it has been with regards to more public acts of defiance. Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and others have all succeeded in getting the President riled through high-profile political messages, not members of the public who have decided to not pay attention when Trump is in their country on a visit.

Donald’s affinity for Fox and Friends and extensive rants on Twitter paint the picture of a man who is, primarily, a man who prefers visual, easily understandable information – something which both platforms provide.

This brings me to the planned protests on Friday, 13 July. When images surfaced of the crowd size for Trump’s inauguration, the 45th President didn’t take the news too well. Some might argue that protesting may lead to further unnecessary hostility or Trump seeing it as a positive, but if enough people protest, and it makes the news, he’ll realise that all the attention is for all the wrong reasons.

Not only that, but the right to protest is an essential part of British democracy, and would be a welcome return to a peaceful and civilised approach to public discourse around socio-political issues. As one of the organisers, columnist Owen Jones wrote on the Facebook event: “We’re not just protesting against Trump, we’re protesting against Trumpism, including in our own country: where minorities are blamed for the injustices caused by the powerful.”

People thinking of ignoring Trump fail to realise the bigger issue here and to separate personalities from politics. As Owen says, the protest will also take a stand against Trumpism. Ignoring the president when he visits could very well be the right response when it comes to an individual with such an ego, but we must remember to protest what he stands for – something which cannot be ignored, no matter what.

By not paying attention to Trump, we would also reveal the polar opposite of the hostile political debate which we see in our society. While anonymous Twitter users fire hate and personal attacks at politicians and commentators online instead of criticising the issue itself, a new idea has emerged where outright refusing to acknowledge or challenge political ideas is considered the best approach. It is not, and such an idea must be tackled before it finds itself nestled in our political discourse.

In today’s climate, we must strike the middle ground which is devoid of ad hominem remarks or plain ignorance. A return to passionate but civilised discussions on the topic at hand is needed now more than ever.

There’s a hidden truth behind the snap election – we must be suspicious | Liam O’Dell

After nearly three weeks since the triggering of Article 50, the Tories have finally spat out the Brexit pill which no party wants to swallow. A snap election on June 8 will continue to create more uncertainty that Theresa May promised to end.

Photo: Number 10 on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.

“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” the Prime Minister said in a speech earlier today.

We must be suspicious. An arrogant Conservative Party determined to defy the rulings of judges and Lords to pass the Brexit Bill has once again resorted to Cameron’s levels of cowardice. Voters will remember that, but they must question the true reason for calling the election.

The immediate presumption would be that it is an attempt to decimate Labour, but that is questionable. It seems too great a risk for May to sacrifice the Tory majority (and a supposed lack of opposition on Brexit from Corbyn) to ‘kill’ the left-wing party. If the PM expects to win back a majority in June, then she is forgetting that a general election has become more than a Labour vs. Conservative battle.

A call for a snap election is – of course – a gamble, and it’s one May appears to have taken due to the disunity in other parties (according to her speech, at least).

With Labour’s in-fighting continuing to bubble every once in a while, the SNP tackling their own referendum and the Lib Dem’s membership slowly rising, it seems as though May is aiming for a wipeout whilst building upon her majority. But when has disunity within other parties ever hindered the Tories’ Brexit plans? If anything, it’s almost given May a ‘carte blanche’ to do her thing without any real scrutiny.

It’s even more confusing when the Conservatives have always been arrogant and stubborn when enforcing policies. To gamble their majority for the sake of silencing other parties, or getting them to support their plan, seems unfathomable.

So what is the explanation for the snap election? My friend Jarrad Johnson raises an interesting point, saying on Twitter that “someone or something has forced May’s hands behind the scenes.”

It’s an interesting comment when we look back at the past. The last time we had a vote between the typical five-year period was, of course, the 2016 EU referendum. On that occasion, it was believed that this was to end the internal conflict within the Tory party about whether we should leave the European Union. Now, as we face another surprise election before the end of the usual five-year term, we have to consider whether the same arguments are occurring once more.

#indyref2 was to be expected – a vote for independence will be too | The Friday Article

The Tory Government possesses a dangerous arrogance at present. It’s one that chooses to fight against the ruling of the judiciary (High Court) on Brexit, the Lords’ recommendation that they should secure the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and now Scotland’s plans for a second independence referendum – which was announced by Nicola Sturgeon on Monday this week.

NICOLA STURGEON
Photo: First Minister of Scotland on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

The announcement was always to be expected – the referendum hanging over Theresa May’s shoulder ever since it was found that the Scots voted for remain – but what wasn’t predictable was when the call by the SNP would be made for ‘indyref2’. However, just as Prime Minister May was about to relax in the fact that her Brexit parade could no longer be rained upon (thanks to the Brexit Bill being passed at the start of this week), the Scottish Government decided to announce their plans for the referendum. Oh dear.

You have to be thankful that our Government possesses a different sort of stubbornness to that of Donald Trump. When the latter’s initial ‘travel ban’ was blocked by a judge, he angrily tweeted that ‘THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!’. Yet, when May’s Brexit timetable was thrown into question by the judiciary and the laws, she may not have been happy, but she showed it with professionalism. Although this implies some separation between how the two governments operate, let’s not forget that both are becoming worryingly isolationist. Trump has once again tried to reinstate a travel ban, whilst the UK has to ensure it does not shut itself off when it severs ties with the EU after Brexit.

The Tory government has a dangerous tunnel vision – one obsessed with a hard Brexit that threatens the EU with a no deal despite making no economic evaluations of said deal, and one that is willing to do this without considering the wishes of the Scottish people.

To once again compare to Trump’s administration, there’s cries of ‘fake news’ whenever the US President sees any critical articles about him in the media. Now, as Sturgeon and co. publicly declare their discontent with the UK Government on Brexit, May accuses the SNP of playing a ‘game’ – which is somewhat hypercritical coming from someone who still refuses to secure the rights of EU citizens living here as though they are some sort of bargaining chip.

However desirable a forever United Kingdom may be, one has to understand that the treatment of Scotland by the Tories is more than enough evidence to show why a ‘yes’ vote is entirely possible. David Cameron’s sweet-talking from 2014 where he said: “I speak for millions of people across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and many in Scotland, too, who would be utterly heart-broken by the break-up of the United Kingdom” has apparently gone out of the window with May. She’s resorted to the trusty ad hominem attacks that the Conservatives know and love.

As Trump’s shouts of ‘fake news’ show weakness and do little to stifle the criticism against his administration, you have to consider what the PM’s comments about the SNP ‘playing games’ conveys. Zac Goldsmith’s disgraceful mayoral campaign remains a constant lesson to the Tories about how bad personal attacks are in politics. In that case, it led to people supporting the alternative candidate: Sadiq Khan.

If the Tories maintain their arrogance, ignorance and tunnel vision, it will only benefit the ‘Yes’ campaign even further. Scots, angry at the fact that they are being ignored and mocked by the UK Government, will vote to leave the United Kingdom – and I wouldn’t be surprised.

The Tories must end the blackmail and secure the rights of EU nationals | The Friday Article

There’s a dangerous indignation sweeping the right. Donald Trump’s war against the media is an annoying distraction from his ‘Make America Great Again’ mantra, and in the UK, the judiciary and legislature continue to frustrate Theresa May’s Article 50 deadline.

The House of Lords voted to add a new amendment to the Brexit bill this week - protecting the rights of EU nationals living in the UK. Photo: Liam O'Dell.
The House of Lords voted to add a new amendment to the Brexit bill this week – protecting the rights of EU nationals living in the UK. Photo: Liam O’Dell.

This week, it was the House of Lords’ amendment to the Brexit bill to secure the rights of EU nationals living in Britain. It comes just over a month after the High Court ruled Parliament must have a say on the legislation, and the PM isn’t happy. The government has said that it will try to overturn the amendments.

“Our message to MPs is that we expect this bill to go through unamended,” a No. 10 spokesman said in an article on Sky News’ website. “MPs voted it through unamended and we expect that to be the case.”

Indeed they did, but the two arms of Parliament must agree in order for a bill to be passed. A constant ‘ping pong’ between the two houses until a deal is made would only highlight the pure indignation of the Tories. They must stop this childish attitude of refusing compromise on such an important issue. Their fight against the decision of the judiciary was alarming, and now their reluctance to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK is hypocritical.

“We will provide certainty wherever we can,” Theresa May said in a speech at Lancaster House in January. “There will have to be compromises. It will require imagination on both sides, and not everybody will be able to know everything at every stage.

“But I recognise how important it is to provide […] everybody with as much certainty as possible as we move through the process. So where we can offer that certainty, we will do so.”

If anything, the issue with the Lords continues to cast doubt over the whole Brexit dilemma. The above comments contradict what the Conservatives are planning to achieve at the moment. If the Tory government can’t even reach a compromise with the House of Lords, then how on earth can they compromise with the EU member states in Brussels? The worrying remark by the PM in the January speech that ‘no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain’ hardly provides certainty. It sounds like a game of blackmail with the EU – a sense of hostility which we do not need at a time when the UK is so delicate.

It’s no surprise that EU nationals living in Britain feel like bargaining chips. The government has explained that it wants the rights of Britons living in other EU countries guaranteed before it can promise that the rights of EU nationals living here will be protected. Aside from the ‘putting our own people first’ connotations that creates, what happens in the unlikely circumstance that the European Union cannot guarantee the rights of ex-pats? Will the ‘no deal’ rule still apply, and we would start deporting EU nationals living here?

As Lady Molly Meacher said to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I believe it [the amendment] can be won in the Commons on the basis of morality and principle” – to fail to guarantee the rights of EU nationals would be a dismissive action at a time when the definition of ‘Britishness’ is under scrutiny.

The Tories must of course keep some cards close to their chest, but the dangerous levels of blackmail which the Conservatives plan to adopt in Brussels – with EU nationals as a ‘bargaining chip’ – is an arrogant way to approach negotiations. It also contrasts the sweet-talking of Trump and the state visit invitation – why must we treat a divisive President with respect yet approach the EU with hostility?

To ‘cherrypick’ and blackmail our way to a deal will only decrease our chances of getting what we want, and could effect the strong relationships with other European countries that a post-Brexit Britain desperately needs.

Donald Trump’s state visit: why it should go ahead | The Friday Article

It’s an underlying democratic issue which was partly responsible for the polls being wrong and Donald Trump’s election as the 46th US President. Left-wingers and liberals shut down the political debate by labelling Trump supporters as ‘racist’, ‘sexist’ and so forth, to the extent where the only safe place to share their opinion is in the voting booth. Now, as Parliament debates Donald Trump’s state visit on Monday, Stop Trump demonstrators will protest on Parliament Square ‘to stand up and say no to the future of hatred, racism and division that Donald Trump is trying to create – and to say no to the disgraceful complicity of Theresa May and the British government in supporting him’. Whilst the Facebook page doesn’t state explicitly whether this protest is also against the state visit, with regards to the petition, you have to ask: will preventing him from making a state visit to the UK do more harm than simply inviting him here to speak?

Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.
Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.

Of course, it must be said that this article is not condoning Trump’s divisive nature. Instead, it calls for us to return to honest political debate. Already in the UK, we have seen newspapers banned on university campuses and left-wingers continue to ban and cut off the views from the far-right. Isn’t a petition preventing Trump from airing his opinions the same thing, and damages our democracy?

Granted, allowing the far-right president to visit the UK could result in Britain’s right-wing populism gaining strength, but surely protests during his visit will be the biggest sign of defiance against these people, and Trump’s beliefs? Which sends the strongest message to him: a U-turn on his state visit, or the British people allowing him a platform for his views, but them being met with strong opposition? The former shows a sheer ignorance towards opposing views, whilst the latter demonstrates that we are an open society which allows for these views to be challenged. To go back to the point of Trump’s potential visit further dividing the UK, a nationwide protest against the figure presents an opportunity for unity. Although that sense of coming together may still be seen in the number of signatures on the petition preventing him from making a visit, a demonstration is a more visible sign of cohesion.

Should the state visit be called off, would that mean that Trump is prevented from making any sort of visit to the UK during his four-year presidency? Aside from this posing a risk to the ‘special relationship’ buzzword Theresa May likes to use, preventing controversial views from being said in Britain would create a slight feeling of isolationism similar to that which Trump is adopting in America itself. Donald’s cries of ‘fake news’ at press organisations which he disagrees with discredit the journalists who scrutinise his position of authority – surely preventing Trump from stating his opposing views is an alarming parallel to this?

Theresa May’s Brexit speech: A statement which failed to solve the problem of certainty

The post-Brexit debate has always been about seeing both sides of a very complicated equation. Our exit from the EU must satisfy the leave voters that wanted a return of Parliamentary sovereignty, whilst pleasing those who wanted more controls on immigration. It must be a clear removal from a union, whilst also reassuring remainers that their rights to live, work and travel around Europe won’t be affected – at least not too much. However, one of the biggest problems Theresa May failed to solve in her speech at Lancaster House yesterday was that of certainty.

Photo: DFID – UK Department for International Development on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

There is a balance to be struck ahead of triggering Article 50. Understandably, May must keep some of her cards close to her chest, as it were, when going to the negotiating table – not everything can be disclosed to the public beforehand in case it jeopardises our position. Yet, the vagueness that comes with describing Brexit with cake metaphors, colours or the popular line ‘Brexit means Brexit’ does not provide certainty to those who need it most: the remainers. Uncertainty leads to frustration and anger, which only adds to a debate which is currently dividing our country.

Of course, the first point about the PM’s 12-point plan for leaving the EU was about certainty, but whilst the transitions of EU law into British law after Brexit (until they are repealed by Parliament) was reassuring, that’s not the only thing remainers are worrying about. Sure, all this talk about a ‘Global Britain’ may reassure some business owners if they forget about the fact we’re leaving the single market, but what about dealing with the division in the UK? What about addressing the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and right-wing populism? What are you doing about those, Theresa?

In a sense, it was a statement structured like a non-fiction novel. They mostly tell us things we already know, but present some new information too so we don’t feel patronised. Unfortunately for Mrs May, telling us that we’ll need to control our immigration and that we want to make our own laws doesn’t prevent a feeling of deja vu from lingering in the air. Likewise, mentioning that we’ll be leaving the single market and protecting workers’ rights (the latter should please Labour to an extent) in passing won’t help either.

It was a speech littered with juxtapositions too. LBC’s James O’Brien mentioned on his show yesterday that it suggested “we’re a global country that doesn’t want you to come here”. Whether it’s a lack of detail or contradictory remarks, both don’t provide the clarity we need.

Finally, there came a line which will only add to the anxiety remainers have at the moment. “While I am sure a positive agreement can be reached,” said May, “I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

During the referendum campaign, those who backed a vote to stay mocked and joked about Brexit having a disappointing outcome. The comments all followed the same tone of it being a magical post-Brexit future which never comes to fruition (be it told in the style of a dodgy divorce, bad plans for a night out or so on). It’s a joke which may just become possible.

After all, Theresa May plans to give Parliament a vote on the final deal. Yet, with Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party MPs all opposing the Conservative’s plan for Brexit (on varying levels), it’s unlikely that an agreement on the terms of exit will be struck in the Commons.

A disastrous ‘no deal’ remains a possibility. This, combined with May’s unclear comments on leaving the single market and resolving our country’s division, has only created more uncertainty – something forced optimism always fails to mask.