I saw this angry video about Brexit being applauded on social media by friends I respect, and felt motivated to respond. The speaker (comedian Pat Condell) lashes out at those he calls “angry intellectuals.”
I doubt that I’ll receive a reply to my letter. Mr Condell may not even read it. But doing this has helped me to realise the importance of using any knowledge we have to educate and assist, rather than to insult or patronise.
To view Pat Condell’s video, Click Here.
And here is my open letter in response…
Dear Mr Condell,
I watched your video (titled “Hello Angry Losers”) and found it to be most stimulating. As a lawyer with three degrees who voted to remain, you might categorise me an “angry intellectual” along with the “public progressives, failed politicians, etc” to whom your video refers [0:18].
Whilst I admit feeling bitterly disappointed at the referendum result, I plan to exert whatever influence I can during the two years of debate that now lie ahead (Article 50 having been triggered). Therefore, in a spirit of democracy and fair play, I have prepared 14 responses to the 14 main points you make. My aim is simply to challenge the views you so passionately hold.
If you would care to engage in a meaningful debate about Brexit with me (in public or in private) then I am open and amenable to that. Indeed, other people may find our discussion interesting. In any event, after sitting through your video today, these thoughts occurred to me…
(1) “Now that Britain is officially leaving the anti-democratic European Union…” [0:00]
The EU has a Parliament in Brussels. That Parliament is made up of MPs (called MEPs, which stands for Members of the European Parliament). Elections for the EU Parliament are held every five years. The UK sends 73 MEPs to Brussels. They debate proposals for new law, and vote on whether to pass it. They vote on EU spending. And the EU Parliament holds the EU Commission to account, with power to sack all Commissioners when this “nuclear option” is deemed necessary. Indeed, this power was last exercised in 1999 to great controversy – proving that EU accountability is real, not pretend.
So, I cannot agree that the EU is anti-democratic. We send politicians to Brussels to represent our interests there. Unfortunately, it’s evident that many voters use the EU elections as a chance to merely “send a message” to Westminster. That may explain why parties such as BNP and UKIP send politicians to Brussels, yet seldom (if ever) win a seat in Westminster.
Also, in the UK, nothing is recognised as law by our courts unless our Parliament expressly says so. In 1972, Parliament passed the European Communities Act which established EU law as superior to UK law… but only where there’s a clash between the two. The EU simply does not legislate over everything. So, I cannot agree that the EU (as law-maker) is anti-democratic. Our courts currently recognise EU law as superior because that’s what our Parliament has told our courts to do.
(2) “Many of us who voted for that happy day are hoping that the [bitterly disappointed 48%] will finally show a little dignity and accept the referendum result.” [0:05]
An in/out referendum was held in 1975. The majority at that time voted to remain. Clearly Mr Condell, you strongly disagreed with that result, and you never stopped disagreeing until a new referendum was held in 2016. My point… democracy is a continuous process. Things can (and do) change. You refused to accept the result then, so it’s not fair to expect everyone else to accept the result now. Especially when the outcome was so close, at 52% to 48%
As for showing a little dignity, I respectfully point to the fact that your video is titled “Hello Angry Losers.” If the gulf between us is to be reduced, those asking for respect must also be willing to show it.
(3) “[Leave Voters] have endured the same condescending backlash that we’ve seen against Trump voters in the United States.” [1:18]
I don’t wish to turn this into a debate about President Trump. However, it’s only fair to acknowledge that within his first hundred days of office, he’s tacitly condoned the use of torture against “suspected” terrorists, and tried his utmost to debar anyone from a predominantly Muslim country… even where they’ve entered America on a visa (as American law requires). He’s breaching international law by refusing to accept starving refugees who are fleeing war zones – including vulnerable children, on the basis that they or their parents “might be terrorists.” Even his manifesto contains a pledge to build a giant wall for 2,000 miles along the Mexico-American border… “to keep them out.”
And that’s just for starters.
So, it’s clear why so many Americans are despairing at having this brash man as their new Face-to-the-World. As you say Mr Condell, there may be some backlash against ‘Leave’ voters in the UK. But I fail to see how mentioning them in the same breath as Donald Trump helps your case. Unless you’re saying that ‘Leave’ voters and Trump voters are of a common mind on certain issues?
(4) “The new progressive politics [says] that we who voted for Brexit are too ignorant to know what we voted for, and too irresponsible to be allowed to vote on such an important matter as who governs us.” [1:48]
For the record, I do not hold that view. Nor am I aware of the political movement you mention. What I do know is this… The UK has been an EU Member State for almost four decades. In that time, EU law has re-shaped much of our legal landscape. I have three law degrees, yet I struggle to stay abreast of every development. That’s why I think Brexit was unsuitable for a simple Yes/No vote. It wasn’t fair or responsible to expect everyone to learn (and fully consider) the ramifications of rapid withdrawal after four decades.
For instance, I don’t mean to type a boring law lecture, but can you honestly say you understand what (e.g.) EU Competition Law is? And the many ways this helps to protect healthy competition between cross-border companies operating in UK markets? Well, the UK has the EU to thank for competition law.
Google “EU blocks Three’s takeover of O2” and you’ll see that only last year, the EU stopped major phone companies in the UK from moving towards a merger/monopoly. Without the EU, our own government would hardly be involving itself in markets that way. But it’s necessary, and it stops major players (like Three and O2) from colluding to drive up prices.
Once we withdraw from the EU, we’ll be back to the days of Big Business lobbying politicians who are “sympathetic” to their needs. Can you honestly rule this out, Mr Condell? And did you consider this before casting your vote? Most people probably didn’t. But that’s not necessarily a failing on their part. Brexit should not have been framed as a simple in/out question, in my opinion.
(5) “Economics and Trade are secondary issues that should’ve had no bearing on anyone’s decision [as to who makes our laws].” [2:29]
I disagree. At the heart of the EU ideal has always been the notion of a Single, Common Market. But stop and consider what that demands. Having a common market suggests that a Spanish shoemaker can sell his shoes in British shops (and vice versa). It means a British shoemaker can set-up shop in Spain (and vice versa). From this, it’s clear that “economics and trade” are the main objectives, but none of it can work without also having laws to harmonise working conditions and business practices between both countries. Where’s the justice in paying a British shoemaker less for his products or labour in Spain than in Britain?
Google the “Factortame Case” and you’ll see that Britain once tried to prevent Spanish boats fishing in our waters. At first, that was deemed to be a breach of EU discrimination law, but not a breach of English discrimination law. So, which law should prevail? Our courts held EU law to be supreme (as the European Communities Act, passed by our Parliament in 1972, requires).
My point… Economics and Trade are at the heart of the Common Market ideal, and EU law is vital to the smooth running of that market. You can’t separate “Economics and Trade” in the EU from “decisions as to who makes our law.” They’re two sides of the same coin. The EU Market cannot function unless EU law overrides self-serving national laws that clash with it – as the Factortame Case clearly demonstrates.
(6) “Some people say we should’ve had a two-thirds majority for such an important constitutional change, and they might have a point if that had been the requirement for the referendum that took us into the European Union. But it wasn’t.” [2:50]
As stated, the UK has been an EU Member State for almost four decades now. In that time, EU law has re-shaped much of our legal landscape. So Brexit should not have been framed as a simple in/out question, in my opinion. It should’ve been a “package” on offer at the next General Election – possibly involving a series of referendums on various rights and freedoms.
(7) “Back then [in 1975] we were swindled into accepting a full-scale political union that we didn’t want, and never would’ve voted for. We thought we were just voting for better trading conditions.” [3:02]
Firstly, apologies for having to edit your point a little. As for your suggestion that we entered the EU under false pretences and were swindled, I have to disagree. I can’t state the post-war, European ideal any better than Winston Churchill (speaking in Zurich, 19th September 1946):
“[…] We must re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe. And why should there not be a European group which could give a sense of enlarged patriotism and common citizenship to the distracted peoples of this turbulent and mighty continent?”
And Churchill went on:
“The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by their contribution to the common cause.”
So, the “common cause” Churchill spoke of was peace, safety and freedom. And that’s been achieved in Europe through the medium of Common Trade.
It was always envisaged that a Single, Common Market would lead to a closer political union, and a sense of citizenship between all the peoples of Europe. There’s evidence for this in the Founding Treaties, too (which I won’t bore you with now). But just because the EU has changed in form and developed over the years, that’s not to say we were swindled.
(8) “This time, unlike in 1975, we knew what we were voting for.” [3:33]
Do you truly think that, Mr Condell? As stated earlier, I have three law degrees, yet I struggle to stay abreast of every EU development.
Moreover, can you honestly say that no one voted to leave the EU on the basis that £350 Million PER WEEK would start going to our NHS?
Please google images of the infamous “Brexit NHS Bus.” Then YouTube the political broadcast, titled “Which NHS Would You Choose?” – After seeing these examples, and bearing in mind the sheer publicity that accompanied them, isn’t it likely that many people latched onto our precious NHS as their motivation for voting to leave? And if so, can those people truly be said to have known what they were voting for?
The day after the referendum, all major voices for ‘Vote Leave’ distanced themselves from the suggestion of sending more money to our NHS. If anything, Theresa May is already discussing with President Trump the possibility of private investment in our NHS from Big Business in America. Therefore, adopting the NHS as part of the ‘Vote Leave’ Campaign was quite misleading. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr Condell?
(9) “17 Million people don’t vote against the status quo [without] good reason.” [3:42]
Fair point. An equally fair one is that almost as many people voted to keep the status quo as it is. Surely, therefore, the democratic thing to do would be to try and reflect some of the wishes of the remain voters in the Exit Package that’s yet to be negotiated. Does that sound reasonable, Mr Condell?
(10) “Already the Americans won’t take [the EU] seriously, and have said that from now on, they will only make trade deals with European nations individually.” [4:19]
The Americans simply cannot do that at present (nor any time soon). They’re legally bound to deal with the European Union as a whole, since that is the United States’ largest trading partner.
In the words of President Obama (24th April 2016):
“[…] The UK would not be able to negotiate [deals] with the United States faster than the EU can. We wouldn’t just abandon our efforts to negotiate with our largest trading partner, the European Market.”
Granted, these words were construed as some kind of threat by certain politicians (Nigel Farage among them). But the fact remains… the US and the EU are major business partners. The UK is dreaming if it thinks it can usurp that arrangement any time soon. After we withdraw, the EU will still be a market of 27 trading nations. That’s a huge deal compared to our little island.
(11) “The disastrous [EU] vanity project has impoverished an entire generation.” [4:45]
Strongly disagree. The examples are too numerous to list. But in a nutshell, focusing on workers’ rights…
Before EU law came to bear on UK employment, the minimum amount of holiday pay that Brits were entitled to was 7 days at full pay. The EU increased that entitlement to a minimum of 28 days at full pay.
Before EU law came to bear on UK employment, men and women typically received different rates of pay for doing work of equal skill. The EU Equal Pay Directive remedied that.
In 1988, Britain was officially the worst European country when it came to Maternity Pay. Indeed, the issue was basically left to the conscience of each individual employer (with some employers more conscientious than others). Westminster wouldn’t touch it. Eventually, EU law stepped in and pregnant workers became entitled to paid leave.
I could cite many more examples of how EU law has given workers a higher standard of life. It certainly has not made our workers any worse off.
(12) “The [EU’s] irresponsible migrant policy seems calculated to flood a borderless Europe with criminals, terrorists and rapists — none of whom we can deport.” [5:01]
The UK has always refused to sign the Schengen Agreement, preferring to retain full control over its borders. Respectfully, therefore, it’s a bit misleading to imply that being an EU Member somehow weakens our borders. EU nationals have the right to enter Britain without a visa, either to visit or to look for work. However, they must possess a Passport or valid EU Identity Card. An EU national cannot enter without this, nor can they remain here indefinitely without securing employment. And an EU national cannot claim long-term social security in the UK without contributing towards our National Insurance.
As for deporting “criminals, terrorists and rapists” – there is no difficulty at all in sending an EU national back to his or her own EU State if they break our laws after coming here. Respectfully, you seem to be confusing this with cases in which the deportation of a NON-EU national is sought.
Take the infamous case of Abu Qatada. He was not an EU national, but a criminal on the run from his home country of Jordan in Asia. He claimed asylum in the UK on the basis that, if returned to Jordan, he would face torture. There was compelling evidence to support this claim (in other words, it’s well-documented that Jordan employs torture against suspected criminals). This led to his human rights being engaged. Eventually he was deported to Jordan, but not before proper, credible assurances were received that he would not be tortured there. This had nothing to do with the EU, nor EU rights, nor being an EU citizen, etc. It was all about the UK’s obligations (under international law) to protect people everywhere from torture and inhuman treatment.
Being signed-up to the Human Rights Convention is a condition of EU Membership – simply because nobody wishes to trade with nations that abuse human rights. Regrettably though, certain (clever) politicians have twisted this fact to say that it’s the EU forcing us to respect criminals’ rights. That is simply not true.
(13) “Everything [the EU] has touched has been a disaster. It’s as if Europe is being run by our enemies.” [5:36]
I disagree. The UK is safer being part of the EU than cut-off from it. For instance, google ‘EuroPol’ and ‘EuroJust.’ These are the EU’s crime-fighting agencies (comprised of officers from every EU state) which share information and intelligence cross-border. If we fully withdraw from the EU, then overnight, we’ll lose access to 27 countries’ worth of precious police data and intel. Our own police will be on their own.
The enemies you refer to (whoever they are) would stand a much better chance of passing among us undetected if “Hard Brexit” prevails. In light of that, would you say “Hard Brexit” is the best option for the UK, Mr Condell? Or should the UK be seeking to preserve some aspects of its EU relationship – such as EuroPol?
(14) “Sovereignty matters to [Leave Voters] in a way that, clearly, it doesn’t matter to [Remain Voters].” [6:50]
I disagree for two reasons.
Firstly, as stated, in the UK, nothing is recognised as law by our courts unless our Parliament expressly says so. For now, EU law continues to be recognised as the supreme law of our land… because our Parliament expressly said so.
Our nation’s sovereignty is indeed preserved. But the tension between me and you can be summarised thus:
As a ‘remain’ voter, I’m comfortable with the idea that our Parliament once ceded some of its power to a higher institution to bring (what I consider to be) great benefits to our nation. As a ‘leave’ voter, you are not comfortable with the idea of Parliament having to compromise when it passes a law which conflicts with something higher. Indeed, you want a return to the days when Parliament itself was the highest authority in the land.
This leads me to my second reason for disagreeing.
History shows that when nations are an absolute authority unto themselves (with no higher authority to keep them in check), it’s never long before they start mistreating their own citizens. Hitler and the Nazis had a strong appreciation for sovereignty; as did Stalin and the Soviet Unionists.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Nazism will re-surface in Britain, or that Britain will become the next Soviet Union once we withdraw from the EU. But take a moment to consider the sheer number of legal challenges that have succeeded against our government (and made headlines) over the past two decades…
… and tell me, Mr Condell, that absolute sovereignty isn’t a dangerous thing at the wrong time, in the wrong hands. Yet, this is a danger we’re now exposing ourselves and future generations of our children to. Who will they turn to when the last word on every issue always lies with a politician of the day?
Thanks for reading.
Mr Richard Murtagh (LLB, LLM, Barrister)