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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Democratic deficiency: A new path for the Brexit debate?

Democratic deficiency: A new path for the Brexit debate?


Undecided voters hold key to referendum but they need to be engaged, writes Matthew Rogers

Undecided voters hold key to referendum but they need to be engaged, writes Matthew Rogers

The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) held an EU referendum debate last night that served only to highlight the uncertain outcome of the referendum on 23 June.

Two respected City lawyers, with contrasting views on Brexit, addressed attendees with the intention of persuading undecided voters to join their respective campaigns. Unfortunately, they fell short.

Marcus Booth, a partner at White & Case fought for Britain to remain the EU, while Clive Thorne, a partner at Wedlake Bell, argued for the Brexiteer cause. The pair's well-constructed and passionate arguments had resonance, but, as we have repeatedly seen since David Cameron's settlement, conflicting arguments on the same topic inevitably lead to a tug of war over whose statistics are correct.

The economy, migration, sovereignty, and national security: key issues that continue to be hammered home by each side. On the one hand, hearing both speakers argue these points reiterated how fascinating Brexit is, but, conversely, also flagged other pressing issues.

Booth argued that the UK's future post-referendum was uncertain: 'Why toss away certainty for uncertainty when we don't know what the goal is because no one can tell us.' Unsurprisingly, Thorne countered that a future in the EU also looks unclear. What followed was as poignant as any argument that came before or after it.

Rising from his chair in the audience, one sole practitioner, and an obvious Brexiter, voiced concerns over 'democratic deficiency'. 'The commission has sweeping powers, it's ruling us,' he said. 'People who we haven't voted for, who failed to gain office in this country, have been bumped up to European office. This simply isn't right.'

The anonymous solicitor may well have a point. In 2014, the former leader of the House of Lords, Lord Hill of Oareford, was nominated by the prime minister to become a European commissioner despite never having held office.

Hill now serves as the commissioner for financial stability and financial services, despite the former leader of the Commons, Andrew Lansley MP, expressing a desire to be put forward. It was believed the Tories were reluctant to divert general election resources to a by-election should Lansley's South Cambridgeshire post become vacant.

The Leave groups' obvious contempt for EU regulations and at decisions of the Court of Justice (CJEU) has resonated with some sections of the British public, but could a distaste for decisions in Brussels not also apply to those passed down from Westminster?

Another CIArb attendee rammed the point home when he explained he was thinking of abstaining from the referendum vote because neither side, nor his local MP, had assured him of the major issues affecting him, namely migration.

The public is looking for answers that will address their individual concerns and preserve the UK's best interests for decades to come. Conflicting fact-based arguments, which fail to address what the UK will realistically look like post-Brexit is only stalling a debate that needs to target the undecided voter. They hold the key to the unknown.

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