The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.
— The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877
In spite of my deep disappointment and despair at the outcome of last week’s referendum, I’ve been very reluctant to speak out on the issue. As a conductor, one feels a tremendous amount of pressure not to divide one’s audience or alienate potential friends or supporters. One doesn’t want to do or say anything that could have a negative effect on the orchestra or its finances, but, even more importantly, it’s vitally important that concerts be a place where people of diverse views can come together in constructive ways. Music ought to be a unifying presence in our communities whenever possible.
In this instance, there is so much at stake for my children that I feel I have to speak my mind. After all, protecting our children’s future is every parent’s highest priority. My children were born in possession of EU citizenship. I can scarcely think of a more valuable asset to come into the world with- the right to live, study and work in 28 of the most dynamic, culturally vibrant and affluent nations that have ever existed. As a result of last week’s appalling vote, they now stand to lose that citizenship and all the rights, privileges and opportunities that come with it.
To all those who shrug their shoulders and say “well, it’s democracy, we have to live with the result,” I would point out that referendums have been considered the lowest and most dangerous form of democracy since Greek times. Please read and share the Wikipedia article on the “Tyranny of the Majority,” which concisely describes the long history of how societies have tried to protect themselves from the most obvious risk of representative democracy. The right of the majority to rule must be limited to protect the fundamental rights of the minority in any democracy, or society crumbles. The Wikipedia article illustrates how Herbert Spencer in “The Right to Ignore the State” (1851), pointed the problem with the following example
« Suppose, for the sake of argument, that, struck by some Malthusian panic, a legislature duly representing public opinion were to enact that all children born during the next ten years should be drowned. Does anyone think such an enactment would be warrantable? If not, there is evidently a limit to the power of a majority. »
In a free and democratic society, one person or group is not, or should not be, allowed to strip another person or group of their fundamental rights, and citizenship is such a right- it can usually only be stripped by government for serious cause, after due process. Governments have huge latitude over when to grant citizenship to both individuals and classes, but the nature of citizenship is that once bestowed, one’s rights as a citizen are protected in the same way as one’s fellow citizens. In this case, it is legally absurd that a British person’s EU citizenship can be retracted without their consent while a French or German person’s EU citizenship is safe.
The referendum was undemocratic (because the rights of the minority were not protected) and unconstitutional (because it imposes a loss of fundamental rights on a minority).
If membership in the EU was simply a matter of being part of a trading organization that shared certain laws, trade agreements and treaties, one could make the case that voting to extract the nation from those treaties is a relatively simple matter. Voting to strip your friends, neighbours and their children of their EU citizenship is not only not a simple matter, it’s clearly illegal and deeply immoral. It is no less absurd than stripping people of their British citizenship because they grew up on the North side of their street, or stripping people of their American citizenship because they were born on a Tuesday. Stripping an EU citizen of their citizenship because they were born in Dover instead of Calais is equally wrong and unfair. A second referendum ought to not be necessary- I should think the UK Supreme Court would be able to rule the referendum result as invalid, as would the EU Court of Human Rights.
Now is not the time for restraint or resignation when it comes to protecting minority rights of all kinds- Western society, from Europe to the Americas, is closer to fracture and mob rule than at any time in the last 70 years. The economic implications of Brexit have already proven to be far worse than even the most dire predictions of those who advocated a “Remain” vote: world stock markets have seen their biggest-ever two day fall, and the Pound is at a 30 year low as I write. There are reports of widespread acts of racist abuse across the UK. Far Right political parties are more powerful now than any time since 1945, or should I say 1939?
Our politicians’ reaction to this crisis has been shockingly casual- this is not the same thing as losing a football match on a questionable call and accepting the result as a matter of sportsmanship. Lives, societies, economies and fundamental human rights are at stake. A multi-party statement including key members of both Leave and Remain groups can and should be issued which says that while the referendum has shown the urgent need for reform of European institutions, and demonstrated the huge risks to the world economy and European stability of a failure to reform, that the invocation of Article 50 would be unconstitutional, a violation of widely accepted human rights law, and would cause irreparable damage to the British and European economy and social order, and that, therefore, Article 50 must never, and will never, be triggered.
The world is watching and history is already judging. Shrug and the window of opportunity to stop this madness may close. When we make mob rule the law of the land, everything is over. If and when people realise that nobody is going to stop Brexit, I fear the events of the last 72 hours are going to look quaint.