#EUref : A Third Option

The Referendum

On the 23rd of June 2016 we as a nation will be heading to the polling stations to cast a vote in response to whether or not Britain should remain in the EU.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?


Both the Leave and Remain Campaigns, official and grassroots, have been presenting a myriad of competing statistics, arguments, insults and accusations to contribute to the discussion.

It has proved to be divisive, to say the least. Family members disagree with each other, people on twitter are spamming the hashtags against one another. Political parties are split internally. Even the Murdoch owned media are taking different stances.

This has made it very difficult for those of us whoa re not actively involved in top levels of politics, business or the economy to be able to reliably sift through the information spewing forth like a tidal wave of vomit on the internet – never mind come to a clear consensus of what is and isn’t true, or, more accurately, what is or isn’t likely to happen if we remain or if we leave.

What I would have liked to have seen from each of the political parties would have been ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ manifestos. That we we would have been able to say that if we remain in then the Conservative Party would look like this and if we leave then the Labour Party would look like that. However this hasn’t happened.

I’ve spoken with student where I work, I’ve talked with strangers in pubs and on the tube (believe it or not!) and I’ve had conversations with many friends who have said that they don’t know how to vote on Thursday because they feel like they can’t make an informed choice! 

A Third Option

For the last few months my mind has been made up. I didn’t know how I could choose either way. Then I had a conversation with someone I respect and they told me that if you can’t decide then abstain by spoiling the ballot. 

This is a good idea for several reasons.

  • You can decide that you can’t decide.
  • It shows that you are engaged in the democratic process; rather than not showing up.
  • By participating in the democratic process you join your voice to the voice of the people; you are included in the democratically decided conclusion rather than letting others decide on your behalf.

This has been what I was planning on doing for the last few months (since about March), and if you can’t decide what you think is better then I encourage you to consider actively abstaining rather than not participating at all.

Political Philosophy

Having decided to abstain, and having been comfortable with this decision for a while, I’ve found that I’ve stopped thinking so much about the individual issues.

Instead of looking at the economy, at fishing rights, at immigration, at trade deals or even the plenty of emotional narratives constructed around family lives or the impact of crime (or any other number of issues), I’ve found myself thinking more about what I believe the role of government should be.

I believe that the government of the people should ultimately be accountable to the people they govern.

This means that they should be elected by the people to represent them and their concerns. This is what happens in the UK with the MPs in the House of Commons.

The European Union and Electoral Accountability

This is not what happens in the European Union.

The European Union has seven authoritative bodies; the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors.

To simplify this down, we – the average person on the streets in the UK – only have influence over the European Parliament and the Council.

We vote for our Member of the European Parliament (MEPs) and our elected government is represented on the Council.

The Council is made up of 28 representatives, one for each member state. These representatives for each state changes depending on who the national state minister with  the appropriate portfolio is for any given discussion, i.e. for agricultural discussions all 28 ministers for agriculture would be present, but for education the education ministers would be present. As such, we indirectly influence the council by electing our own MPs.

We have direct influence over the European Parliament because we vote for our MEPs.

The European Parliament is a ‘legislative’ body which passes and enacts EU Laws.

However it does not have ‘legislative initiative’.

It can only affirm or reject legislation proposed by the European Commission.

This means that it is the European Commission, which we have not democratically elected and which is not electorally accountable to ‘the people’ of Europe, which drives the European political discourse and agenda. Furthermore, while the European Commission is made up of one member per member state, members are bound by their oath of office to represent the general interest of the EU as a whole rather than their home state.

The Question

The question we are responding to is:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

To answer that question, I have to first answer whether or not I can support and endorse a political hierarchy of authority which has those who propose the legislation not being elected by the people they govern.

To that, I can not bring myself to say yes.


Preempting a Couple of Objections

Some will argue that the Queen is the unelected Head of State for the UK, and she is. However to draw a comparison between the Queen and the European Commission doesn’t work because the Queen (generally) affirms the legislation initiated by Parliament, rather than proposing legislation herself as the European Commission does. If anything, the comparison would be between the Queen’s role and the role of the European Parliament.

Some will argue that we need the EU to maintain security etc. It’s worth remembering that we will retain our membership of both the United Nations and NATO.

1 Comment

  1. That is fantastically well said Sam. And to be honest I hadn’t seen my decision in that way, but you are right, how can the European Union be expected to speak for everyone democratically if we don’t truly vote for the people within it making the decisions? They can’t! But I do think that it’d be ridiculous to break away from the rest of our European neighbours as if we don’t like them anymore and feel we’re better than them. And equally, as you said surely it should be our voted in Government who are deciding whether we are or are not part of the Union. They can’t pass the buck over to us to make that decision simply so that whatever goes wrong following the referendum it’ll all be OUR fault! Hmmm, I sense a spoiling of the ballot paper coming on.


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