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Letter from a Pleb

brexit pleb

Lawyer Matthew Orton Wadhams suggests to the PM that we the people give to our representatives in a direct democracy, our sovereignty for a limited period. It is not for them to ignore our instructions and act in a way that is inconsistent with your office.

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Dear Members of Parliament,

I am dismayed at your decision to postpone my country’s exit from the EU. I urge you not to consider a career in the City when your furious constituents eject you at the next available opportunity. Anyone entering into a dealing room and indicating that they are prepared to do a deal at any cost would find that the price of their intended asset would rise so steeply, that if they then entered into the proposed deal, they would quickly bankrupt their entire trading desk. I am not writing to you with career advice but to let you know that I wish my vote, cast 33 months ago in the 2016 plebiscite, to still count for something. I am keener than ever for my country to leave the EU as soon as possible and as promised.

I hear that there may be problems at the ports. This is surprising as my French colleagues in the City tell me that no such problems exist, ‘pas de tout mes amis’ said the Mayor of Calais. I’ve been travelling back and forth to Switzerland by road and rail for decades and have never encountered the slightest problem despite Switzerland not being in the EU (or the EEA, for that matter) whilst bordering France, Italy, Germany, Liechtenstein and Austria.  

I’ve heard about potential shortages of food. Let me reassure you. Following the plebiscite, and the hysterical reaction to it from an unhealthy number of you, I resolved not to buy any food products from the EU until we left. Friends and colleagues laughed at my plan saying that at least you will not put on any weight. In fact, I discovered that Britain’s table is laid with a cornucopia of fine products. Cheese and wine from Sussex and Norfolk and Northumbria and all the vegetables I can eat from my local farmer’s market. South Africa makes fine olive oils and the rest of Africa, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, the Americas and the Caribbean have provided other food at competitive prices.  

Maybe you all simply know better than I and the other plebs do, but even if you do please give us some credit as we all know some things and we all have our own values.

What I know and value from my study of law as an undergraduate is that our uncoded constitution allows for a separation of powers between the executive, legislative and the judiciary. Judges appointed on a long tenure have the confidence to give judgments fearlessly and objectively based on legal precedents. They do not act to please their political masters because they cannot be fired if they don’t toe the party line. Many a Council Leader and Home Secretary, much to their chagrin, have been blocked by the courts under our constitutional laws telling them they’ve acted beyond their powers.

Where else in the world can you find a legal system that is so respected by the international business community because it knows it can manage the inherent legal risks by having well drafted contracts enforceable in the event of a dispute by an English court? Do not assume that this is always the case in other jurisdictions where a contract can be seen as little more than the basis for a negotiation. This certainty of law gives businesses confidence to enter into transactions, financial or otherwise, thus creating incalculable benefits to the economy and attracting an ocean of foreign capital to our country as well as encouraging entrepreneurs who can protect their ideas with ownership through patents.

Most of the world functions perfectly well without EU laws. English and New York law governs trillions of dollars of derivative contracts, essential to business and government in hedging the risks of foreign exchange and interest rate fluctuations on their loans. Outside these two jurisdictions the International Swaps and Derivatives Association commission legal opinions to ensure that derivative contracts are enforceable. This works perfectly well as the successful administration of the Lehman Brothers estate has proven.

About twenty-five years ago a gut feeling that the European courts were all just a bit too far away and all in a language that I could not really understand, grew to an intellectual distrust and now a very real threat to my democracy. At a lecture I once asked Lord Slynn of Hadley, a former judge on the UK Court of Appeal and European Court of Justice, what was to prevent a malign European administration from appointing countless European Court judges to enforce its’ whims. He replied that all the incumbent judges would simply resign if such proposals were put to them. Pressed further and asked if the administration might be seeking to achieve just that, he responded eruditely but said nothing to answer the question. Later, after a few drinks, he added “it is a very serious question, the separation of power, terribly important”.   

Plebs are often told ‘we know things now that we did not know then’ – how true. That we are enjoying full employment and that the EU is on the brink of recession with an imminent banking crisis is one thing we now know. That we are no longer at the end of the line for trade agreements with the USA and elsewhere is another. That France has been in flames and Italy is in ever more financial and political trouble. I could go on. One thing we did know back then is that we were asked a simple binary question. Remain inside or leave the EU. No one suggested, at least not on my ballot paper, that you could leave some luggage in EU lockers such as a single market or a customs union or an overriding obligation to obey EU laws. It was a very clear question and 35 million people gave a very clear answer. It is disingenuous to suggest that people did not know what Leave or Remain meant because they knew enough to cast their vote. Few people could articulate every detail of EU membership. It is not important. You are either inside the EU’s framework of institutions or you are not. As Michel Barnier says ‘the EU is not a la carte’. 

Plebs are also told that we did not vote to become poorer. No one can possibly state today with any certainty that we will be more prosperous inside the EU or outside of it in ten or a hundred years. Exchange rates on currencies and demand for goods and services fluctuate on an hourly basis within dynamic open economies. Trading desks cannot tell you the price of assets tomorrow, least of all the future economic or political performance of a country. Economies that reduce barriers to trade and operate with the least government interference and control do better in the long run. Look at the changes in China and Russia since they escaped communism. Organisations that get too big become impossible to manage and often fail or shrink back down to manageable size. Corporations such as Citi Bank are a good example. The EU wants to build a large controlled structure and I think it will fail. I believe wholeheartedly that we are better off being an independent nation seeking to trade with as many parts of the world as possible, including the 27 EU countries, on WTO or other bespoke terms. The US, China and Australia do it daily. 

Possibly your hesitation is caused by the narrow margin of the vote. Let me remind you that it was roughly 18 million to 17 million and widespread across the country with nine out of twelve regions voting to leave including the most prosperous and populous South East. 408 constituencies voted Leave against 242 that voted Remain of which 55 were in Scotland, and this despite the Remain campaign being better funded and having the backing of most of you. It is disappointing to lose. I’ve lost football matches by the odd goal scored from a dodgy penalty in the last minute and golf matches at the last hole, but lose I did and whether I deserved to lose or could have won if only that last putt had dropped is meaningless. 

Plebs care about their sovereignty, yet right across Europe from Germany to Italy to Greece their sovereignty is being eroded by the actions and motivations of the EU. Nations can form trade agreements, lend money, set tariffs, agree international sanctions, go to war and form alliances for their defense. They mostly do so with a mandate from their own electorate. Those in power can be voted out and scrutinised by their electorate. Outside the EU only the UK government will be able to propose and execute legislation in the UK. All white papers are debated in parliament and the upper house. Inside the EU, unelected Commissioners begin the process of enacting EU laws and are the final reviewers of them. The EU Parliament has little impact on scrutinising these proposed laws that then become binding on the UK. A recent example was where an MP proposed to George Osborne that Britain have a two-tier VAT system in favour of our high street shops over big internet retailers who have lower overheads and pay less UK tax. Osborne thought it was a good idea and wanted to pursue it but was told by his ministers that it was impossible because it conflicted with EU regulations.

If the laws of the land are a binding agreement between the people on the land and those who govern them, then I ask you, if we remain inside the EU who is governing us plebs? 

We the people give to you, our representatives in a direct democracy, our sovereignty for a limited period. It is not for you to ignore our instructions and act in a way that is inconsistent with your office. Your role, like that of a court advocate, is to act fearlessly for the people who you represent following the manifesto that you published. Only two political parties campaigned at the last election to reverse the decision of the plebiscite, both were roundly rejected at the polling booth. If you ignore the votes of so many people, where do you think we will all go? Do you think we will just forget about it, shrug our shoulders and say ‘oh well never mind, let’s go back to the pub’ or perhaps you think we are all so old, so white, so stale and male that we will just go back to our golf clubs and live quietly until we die – if we are not dead already as certain columnists seem to believe. We will not. We will vote for someone else just like the Italians and the Austrians and the Swedes did. You cannot control people indefinitely and an angry disenfranchised population is impossible to contain by propaganda, printing money or by using force as the Germans, French, Polish, Czechs, Slovakians and Romanians found out the hard way.

A person’s identity is based partly and strongly on where they come from and where they choose to be. I am English and I will never feel European.

We have nothing to fear from leaving the EU.

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt” William Shakespeare – Measure for Measure.

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About the author

Matthew Orton Wadhams