Am I Dreaming, Or Is Turkey About To Leave The EU?

If I talked to you about a country that just had a dubiously run referendum, the result of which was so close, as to be invalid for such a huge constitutional change, you would probably be thinking of Turkey. If I then told you that the leader of this country will organise elections with the sole purpose of augmenting his personal grip on the country, claiming that he is carrying out the wish of the people, you would again be thinking of Turkey. If I told you that opponents to this process were feeling oppressed and muted by those who voted in favour, despite representing just under 50% of the population, you would still be thinking of Turkey. But what if I told you that this country was an island? What would you then be thinking?
Referendum organised to enhance political power and weaken oppositionYesYes
Justified criticism of the way the referendum was runYesYes
Expat VotingLarge % did not voteLarge % could not vote
Result (%)51-4952-48
Opponents to vote discouraged to express themselvesYesYes
Elections announced to confirm and/or increase power of governing politiciansYes (2019?)Yes (2017)
Is it so far-fetched to think that the UK and Turkey have used and abused democracy in the same way?

 Why organise a referendum in the first place?

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the former UK conservative party leader, David Cameron, were both involved in a personal survival battle that prompted them to organise a national referendum. According to Erdogan, the very existence of Turkey is being threatened by the likes of Islamic State and the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK). The aborted coup last summer has given him even more reason to want to “persuade” the Turkish people that another kind of “democracy” is needed, and that changing the “parliamentary democracy” into a presidential system will be the answer to Turkey’s political and economic problems. And, if all goes according to plan, the Turks will have plenty of time to find out since, under the new constitution, Erdogan could serve as president until 2029.

In announcing the UK’s referendum on EU membership, David Cameron was trying to fend off the powerful eurosceptics  within his own party, and the continuing rise of the extreme-right-wing UKIP, led by Nigel Farage. Eurosceptisism within the Conservative party is nothing new.

We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.  –  Margaret Thatcher, Bruges, 1988

The truth is that the conservatives have been split over Europe for decades, ever since the Bruges speech, delivered by Margaret Thatcher, on September 1st, 1988. The conservative Eurosceptics were officially born that day, and have wreaked havoc in the Conservative party ever since, aided by the faithful press. In the end, of course, it was Europe that provoked Thatcher’s downfall. In 1990, former foreign affairs minister, Sir Geoffrey Howe, delivered a speech in a packed House of Commons, that few could have delivered. His tone was as calm as his words were deadly. Thatcher was mortally stabbed for not wanting European integration to advance. In his speech, Howe concluded: “The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long.”

We love our politicians, don’t we? That’s why we keep on voting for them time after time, in spite of the fact that they keep on getting things horribly wrong. They remind me of that gormless denim-clad bovver boy Gaylord, in the BBC’s Dick Emery Show that was so popular back in the 70’s. Only, our beloved politicians ain’t no bovver boys, but slick looking elites. What to think of Tony Blair, former  whizz kid of “New Labour” as they were then called? He admitted earlier this year that he and others, including the EU, “got it wrong” and “took too much for granted”.

I’m only an anonymous European citizen who has never really bothered to look at where the EU power is going to or coming from. I’m too “in love” with the European ideal for that. Thanks to the remarks made by Tony Blair, I’ve finally discovered the root cause of the UK’s alienation from the EU. It all boils down to the feeling the Brexit voters have of “loss of sovereignty” and “uncontrolled immigration”. So far, nothing new you might think, but what I realised by digging a little bit deeper into the history of the EU, is that this double feeling at the root cause of the Brexit vote could have been avoided long ago, if only specific referendums had been timely organised. It’s a bit like if an extension was built to your house without your permission, and now you are being asked if you want to keep on living in it. If only you were asked at the time of the extension.

“Dad, I fink I got it wrong again.” – Gaylord

Migration from Eastern European countries – Mistake number 1

Although Tony Blair was in favour of EU enlargement with Eastern European countries, he did not take up the option of extending transitional controls. This option was adopted by other countries including Germany, France and Italy. The UK, Ireland and Sweden were the only countries to immediately open their borders to the influx of Eastern European migrants. This being said, as Tony Blair pointed out, it is debatable whether EU migrants from the former Eastern Block countries have any significant negative impact on the UK economy. Even scaremonger number one, Nigel Farage, admits that it is only EU enlargement to the East that would cause an identity crisis in the UK. According to Farage, in 1999 immigration was “not only not an issue, the word did not appear in my election literature…Then, we had free movement between countries of comparable wealth, education and healthcare systems.” (from Brexit revolt: How the UK voted to leave the EU, Michael Moasbacher, Oliver Wiseman).

The Lisbon Treaty – Mistake number 2

Tony Blair promised a referendum on the EU constitution, a treaty signed in late 2004. France and The Netherlands did hold a referendum and both countries rejected the treaty in 2005. The French and Dutch referendum votes effectively put an end to this treaty. However, in 2009, the treaty was updated, renamed Lisbon Treaty, and pushed through without a referendum at all. The then British prime minister, Gordon Brown, didn’t even bother attending the summit.  Not a very clever thing to do as the treaty defers power from national parliaments to the EU. The very least Tony Blair and others could have done, is to let us vote about it.

It is quite clear that EU policy makers have wanted to keep their decisions out of the public domain, and have succeeded in doing so. In this respect, I tend to agree with the view that the EU is not the most democratic institution on earth. A good example of this is the biggest enlargement the EU has ever undergone, which took effect from May 1st 2004. When was the first time that you or I ever heard about it? I’m pretty sure that most of us were presented with this European expansion as a fait accompli on…May 1st 2004. The 2016 referendum came more than a decade too late and, with hindsight, probably got the result it deserved. Listening to the flawed reasons given by Leavers on the merits of Brexit, it becomes clear that a large proportion of UK voters did not know enough about what the EU actually stood for. They where taken in by the lies and deceit of the Leave campaign, coupled with the half-hearted defence of the EU by Remainers.

Scaremongering during the referendum

“…and now Doctor, my 37th symptom…”

Have you ever had that feeling that everything is against you, and you can’t do anything about it? If that happens once in a while, that’s part of life. More often, you should consider changing jobs. All the time, then you most probably resemble people suffering from hypochondria and/or paranoia.

Hypochondriacs visit the doctor, convinced that there’s something wrong with them. Furthermore, there’s nothing the doctor can say that will put their minds at rest. The hypochondriac knows exactly what he’s got and who gave it to him. The big enemy of the hypochondriac is…himself, or rather, his own body. Fuelled by the incessant search for bodily perfection in present day society, the hypochondriac feels every twitch in his body as a foreboding of a certain death.

“I don’t understand them [foreigners] … I don’t feel very comfortable in that situation…” Nigel Farage, 2014

Paranoids, on the other hand, don’t usually have a problem dealing with their own bodies. Their problem lies with other people’s bodies. A paranoid feels constantly threatened by visible or invisible outside forces. The “mob” is out to get them, even if this “mob” is living peacefully and legally as a next-door neighbour. In the street, on the train, at home…the threat is everywhere. Some unfortunate patients actually suffer from both paranoia and hypochondria. Not only are they convinced that there is something physically wrong with them, but also believe that their many doctors are persecuting them by not wanting to treat their illness.

During the referendum campaign, the Leave camp, and Nigel Farage in particular, took full advantage of existing public paranoia/hypochondria related to immigration. This was exemplified by the vivid Leave campaign poster, showing thousands of Middle-Eastern refugees, and not EU migrants. Would the same message have come across with a billboard showing thousands of French or Italian people, I wonder? The problem, let’s be honest, lies with EU migrants from former Eastern Block countries and non-EU migrants from Syria and its neighbours. It lies with no-one else.

In announcing a referendum on Europe, and going through with it, David Cameron was thinking about his own future and didn’t notice that the land around him was caving in. He also seemed to ignore the fact that warning signs were there, probably thinking that the UK electorate would choose the status quo over the uncertainty associated with leaving. Referendums that had already taken place in the past, in Denmark, France and the Netherlands, and had all resulted in a  strong vote against European institutions, were ignored. David Cameron gambled his future with  the future of his country, and lost. Erdorgan, in his own way, played on the underlying anxieties of his people, promising that all would change if he gained more power. For now, at least, he won.

Never mind the Expats

Theresa May disenfranchised up to 700,000 EU based British expats who have been living outside the UK for more than 15 years. This figure would be much higher, of course, if other non-EU British expats were taken into account. I left France more than 15 years ago and have retained my rights to vote in this year’s presidential elections. Even Turkish citizens living in the EU had the right to vote in the Turkish referendum. The fact is, however, that many of them didn’t bother to vote for such an important constitutional change in their fatherland. In the Netherlands, those who did cast their votes in the ballot box, voted 70% in favour of Erdogan’s reform. I find it hard to accept that Turkish passport holders living in a democratic country like the Netherlands, cannot see what is going on in Turkey.

Theresa May made a promise to all British expats that they would be enfranchised in time to be able to vote in the 2020 general election. She just forgot to mention that the election would take place in 2017. Well, I can accept that she can break a promise to me, but not to Harry Shindler, a 95 year-old WWII veteran, who is an expat living in Italy. in 2016, he fought to obtain the right to vote in the referendum. His appeal lodged in the High Court failed. It’s people like Shindler who made it possible for us to have all these deep quarrels about trade treaties in a free Europe. Thanks, Harry, and take care.

It is quite ironical that, had long-term British expats all over the world been able to vote, the result of the EU referendum would probably have gone the other way. It seems that David Cameron was, at best ill-advised over the exclusion of expats (together with 16 and 17-year-old’s) and, at worst, careless.

We are the 48%

On several occasions, Theresa May has alluded to the fact that she wants the country to work for everyone. How she will go about this, no-one knows. It seems an impossible task, such are the divisions between the two camps. Optimism and naivety reign amongst Brexiteers. They have finally got their country back, but have not, as yet, said what they intend to do with it. The Remainers have not changed their arguments, reflecting a pessimistic view on what the future holds for the country. Although nobody can forecast what the UK’s position will be post-Brexit, it is important for the defeated camp of the referendum to be heard. Up to now this has not been the case and, worst still, Remainers are being treated as traitors to the nation, having no right to question the “will of the people”.

After an election or a referendum, even if you lose the vote, you are entitled to go on making the argument. When a government in this country wins an election, the opposition does not say ‘oh that’s absolutely right I’ve got nothing to say for five years‘  – Ian Hislop (BBC Question Time, July 2016)

Too Much Democracy Can Lead To Tyranny

In Turkey, Erdogan’s argument in favour of his proposed reforms is to streamline decision-making and avoid parliamentary coalitions that have, in his view, interfered with Turkey’s progress. Since the president is elected directly by the people, goes the argument,there is no need for another elected leader, namely the prime minister, to be able to enact laws. It seems to me that the people voted to let one man change the system, and then must vote for the man himself. Erdogan has a rather strange notion of democracy, where a popular vote erases all need for an effective opposition to the governing bodies. In fact, if in 2019 Erdogan succeeds in being elected president under the new constitution, he will effectively be Turkey’s first democratically elected tyrant. The fact now is that Erdogan can theoritically stay in power until 2029, having already won every election since 2002. The constitutional change abolishes the non-party-political nature of the presidency, as in the United States, but without the counter-balancing checks and controls. Paradoxically, it would have been better if the country had voted for change by a much larger majority than just a few percentage points. Instead, Erdogan is now focused on silencing a sizeable opposition at home, and even more sceptics abroad. His reaction to the Dutch government refusing entry to two of his “puppets”, was foreboding of what may lie ahead. All this from a man who would not be against the death penalty. As for EU membership, he can knock as hard as he can on the EU door, it’s remaining firmly shut.

If this change is agreed in the 16 April referendum, then Turkey will quickly become an autocracy, and after that it could, of course, turn into a pure dictatorship – Mithat Sanca (opposition deputy – HDP)

God willing, these results will be the beginning of a new era in our country. – Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 2017

The UK is has always been a model of democracy for everybody to follow. When Ronald Reagan delivered a speech to the Commons in 1982, he described the building as a “shrine of democracy”The parliamentary democracy in the UK is under threat and, what is worse, most people are not even aware of this.  In calling a general election, Theresa May has, barring surprises, succeeded in crushing an already depleted opposition. She has used the democratic tool at her disposal. Although she can deny it as vehemently as she wants, there is no doubt that the timing of her announcement, in stark contradiction with her previous statements, coincides with her party’s very strong lead in the opinion polls. It is quite possible that her present majority of 17 in the House of Commons, shall run into triple figures come June 8th. As opposition party, Labour is in disarray and is not capable anymore of aspiring to win a general election. It is in search of a leader capable of convincing, and ideas capable of seducing. As for the liberal democrats, although they are, potentially, capable of reversing  or at least severely pruning Brexit, this would go so much against the “wish of the people”, that it would be social and political madness to implement such a change of heart. The referendum result, however bad the campaign was, must not be overturned. Parliament knows that and has not interfered with the process, contrary to what certain newspapers have said.

“And second, who are they to lecture anybody on democracy? Miliband and Clegg both fought tooth and nail to deny the public a referendum vote in the first place. Not only that, they are now trying to stick up two fingers to their own constituents by seeking to allow Parliament to block the referendum verdict.”  – Daily Mail, October 2016

Parliament does not want to block the referendum verdict. It wants to monitor what sort of Brexit the UK will implement. If the country must work for everyone, so must Brexit. And that includes Remainers.

Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger…  – Theresa May, April 2017

She was referring to her negotiating position of course, but I find the first part of the statement more interesting than the second. The UK electorate who voted Brexit had no idea at the time of the vote, and have no idea now of what they actually voted for. This general election should have taken place before Article 50 was triggered, and not after. It is also ironical that the institution so many see as undemocratic and despise, the House of Lords, has tried to bring some sense and wisdom to the Brexit saga. What was so undemocratic in wanting to protect the rights of millions of EU citizens lawfully living in the UK?

Theresa May has made no secret of wanting to “deliver Brexit” without involving parliament. Having lost the battle to bypass parliament, she is now seeking to “democratically” win the hard Brexit war by silencing all detractors. Dissent or even objection are words that are missing from her vocabulary, and if parliament doesn’t bend to her wishes, she will simply bend parliament. There is an acrid scent of democratic revolutions of bygone days, in which Theresa May wants to be the one and only mistress.

At this moment of enormous national significance, there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not. – Theresa May, April 2017

For Theresa May, the country may be coming together, but her vision of Brexit has fallen apart a long time ago, if it ever existed in the first place. More than a decade ago, EU enlargement and a change in the EU constitution were imposed on the UK by the EU, with the full approval and participation of the UK parliament, but without the consent of the people. Now, it seems, the exact opposite is happening. The people have given their consent for Brexit, but it’s parliament that is being usurped.

All in all, you could forgive me for waking up one morning and not knowing whether it was the UK or Turkey who had voted to leave the EU. Similar democratic discrepancies in the two countries are too obvious not to be noticed. The UK is fast resembling a dubbed version of Turkey, in terms of its tangling with, and interpretation of, democracy. During the dubbing, you may have missed out on a few swearwords, but you can still follow the plot. The trouble is, it seems that we’re all watching a disaster movie.