Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website, www.rhysy.net



Sunday, 26 June 2016

An Open Letter To My Local MP

EDIT : It was pointed out that this is a bit long so might not actually get read. A shorter version is below.

Dear Mr Williams,

I am writing to ask you to consider advocating in the House of Commons that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty should not be invoked by the current or future Prime Minister, without at least a full public consultation. I am an expatriate scientist currently living in the Czech Republic. Cardiff North was my home for 27 years and it remains my permanent residence. Cardiff University benefits directly and substantially from E.U. funding which may be impossible to replace in the event of Brexit, and scientists such as myself profit enormously from the freedom of movement provided by the E.U. Modern scientific practise would suffer immeasurably without this freedom. Thus, I have a vested personal and professional interest in preventing a Brexit.

It has become abundantly clear that many of the so-called "negative" warnings of the Remain camp were entirely accurate (for example the value of the pound has already dropped dramatically), while the Leave campaign consisted of outright lies (that immigration could be cut and that there would be an extra £350 million per week for the NHS) and vague, undefined promises that we could either find unspecified replacements for the E.U.'s many benefits, or simply renegotiate them from outside the E.U. The Leave camp themselves have admitted these mistakes, which were major parts of their campaign.

An e-petition has been created calling for a change in the rules of the referendum so that a second referendum would be required in the result of a narrow vote. Ironically the instigator of the petition was a Leave voter concerned that the Remain victory would be narrow and indecisive, but nonetheless it has now attracted over 3.3 million signatures at the time of writing. This makes it by far the most successful e-petition of the UK Parliament and represents about 10% of those who voted in the referendum. It is not clear how many of the signatories originally voted Remain and how many voted to leave but have since changed their minds, given the damage visibly being done to the UK following the vote. Therefore, the most sensible course of action is to (at the very least) delay implementation of Article 50 until a proper assessment of the situation can be made, possibly but not necessarily resulting in a second referendum.

It may be fairly argued that asking the public to vote repeatedly on an issue (or Parliament simply ignoring the result) because one side does not like the outcome is undemocratic. However, that is not necessarily the case, as I will try to argue.

First, the referendum was not legally binding and the result was very close. This is a decision of major importance with profound consequences that will last not for a few years as in a general election, but for decades. Membership of the E.U. is not something that can be routinely renegotiated on a whim, so the result ought to be decisive if we are to change course. It was a serious error that this was not included in the terms of the original referendum.

Second, the petition for a second referendum has already attracted more votes than the margin by which Leave won. If nothing else, some attempt should be made to estimate how many of those originally voted for Leave but have now changed their minds.

Third, it is clear that lies formed an important part of the Leave campaign, thus making the choice inherently undemocratic.

Fourth, voting for facts makes no sense. Politics may be a far more slippery arena than science, where opinion is more prevalent than fact, but even so it does not escape factual reality entirely. It is a demonstrable fact that leaving the E.U. is hurting the U.K., and no sane person votes for self-harm. Having been lied to and misinformed by the Leave campaigners, it is not undemocratic in the slightest to ask them to vote again (or even ignore the result) given the facts of the situation. By analogy, the American state of Indiana once almost voted to declare the value of pi to be exactly 3.2 - this would have been objectively wrong, but no-one would have complained about ignoring or repeating the vote in this case.

Fifth, this would not be entirely unprecedented. The Leave campaigners explicitly stated that they would continue to push for a second referendum in a result this close. Even more pertinently, the E.U. itself had Ireland conduct a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty after Ireland initially rejected it. Considering to hold a second vote in the event that people have changed their minds based on the evidence is not the slightest bit undemocratic. Rather, seeking to avoid the years of turmoil that Brexit would ensure is the only responsible course of action possible in our representative democracy.

With kind regards,

Rhys Taylor


UPDATE : Here's a somewhat shorter version that stands more chance of being read.

Dear Mr Williams,

I am writing to you, my local MP, to consider advocating with the rest of Parliament that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty not be invoked at the current time. I am an expat scientist originally from Cardiff currently living in the Czech Republic. Cardiff University benefits significantly from EU funding, and the scientific rewards of freedom of movement cannot be overstated. It is not known if or how these could be replaced in the event that Brexit actually occurs.

Furthermore, it has now become abundantly clear that many of the the so-called "negative" warnings of the Remain camp were entirely accurate (for example the value of the pound has already dropped dramatically), while the Leave campaign consisted of outright lies (that immigration could be cut and that there would be an extra £350 million per week for the NHS) and vague, undefined promises that we could either find unspecified replacements for the E.U.'s many benefits, or simply renegotiate them from outside the EU. The Leave camp themselves have admitted these mistakes, which were major parts of their campaign.

The fact that the damaging effects of Brexit are already being felt should give us pause to reconsider the marginal result of the referendum. An e-petition calling for a change in the rules has currently attracted over 3.5 million votes, far more than the margin by which the referendum was won. The damaging consequences are now objective facts, not predictions. The consequences of Brexit are too serious and too dangerous to allow the result to be determined by a small minority who were repeatedly misinformed throughout the campaign. As in science, so in politics : once new facts are known, it is not the slightest bit undemocratic to reconsider one's position.

Finally, this move to stall Article 50 with the possibility of a second vote is not unprecedented. Nigel Farage himself is on public record as stating that a result this narrow would require a second referendum. The EU even required Ireland to hold a second referendum after the Lisbon Treaty was initially rejected. All things considered, it seems prudent to at least hold a period of public consultation to determine if the mood of the Leave campaigners has shifted.

With kind regards,

Dr Rhys Taylor

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