Thursday, 15 August 2019

Dealing with the arguements of Populist Brexiteers

If you’ve taken part in enough online discussions with a diehard Brexiter, a Trump supporter or any other species of fascist, you may have noticed certain phrases cropping up with tedious regularity. The wording doesn’t vary much; it’s almost as if the phrases were lifted directly from a playbook – or a Paul Joseph Watson tweet.
The thing is, they’re all rubbish. While some of their lines are superficially valid, they’re all predicated on either on a logical fallacy, or false information. And even though most of these lines of reasoning have been demolished time and time again, there are still plenty of basement-dwellers smugly regurgitating them as if they’re the last word.
So for those of you still fighting the good fight, I thought I’d put together a handy reference guide – a liberal playbook, if you will – setting out exactly why the far right are wrong, on basically everything, and how you should respond.
“Stop trying to overturn the democratic result, you anti-democratic democracy-hater!”
Referendums are about the closest thing we have to true democracy – government by the people. However, the western world worked out long ago that true democracy is not a very effective system. For one thing, we don’t all have the time to be voting on every single issue. For another, people aren’t, on the whole, very well informed about things. This is why we have politicians; we need people who know their stuff, or can designate other people (the civil service) to find out about the stuff. That way, they can make what they think to be the right decision based on the best evidence available.
The belief that a view must be correct because the majority of people hold it is a fallacy called the argumentum ad populum, about which I’ve already written at length. In brief, crowds are not famed for their wisdom. You think a million people can’t be wrong? Well, there are 2.2 billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and they sure as hell can’t all be right.
For this reason, the system of government we’ve ended up with in the west is not true democracy, but parliamentary democracy, under which the people appoint representatives (MPs) to make decisions on their behalf. And as systems of government go, it’s worked pretty well. Most of the world has tried to emulate it.
For much of its history, the UK has fought shy of referenda, for the exact reasons above. They’ve also been banned in Germany since Hitler used them to arrogate so much power to himself. Plebiscites violate the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.
In referendums on matters of great constitutional importance, a supermajority is usually required – a minimum turnout, and a minimum threshold for change (say 66%). This makes the result binding. But no such parameters were set for the Brexit vote – a simple majority only was required – which means it was only advisory. Someone (*cough* Steve Baker MP *cough*), somehow, lowered the bar for a Brexit vote, but then insisted that the result be imposed as if the bar had been higher.
That, plus a bit of gerrymandering – banning 16- and 17-year-olds from voting, plus EU citizens and UK expats (what was the criterion for eligibility? Residence, or nationality? How can you justify excluding people on both?) – was enough to drag Leave over the line.
As news emerges every day of further suspected tampering with the result – funding restrictions broken, illegal cooperation between campaign groups, Russia-sponsored disinformation campaigns, harvesting of data and microtargeting of voters – one has to ask: was this really democracy in action?
Democracy of any stripe only works when the decision-makers are properly informed. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the level of information going into the June 23 vote was risible. The Leave campaign was a snot-soaked tissue of lies, and far too many people swallowed it.
“But Remain lied too.”
The EU referendum campaign is likely to go down as one of the dirtiest of all time. But the hardcore Brexiters insist that, since both sides were as bad as each other, the Leavers can be excused their shameless lies.
First off, most of the Remain “lies” weren’t lies at all. Most were simply attempts to predict what would happen if the UK left the EU. Some may turn out to be inaccurate (although that looks increasingly unlikely), but that doesn’t make them lies; it makes them inaccurate predictions. Why would you even campaign for Remain if you didn’t believe the consequences would be awful?
Leave, meanwhile, were cynically and systematically mendacious, saying things they knew to be untrue. Turkey is not about to join. The EU didn’t ban bendy bananas. We don’t always get outvoted in the European parliament, and we sure as hell won’t have £350m a week to spend on the NHS. (There’s a more comprehensive, authoritative list here.)
“What happened to world war three? Instant recession? Austerity budget?”
Contrary to popular belief, David Cameron, almighty dickwad that he is, never claimed that a Brexit vote would lead to an apocalyptic global conflict. That was, in fact, Leave campaigner Boris Johnson, straw-manning Cameron’s much more reasonable point. (Don’t just read the headline – read the story. Idiot subeditors.) Although it’s salutary to note that within hours of questions arising over the sovereignty of Gibraltar, a former Tory cabinet minister was on a war footing.
Most of those who forecast a recession said it would happen after we left the EU, not the day after we voted to leave it. That prediction is looking increasingly safe.
As for the austerity budget, you may or may not have noticed that the man who threatened to impose it was sacked.
“We’re leaving! Get over it!”
The “There is no alternative” fallacy in action. As often as not, this is literally the only argument Brexiters have, and it’s not even an argument.
Of course Brexit can be stopped; if it couldn’t, your tone wouldn’t be so histrionic. There are a number of ongoing legal cases, and we might yet get a referendum on the exit deal with an option to remain. Even if we do leave, there’s nothing to stop us rejoining soon afterwards, and the demographics suggest that’s exactly what we’ll do.

“You lost. Suck it up.”
If this is Brexit (or Trump) we’re talking about, and you’re not Arron Banks or Donald Trump or any of their billionaire friends, so did you. We’re all going to be poorer, many of the brightest and best minds are already leaving or cancelling plans to work here, and the UK and US’s global reputations have taken a hammering from which they could take decades to recover.
So, as long as there’s any prospect of Brexit being reversed and Trump being impeached, or at least of the damage being reduced, that’s what all true patriots – those who stay, anyway – are going to continue to fight for. Resisters gonna resist. Remoaners gonna remoan. It’s called democracy.
Besides, the ardent Brexiters didn’t shut up for the 40 years of our EU membership, and arch Republicans bitched about Obama from day one. Why should the losers this time round conduct themselves any differently?
“Now we’ll be free to trade with the world!”
We are already free to trade with the world. Who do you think accounts for the other 56% of our exports?
“They need us more than we need them.”
I find it hard to believe that there are still people out there still regurgitating this bilge, but apparently there are –

– so here goes:
The UK exports around £240bn worth of goods to the EU every year. The other EU member states, meanwhile, export £290bn  of goods to the UK (2015 figures).
This means the UK has what economists call a trade deficit with the EU (of £50bn). We buy from them more than they buy from us. And Ray, along with a few others of Leave’s clueless wang elite, seems to conclude from this (after some nudging by the Daily Express) that the EU has too much to lose to permit trade barriers to spring up.
True, the loss of our custom would be an annoyance to the continentals, and doubtless they would rather avoid it. But however glorious our empire may once have been, Ray, we are far from essential.
See, it’s not the absolute figures that matter, here, Ray; it’s the relative ones. The £240bn works out at 44% of the UK’s total exports. The £290bn, meanwhile, is just 10% of the EU’s total. Who’s going to suffer more if trade ceases, Ray? The country that just lost half its trade, or the 27 countries that lost a tenth of theirs? (Especially when you consider that they have dozens of pre-existing free trade agreements in place with which they can replace our custom, while we will have none, and that much of our services industry is relocating to EU countries as we speak. Come Brexit Day, our exports will already be significantly lower.)
Let’s run with an analogy you might understand, Ray. Say you join a club with 27 members, bringing the total to 28. The time comes for the whip-round for the Christmas do. The other 27 members put in £3-£4 each, raising a total of £100. When the hat reaches you, what amount do you put in? By your bizarre reasoning, because “you” and “everyone else” are somehow equivalent entities, you’d put in £100.
The UK and the EU are not equivalent entities, Ray. The population of the UK is 64 million people. The population of the 27 other EU states is 444 million. They can spread the pain more thinly. A cessation in trade between us would damage the EU, but it would crucify the UK.
Oh, and while I’m here: the German automotive industry, despite what the Express may have told you, does not even set German foreign policy, much less that of the EU. Here’s evidence, from the, er, Express.
Besides, if businesses really have so much political clout, how come the UK voted to despite the fact that twice as many British businesses were in favour of remaining in the EU as against it?
“We’re taking back control from the EU dictatorship! SOVRINNTYYYY!”
The UK was never a subject of the European Union. It was a fully fledged member – and among the most influential of them, to boot.
The UK had a hand in drawing up most EU legislation, and a power of veto over the stuff it didn’t like. We were very rarely on the losing side of a vote, and we always had the threat of leaving as a last resort. (Now that we’ve played that card and are on our way out, we no longer have any such clout.) It wasn’t about 27 other countries telling the UK what to do; it was about 28 countries deciding together what to do, and then abiding by that decision.
In any case, the legislation passed by the EU was generally trivial, technical stuff. Laws about industry regulations, manufacturing standards, safety protocols, environmental targets. Little of it was controversial (unless you were a Daily Mail leader writer); it was oil for the wheels of commerce. We’ll still need to pass equivalent laws in our own country – by ourselves. Now we’ll be footing the bill for that (this work accounted for a lot of our annual membership fee).
In no real sense is anyone in the UK “taking back control”. We’re simply taking it from one set of faceless bureaucrats (the EU commission and parliament) and handing it to another (Westminster – to all intents and purposes, the Tory party). And of those two sets of bureaucrats, I know which I believe has the interests of ordinary working people closer to their heart.
“But look at what the EU has done to Greece!”
Greece’s financial problems date back to long before its membership of the euro. Its economy was in poor shape when it joined the then European Community in 1981, a fact that successive governments went to great pains to conceal. Structurally weak and plagued by corruption and waste,  it would have tanked during the economic crash of 2008 whether it had been in the EU or not. Things may not have been managed as well as possible since, but the fact remains that Greece would be in just as much financial trouble, if not more, if it had stayed outside the EU.
In any case, Greece’s fate is irrelevant to any discussion about the UK’s place in Europe. The UK has not adopted the euro, has a stronger economy, and was much better placed to ride out the recession, as a quick glance at any statistics will tell you. While Greece has record youth unemployment, the UK is currently enjoying its highest employment levels ever.
Finally, if the EU really has made things so bad in Greece, how do you explain the fact that the majority of Greeks consistently want to remain a member?
“Ask the young people in Europe what they think of the EU!”
The Pew Research Centre did, in July 2017. Across the 28 EU nations, support for the union among 18-29-year-olds stood at 73%. All other surveys of the same subject have reported similar figures.
“We only joined a trading alliance! We never signed up for closer political union!”
Yeah, you did. You just didn’t read the small print. Or, indeed, the large print. The goal of closer political union has been made explicit in every major ECSC/EEC/EU treaty since the Schuman Declaration of 1950.
Closer political union was the entire raison d’ĂȘtre of the European project. It was specifically designed to bring nations closer together, in order to prevent a repeat of the second world war. Trade was just the means to that end.
And as numerous records of comments by Britain’s leaders prior to the 1975 referendum campaign prove, this was repeatedly made clear to the British people. If you prefer to absorb your information via Twitter threads, then this is the link for you.
“Have you got some sort of crystal ball?”
Frequently offered as a mocking retort to any suggestion that Brexit may have adverse effects (even though it’s now beyond any doubt that Brexit is having exactly the adverse effects Remain campaigners said it would). As an analogy for Brexit predictions, however, it suffers from one fundamental flaw: fortune tellers are full of shit. While crystal balls offer zero useful information regarding future events, the predictions of economic, political and social problems after Brexit were based on sound and thoroughly researched analyses by the most eminently qualified people in their fields.
“These warnings about a hard Brexit are Project Fear. Look at the scaremongering about the Millennium Bug!”
I’ve been hearing this particular “argument” from a suspiciously wide range of sources lately (August 2018) – almost as if it’s on some official briefing paper being distributed to everyone with an IQ below 70. It is so colossally, obviously flawed as an argument that I scarcely know where to begin, but since it’s being wheeled out as an attempted smackdown so frequently, I suppose I had better.
Bug: About 20 years ago, a number of IT experts raised concerns about the possibilities of some older computers experiencing problems with their internal clocks as the date changed to 01/01/00. This might, they pointed out, cause some issues with things like flights, hospital equipment and power plants. Because ordinary folk knew nothing about computers, they trusted the experts’ view – even though said experts had much to gain from the emergency, and might have been overstating the danger for their own gain. As a result, somewhere between £300bn and £500bn was spent fixing the problem worldwide. In the end, disaster was averted, although the “bug” did still have some adverse effects.
Brexit: A number of experts in the fields of economics, trade, business, science, politics and diplomacy raised concerns about massive damage being done to the UK’s businesses, economy, international relations, and world standing. They stood to gain nothing from such an emergency. Few people fully understood the issues at hand, but, after decades of the rightwing press undermining faith in intellectualism, only a minority trusted the experts’ view. As a result, nothing was done to avert any negative consequences.
Apart from the fact that experts issued a warning, there are no similarities between the two situations. The people involved were different. The conditions were different. The entire realm of knowledge was different. The problem was different, and the possible solutions are different. (Perhaps the most worrying divergence is that between the amount of preparation completed in each case.)
Next time someone squeals “Millennium bug!” in response to the sounding of the Brexit alarm, try gently pointing out to them a few of the occasions when experts issued warnings, and were right: the Titanic. Fukushima. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The rise of fascism in Germany in the 1930s. The Lusitania. The subprime mortgage crisis of 2007. The 2018 Genoa motorway bridge collapse.
Experts are not always wrong. In fact, they are rarely wrong. That’s why they are occupying their positions, and not you.
“Your patronising attitude is exactly why we voted out”
Really? You voted to wipe out 10% of GDP, sacrifice hundreds of thousands of jobs and turn the UK into a global laughing stock because a stranger on social media was insufficiently sensitive while schooling you in economics 18 months in the future? Come on. That’s kind of petty. If quantum-mechanically impressive.
(What they’re really doing here, of course, apart from flailing pathetically, is attempting to tone-police you: to shoot down your argument on the basis of its character, rather than its content. Because they can’t find any obvious flaws in the content to attack.)
“Britain managed just fine before it joined the EU!”
It really didn’t. You, my friend, are guilty of rosy retrospection: a common cognitive bias that leads us to remember things as better than they in fact were. Sure, you were younger then, with hopes and dreams intact, and still enjoyed occasional sex.
But the blunt truth is that in the early 1970s, the country was up shit creek. As the last tendrils of its empire withered, growth and productivity were slipping, industries declining, poverty increasing. Strikes left large parts of the country paralysed. Power cuts were commonplace. For over two months in 1974, the UK was operating on a three-day week.
The new members of the European Economic Community, meanwhile, were surging ahead, leaving the UK with the “Sick Man of Europe” dunce’s cap. Successive British governments, Conservative and Labour, begged to join. Charles de Gaulle vetoed the British application twice, warning that it would lead to the breakup of the union. Membership, when it came in 1973, was a huge relief – and marked the beginning of a new era of prosperity for the UK.

But more importantly, in 1973, the UK had its own trade arrangements and supply lines in place. It has spent the 45 intervening years frantically reshaping its economy to function as part of a frictionless trade bloc. If those arrangements are ended, and no substitute system is introduced – fat chance of that in six months – then the country will, quite simply, cease to function.

Next time you catch anyone trotting out any of this guff, don’t waste time Googling and copy-and-pasting. Just reply “BS” and paste a link to this page. (If you right-click on the relevant link in the intro and select “copy link address”, it will link them directly to the relevant entry.)
I’m sure I’ve missed a few out, and that more will arise. Please chip in if you have any far-right bollocks you’d like debunked – I’ll keep this updated, and maybe, if I get enough time, some day turn it into a wiki.

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