In Defence of Liberty

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Political Interventions and Principles

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Sofia Pavlovska and Anastasiya Dusanska of Ukraine, who both live in The Hague, pose during the demonstration on the EU referendum at the Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Netherlands April 3, 2016. (Edited: REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares – RTSDDLU)

On March 17th 2016, prominent members of the Leave.EU campaign group wrote an open letter to Barack Obama, President of the United States [1].This was in response to invitations made to the US President to speak on Britain’s referendum on membership of the European Union.

“Act of democracy”

The open letter, signed by UKIP Leader Nigel Farage, ended:

In the coming months the British public will evaluate the merits of a “Leave” or “Remain” vote and issues of national sovereignty must be decided exclusively by the people of the United Kingdom.

Whilst it is understandable that a sitting US president feels the obligation to speak in the interest of the United States, it must be advised that even a passive diplomatic recommendation in the matter of our national decision will receive the opposite of the intended effect.

The referendum vote is in act of democracy in its most direct form, and the question of whether or not to leave the EU is a rare political topic that is not owned by any one political party. This is a chance for the British people to choose the path of their country. Interfering in our debate over national sovereignty would be an unfortunate milestone at the end of your term as President.

As fellow elected representatives we would therefore respectfully ask that you refrain from further politicizing this debate by intervening in our approaching referendum and instead allow democracy to take its course.

Aside from the strange complaint that the US President would ‘politicise’ an inherently political debate, this letter states that the principle that foreign leaders, since they represent their own country’s interests, should not participate in the referenda of other nations. This open letter was signed by Nigel Farage MEP.

The Dutch intervention

It was rather surprising to find that, less than a month later, Nigel Farage MEP spoke at a rally on the Dutch referendum of the Ukraine-EU association agreement [2]. As reported by Reuters [3]:

UKIP leader Nigel Farage told Reuters on a visit to the Netherlands that a Dutch ‘No’ would embolden British voters who believed they were alone in Europe in holding eurosceptic views.

“If there is a healthy turn-out and if there is a strong ‘No’ vote in the referendum, it sends a big message,” he said. “A ‘No’ vote here would be taken by many back home as a sign that this growth in euroscepticism isn’t just in our country, it’s happening elsewhere.”

(Video: geenstijl)

The government response to a petition to stop the US President speaking in the UK was that members of Parliament may invite whoever they wish to speak on matters of their choosing [4]. That petition was signed by less than 30,000 people, or around 0.07% of the UK electorate. I agree with this principle of open debate: it is up to the individual citizen to decide how highly they weigh any politician’s speech on a topic.

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It is the established convention. (Source: UK Parliament Petitions

Nigel Farage espoused a different principle: that foreign leaders should refrain from intervening in domestic referenda in other nations. The same Nigel Farage then spoke on — interfered in — the Dutch referendum on the Ukraine-EU association agreement. The principle espoused in the open letter fell away at the earliest opportunity.

UKIP supporters often suggest that their leader, “Our Nigel”, is a man of stoic principle, a blessed bleach in a dessicated cesspit of “career politicians”. On the basis of his Dutch intervention, Nigel Farage is not a man of principle.

References

[1] Leave.EU, 2016. British politicians in Leave.EU write open letter to President Obama. PR Newswire. Available from: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/british-politicians-in-leaveeu-write-open-letter-to-president-obama-300237818.html [Accessed: 11th April 2016]

[2] UKIP, 2016. Nigel Farage speaking in support of the Dutch Ukraine Referendum. Available from: http://www.ukip.org/nigel_speaking_in_the_netherlands [Accessed: 11th April 2016]

[3] Reuters, 2016. Farage says Dutch ‘No’ would boost Brexit support. Available from: http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-farage-idUKKCN0X11RB [Accessed: 11th April 2016]

[4] UK Parliament Petitions, 2016. Prevent Obama From Speaking In Westminster Regarding The In/Out Referendum. Available from: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/119328 [Accessed: 11th April 2016]

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This entry was posted on April 14, 2016 by in European Politics and tagged , , , .
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