Why the EU referendum is not legitimate

Last week at the Conservative Party conference Theresa May made three bold statements:

The referendum result was clear.

It was legitimate.

The people gave their answer with emphatic clarity.

Hard Brexiteers are hoping that this will become accepted wisdom and mainstream political thinking. To challenge the results is for “sore losers” who can not accept defeat in a “free and fair” election. “Bremoaners” are no better than Trump who is currently claiming any defeat he may face in November is “rigged”.  It looks like they are succeeding.

Ann Soubry a former cabinet minister, Remain campaigner and critic of May’s hard-Brexit choices, stated:

“I want to make it very clear that we began our conversation from the absolutely shared position that we accept the result of the EU referendum, that we are leaving the EU.” “It is”, according to Soubry, “…the will of the people.”

Consider also these statements from pro-EU Guardian political commentators,

“May has the moral mandate of the referendum behind her …. Of course, the referendum result has to be honoured.”

“Clearly, that would not be the case now, in part for honourable democratic reasons. The people have spoken, and MPs must respect that”

Even Hugo Dixon who runs the InFact website that has sought so valiantly to correct the lies peddled by Vote Leave during the course of the referendum campaign cautions pro-EU Remainers to respect “the democratic mandate” of the referendum.

With all parties and most mainstream political commentators united that Brexit is going to happen it looks like that’s the end of the road for the UK and the EU. Let May have her hard Brexit and eat it.

It is imperative, however, for those of us who value democracy, the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty that this should never be the case. There are very good reasons to believe that Mrs May has no moral mandate to withdraw the United Kingdom from its membership of the European Union. The truth was so raped during the course of the referendum campaign that the very legitimacy of the result has to be called into question.

Let us be clear from the start. This is not – as Mrs May would like those who voted Brexit to believe – about sneering at those who voted for Brexit. It is not about a liberal elite looking down their long educated noses at undecided voters. It most certainly is not about belittling or ridiculing, in any shape or form, those who voted for Brexit in good faith and relying on the claims made by those campaigning to leave the European Union.  Euperspectives would never lump an honest voter together with fibbing politicians and newspaper proprietors/editors.

This is about holding to account those who knowingly deceived the British voter into voting for Brexit.

In a series of three posts euperspectives will put the case why the referendum is not legitimate, why it is not the will of the people and why it is far from “crystal clear”.

First up – why Theresa May does not have a moral, legitimate mandate from the people to leave the European Union.


The amount of falsehoods, outright lies, little fibs and false myths made by all groups campaigning for Britain to leave the EU throws into doubt the very legitimacy of the entire campaign … and by all groups euperspectives includes editors and proprietors of the right-wing populist media in the UK, most notably the Daily Mail, The Express, The Sun and The Telegraph, who openly declared their support for those campaigning to leave. Their lying, as will be shown below, went beyond the usual hyperbole common to most democratic campaigning. It is unprecedented and it puts into question the very legitimacy of the referendum.

The lying is important since it affected the outcome of the referendum.

The lying is important since those telling the falsehoods did so in full knowledge that they were deceiving the electorate but continued to deceive nonetheless thus cheating their way to victory.

The lying is important since many good people put their faith in the honesty of those who lied to them. Everyone will pay the price for these lies in terms of the unstable and uncertain economic environment in which the UK now finds itself.

The lying is all the more cynical and despicable since those campaigning to leave the European Union exploited the general population’s lack of understanding regarding the European Union. Over the past two  decades – certainly since the time of John Major’s government – there has been a concerted effort whenever the Tories have been in government to keep children and the wider population misinformed about the European Union. Indeed Michael Gove when Minister for Education – later a prominent and vocal Vote Leave campaigner – blocked any mention of the EU on the school curriculum citing it as “EU propaganda”. The Daily Mail described efforts to hand out information leaflets on the European Union as “brain washing” in an article entitled “Revealed: How children are brainwashed by EU propaganda!”

It is not surprising, therefore, that many undecided voters were – and continue to be – confused as to how exactly the EU operates, what its objectives are and why it even exists in the first place. Those who had hoped to become more informed about the EU during the course of the referendum did not get a lesson on the European Union. They were subjected to an entirely fictional Hollywood plot- one which bears no resemblance to the reality of how the EU operates, what its functions are and what its core objectives are.

Building on this carefully nurtured lack of understanding and taking the position that “Ignorance is Strength” those campaigning to leave the EU devised an entirely false and incorrect narrative of the EU casting it unjustly as undemocratic, unaccountable, opaque, sclerotic and elitist.

How the lying swung the election


Whilst a die-hard Brexit supporter had their mind made up before 23 June 2016 a substantial majority of voters did not. Dominic Cummings, campaign manager for Vote Leave, wrote on his blog in September 2015,

“We need a campaign aimed far beyond the fraction of the population that already supports UKIP.”

This quote from The Telegraph in January 2016 – a month before Cameron confirmed the date of the referendum – is indicative of how undecided many voters were.

“…. it goes without saying that any sensible voter would want to be in possession of the facts before casting their vote. And indeed, those working on the nascent campaigns will tell you that is precisely what the prized middle ground – that’s the roughly one-third of “undecided” voters – say that they want to hear: the facts, plain and unadulterated, so they can make an informed decision for themselves.”

In this clip from the BBC in February 2016 we see voters from Lichfield in total agreement on one thing.

“They all want to learn more and think more before referendum day.”

Thus, it can be affirmed that from the very beginning setting out the facts “plain and unadulterated” was going to determine the outcome of the referendum campaign. Early on in the campaign the “sensible” and “prized middle ground” voters made it clear that their decision should be based on “unadulterated” evidence – and they wanted to learn more about the EU.

Yet, as more and more independent experts from the IMF, the World Bank, the Bank of England, the OEDC and the Treasury began to present the facts in favour of remaining in the EU those campaigning to leave had only one option if they were to have any hope of winning the campaign: lie, deceive and begin a populist campaign of trashing experts whose authority and independence had, until this point, never been thrown into doubt. Organisations who have never, in the post-war period, – ever – been called into question were now cast as tricksters no better than the Nazi experts who trashed the views of Einstein because he was a Jew. Unable to win the argument on the unadulterated economic facts that the EU serves a much needed purpose for our future prosperity those campaigning to leave the EU had no choice but to lie. In short, they resorted to tactics that lack all legitimacy in an open, democratic and pluralist society.

There are two cases where those campaigning to leave the EU told outright lies in order to exploit the undecided voter. The two lies correlate exactly to the two issues that mattered most to the voter.

“ICM found that 45% of people said that immigration into the UK was the most important, followed by the impact on the UK’s economy on 36%. (Sample: 2,029, 27-29 April) Similar polls by ComRes and Ipsos MORI have put the same two issues at the top of the list but in reverse order.” BBC EU referendum poll tracker.



Although Vote Leave condemned Nigel Farage’s Breaking Point poster as outrageous they nevertheless decided to tell an outright lie themselves that stoked up similar fears and led to a wave of racial tension.

On 23 May Vote Leave issued a new poster.


See also this tweet from Vote Leave. on the same date, which combines the undecided voter’s twin concerns regarding immigration and funding for the NHS.

David Cameron wants Turkey to join the EU. How will our NHS cope? Let’s #TakeControl on 23 June

— Vote Leave (@vote_leave)

Vote Leave were warned on numerous occasions that they were telling a blatant lie but chose to continue the deception nonetheless. As Turkey slipped (and continues to slip) into a wave of anti-democratic measures making its accession to the EU impossible (see below) Vote Leave nonetheless chose to use the present tense “is” joining the EU as opposed to “might” join the EU once it has its own house in order.

Although false, the message was having the desired effect on the undecided voter. It was a hugely effective lie that was beginning, for the first time in the campaign, to swing the opinion polls in favour of Vote Leave. As from the end of May the polls shifted consistently in favour of Vote Leave and stayed there pretty much until the referendum was won.

For example, on 18 May 2016 – before the misleading Turkish claim  – Ipsos MORI reported:

“The Political Monitor finds an increase in those saying they will vote to remain in next month’s referendum on EU membership. Fifty-five percent say they will vote to remain while 37% say they will vote to leave (8% are still undecided).”

An Ipsos MORI poll from 11-14 May – before the Vote Leave claim that Turkey is joining the EU- shows Remain ahead of Leaving

On 16 June – following Vote Leave’s Turkish lie Ipsos MORI, reported:

With just one week to go until the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union Ipsos MORI finds Leave with a six point lead over Remain. When excluding the “don’t knows” and those not registered, and using our standard turnout filter 53% say they will vote for Britain to leave the EU while 47% say they will vote to remain 

An Ipsos MORI poll from 11-14 June 2016 – following the Vote Leave Turkey claim  – shows  Leave ahead of Remain for the first time.

A similar pattern can be seen with all other polls as these graphs complied by Business Insider  clearly show:

On 2 June 2016 Business Insider reported Remain leading the polls whilst noting a shift for the first time in voter intentions.
By 16 June the lie that Turkey would be joining the EU leading to uncontrolled immigration was beginning to have an impact on voter intentions. Leave are clearly ahead in the opinion polls and stay there until 23 June 2016.

Indeed, on 6 June 2016 – just a couple of weeks after the Vote Leave poster first appeared The Spectator published a piece entitled, Vote Leave has Brought out its Turkish Weapon, stating

“Vote Leave feel that they now have the momentum in this campaign. The three polls out today all have them ahead.”

On 22 June 2016 – just one day before the vote and with all politicians unable to campaign the Daily Mail,  is accountable to no one, pulled out all the big lies in its arsenal declaring:


To be clear – Turkey is not a member of the European Union. It is not going to become a member of the European Union under current political circumstances. EU and national government policies are not the same as fact.  The misleading information on Turkey’s accession to the EU was a complete fabrication of the truth but nonetheless had the desired effect of swinging the referendum if favour of leaving the European Union.



“We send the EU £350m a week. Let’s fund the NHS instead,” claimed Ian Duncan-Smith on twitter.

 “We send the EU £350m a week. Let’s fund the NHS instead,” echoed Matthew Elliot Chief Executive of Vote Leave on twitter.

Who has not seen Boris Johnson with Gisela Stuart standing in front of that bus:


The UK Statistics Authority  repeatedly pointed out that this claim was inaccurate and misleading.

At no point during the campaign did Nigel Farage, who led the Leave Now campaign, tell the electorate that the claim was false and should be ignored. His silence gave this claim tacit support. On 24 June – not even 24 hours after the restults of referendem were announced –  Farage told the public it was a mistake and he would never agree to spending£ 350 million on the NHS.

Every single pro-Brexit politician has since backtracked on this statement – another way of admitting they were lying.

An Ipsos/MORI poll from 16 June 2016 showed that up to 47% of those questioned believed this claim was true, not false and that if the UK left the EU money would be spent on the NHS instead.

Additionally, just under half (47%) think it is true that Britain sends £350 million a week to the European Union compared to 39% who think it is false (78% say they have heard of this statement).

Why would they not believe this key claim?  Look at what Vote Leave published on 3 June 2016:


After we Vote Leave on 23 June, the Government should use some of the billions saved from leaving the EU to give at least a £100 million per week cash transfusion to the NHS.

 This money will be over and above the commitment that the Prime Minister rightly made at the last election to an £8 billion real terms increase.

 How can we pay for this additional spending? From the money we save from leaving the EU.

 The UK’s gross budget contribution is currently over £19 billion or £350 million per week. According to Treasury estimates, this will increase to nearly £400 million per week by 2020…..

 By 2020, we can give the NHS a £100 million per week cash injection, and we can ensure that the wealthy interests that have rigged the EU rules in their favour at last pay their fair share.


 The little fibs told by the campaign to leave the EU are substantial. Although not outright lies since they were, at that stage still open to speculation, they nevertheless gave undecided voters the impression that leaving the European Union would not leave them worse off. Below is just one example of the little fibs told by the Vote Leave campaign giving undecided voters false assurances that Britain could prosper outside of the EU. There are plenty more but they can not all be discussed on this blog post.

On 10 June the German equivalent of the CBI (the BDI) published a press release:

A possible Brexit unsettles German companies, 10 June 2016

Two thirds of companies are unable to predict the consequences. Only one in four are prepared for a Brexit. A possible Brexit and its consequences are generating great uncertainty among German companies, according to a joint study conducted by the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and Deloitte on Wednesday in Berlin. Two thirds (64 per cent) of those surveyed stated that they were unable to predict the impact of a Brexit on their own company. Furthermore, 30 per cent expect to see negative consequences for their business.    

On the same date, 10 June 2016, Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Finance Minister, stated quite clearly in Der Spiegel that it would be unlikely for Britain to enjoy access to the single market in the event of a Brexit:

“That won’t work. It would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw. If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”

Ignoring these warnings and the uncertainty felt by German businesses in the event of a Brexit Boris Johnson on 12 June – just two days after Schäuble’s warnings and in direct contradiction to what Germany’s Finance Minister had said  – decided to tell a series of little fibs to his readers in his hugely popular Telegraph column entitled

“When it comes to the single market you don’t have to be in it to win it.”

Britain would have a great future outside the EU trading freely with the EU and the rest of the world while engaging fully at an intergovernmental level with all the political and diplomatic questions in Europe.

On access to the single market Johnson went on to fib:

“The Germans would not dream of it (raising tariffs by excluding the UK from the single market): we Brits buy 820,000 German cars every year, worth about 20 billion euros. In fact we buy one fifth of Germany’s entire car output. As Dyson points out, tariffs would mean the Germans would be cutting their own throats. It won’t happen.” The Telegraph, 12 June 2016

After the referendum was won he continued to fib – as he does to this very day – trying to convince readers that the BDI is so influential that it can swing the German government’s policy on negotiating a deal with the United Kingdom.

“As the German equivalent of the CBI – the BDI – has very sensibly reminded us, there will continue to be free trade, and access to the single market.” I can not stress too much that Britain is a part of Europe and always will be, The Telegraph, 26 June 2016

Yet, according to the BBC “…in a carefully worded statement, the BDI said it “deeply regrets the result of the referendum; it weakens the UK, the EU and Germany politically and economically. The politicians responsible need to do everything to minimise this negative effect.”

…and more recently,

“I have read a lot of articles in the British press saying Germany would be a relatively soft negotiator because 7.5% of German exports go to Britain,” Kerber told BBC Radio 4’s today programme. “Well, 7.5% is a big number – but 92.5% goes somewhere else.”

In the course of his little fibbing Johnson never warned his readers that at the end of the day it is not the BDI that will determine whether the UK will or will not have access to the single market. It is the politicians not industry that make this vital decision. Nor, did he mention the views of the remaining 27 member states – each of which has a veto on our trading relationship with continental Europe. Further, he simply ignored and failed to inform his readers that his European counter-parts have said and still say – again and again – that Britain can not expect any favours that go over and above what other members currently enjoy. As a former Brussels correspondent for The Telegraph Boris Johnson understands – or at the very least should know –  how the EU functions and that it is neither in his power nor indeed theirs to offer any country such a guarantee. He is fully aware that he is not in a position to promise voters these lofty promises when there is absolutely no way that any British government can deliver on them.

Even now, with the pound in free-fall, with the threat of high inflation very real, with international banks warning that they will leave the UK, with the Treasury warning that there could be a Pound 66 billion shortfall in the budget due to loss of tax receipts and with the EU setting out in black and white that any Brexit deal must always be inferior never superior to full membership Johnson continues to fib:

We are going to get a deal that… will be of huge value and possibly of greater value


The below is not a myth. It is printed in black and white and translated into 24 official languages of the European Union.

The union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the member states in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.

Article 2 Treaty on European Union

The above quote comes from the Treaty on the European Union. It is Article 2 of the TEU – not Article 365 (1) (a). Article 1 creates the Union and Article 2 explains what the values, common to all member states, are.

Let me repeat.

The union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the member states in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.

To be a member of the EU requires a nation state to be democratic. Autocrats, kleptocrats and dictators need not apply. Because the EU values democracy so highly there is no possibility of Turkey under Erdogan ever becoming a member. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not in the immediate future.

To be clear the EU is democratic, it is accountable, it is open and it is accessible. It allows the UK to be an independent sovereign nation. If you’re interested to see why and how the EU is democratic you can read more about it here.

Regardless those campaigning to leave the EU showed no shame in developing a false narrative to confuse those who do not fully understand the purpose and need of the European Union.

See these quotes below to get a flavour of the mythology developed by Vote Leave:

“We the people are being cajoled, frightened and bullied into surrendering our democracy and freedom.

This film is a rallying cry.

We must fight for our independence…”, Brexit the Movie.

Unelected, unaccountable elites, I’m afraid it’s time to say, ‘You’re fired. We are going to take back control,  Michael Gove.

The EU is increasingly anti-democratic …. It is sclerotic, opaque, elitist: different nations bound together by a centralised bureaucracy that ordinary people can neither understand nor vote out, Boris Johnson

 The independence of this country is being seriously compromised. It is this fundamental democratic problem – this erosion of democracy – that brings me into this fight, Boris Johnson

The idea that we can do better by staying in the EU is a sham, snare, and a delusion, Boris Johnson

The EU is ruled by a secretive, unelected commission, whose diktats are backed by a court able to override elected democracies, The Daily Mail

Do any of these quotes refer to Article 2 of the Treaty? Do any of these quotes bare any reality to the fact that Nigel Farage is a democratically elected member of the European Parliament? Do any of these quotes compare the European Commission to Whitehall – our own civil service which is non-elected? Up until the shrill hysteria generated by Vote Leave has anyone in the UK felt that their rights were being denied by Brussels? Never. That is because the EU does not deny anyone their democratic rights. It never has done so and it certainly has no intention ever to do so.

The rape of truth and common decency

Eurosceptic politicians felt free to lie brazenly confident that they would not, indeed could not, be held to account by either a court of law or by the advertising standards agency. Vote Leave felt free to lie so brazenly confident that they had a huge right-wing press more than happy to echo their deceits to millions of undecided voters. As for the media they felt – and still do – feel free to deceive and create myths that bear no resemblance to reality screeching “freedom of speech” “treason” and “lack of patriotism“when ever someone tries to hold them to account for misrepresenting the truth.

The repercussion of their lies – and their continued lies – are huge and will affect the wealth of each and every British citizen living either in the UK or abroad for years, possibly generations, to come. As British citizens we must ask ourselves whether we are going to allow dishonesty within our public debating space to continue or whether we have the courage to stand up and expose the naked truth behind all of those who campaigned for Britain to the leave the European Union?

Based on the above there are good reasons to suggest that Theresa May and her government do not have a moral mandate to withdraw the UK from the EU. The elections may have been free but they most certainly were not “fair” by any yardstick of common decency. Thus, it is euperspective’s assertion that the June EU referendum lacks all legitimacy in an open society.

Next up – why the EU referendum is not the “will of the people”.



3 thoughts on “Why the EU referendum is not legitimate

  1. Pingback: Why the referendum is not the will of the people | EU Perspectives

  2. Pingback: Why the EU referendum results are not clear | EU Perspectives

  3. Pingback: Brexit – an example of collective self-deception - New History

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s