Brexit discourse, peace and goodwill

By Jill Segger
December 22, 2017

The tone and pitch of our current political conversation is growing very ugly. Death threats and inflammatory epithets such as 'enemies of the people' and 'mutineers' are aimed at Members of Parliament who take seriously their duty to challenge the Executive when it seeks to act beyond its powers.

A coarse and bullying jingoism is heard in the public prints “Shut your gob”, said the Sun newspaper to Leo Varadkar as the Taoiseach called on Theresa May to commit to no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK as part of any Brexit agreement. And – although there are heartening exceptions – social media often seems to have abandoned reasoned discourse for insult, obscenity and bile.

Much of this deterioration in the discourse of a democracy must be laid at the door of the division between 'Brexiteers' and 'Remoaners'. It is right that strong opinions are held and expressed. The UK is attempting to negotiate its future and the stakes are very high indeed. Without opposing views being heard and considered, we will have little chance of ameliorating hitherto unseen or ignored outcomes of the immensely complex task of disentangling 40 years-worth of legal, financial, commercial and political arrangements.

But such consideration asks of us listening, learning, civility and self-control. Strong emotions and convictions are no excuse for popular bullying nor for political authoritarianism. The government is showing a worrying tendency to put the interests of the Executive before those of Parliament, and therefore of the people, whose 'will' it invokes at every turn. Consider 'Henry VIII powers', the refusal to attend Opposition Day Debates, reluctance to permit the Legislature to make adjudication on the final Brexit agreement and the belittling of MPs who observe Burke's dictum on judgement, conscience and constituents. None of this should give comfort to anyone who wishes to live in a country where Parliamentary sovereignty, deliberative democracy  and the rule of law are paramount.

Attempting to change minds through abuse, intimidation or any other coercive behaviours is not the work of a democracy. Knowledge and understanding are essential to just outcomes and the latter may require of us humility. It is undoubtedly better to raise your voice than your fists. It is better still to raise your game.

At this time of the year, we may well hear the phrase 'peace and goodwill' tossed around in response to irritations of varying magnitudes. Let us never forget that the former is dependent upon the latter.


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: You can follow Jill on Twitter at:

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