Brendan O’Neill

What the ‘Stop Brexit’ brigade and Turkey’s Erdogan have in common

What the 'Stop Brexit' brigade and Turkey's Erdogan have in common
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Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament, has got some front. This morning he slammed the decision to cancel the results of the municipal and mayoral elections that took place in Istanbul in March and to force the people of Istanbul to vote again. And yet Verhofstadt’s chums in the Remainer camp want to do exactly the same thing in the UK.

Indeed this week Verhofstadt will visit London to campaign for the Lib Dems, whose slogan is ‘Stop Brexit’ and whose aim is to bring about a second referendum. Verhofstadt’s hypocrisy is staggering — he brands Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan a dictator for the overthrow of a democratic vote and yet he cosies up to British politicians who are hell-bent on overthrowing a democratic vote.

Verhofstadt says the revoking of the Istanbul mayoral vote suggests Turkey is ‘drifting towards a dictatorship’. He isn’t wrong. It is indeed dictatorial, a crime against the very principle of equality and democracy, to frustrate a democratic mandate. Which raises the question of why Verhofstdat thinks it is okay to back a British party that is devoted to frustrating a democratic mandate. Why is Erdogan’s crushing of a popular vote and demand for a second election an act of ‘dictatorship’ but British Remainers’ call to ‘Stop Brexit’ and make the plebs vote again not?

What is striking is how similar the arguments made by the tyrant Erdogan sound to the arguments of Britain’s own Brexit-bashers. In March, the mayoral candidate for his party, the Justice and Development Party, narrowly lost to the candidate from the opposition group, the Republican People’s Party. Erdogan said the March vote was marred by ‘irregularities’ and even 'organised crime'. He sounds like Carole Cadwalladr of the Observer and other hardcore Remainers who have spent almost three years droning on about the vote for Brexit being full of irregularities.

Also there’s the closeness of the Istanbul vote in March. The opposition won 48.77 per cent of the vote in comparison with Erdogan’s candidate, who got 48.61 per cent. Even closer than the Brexit vote, and as the anti-Brexit lobby never tires of telling us, we can’t possibly reorganise society on the basis of slim majorities.

Perhaps Erdogan’s dictatorial stance on Istanbul’s close vote was inspired by the arguments of our very own latte-sipping loathers of Brexit. And like the second-referendum lobby, Erdogan said the only reason he wanted to overturn the Istanbul vote was to protect the people. He said worried ‘citizens’ in Istanbul had been saying to him ‘protect my rights’. This cynical claim – that the revocation of the Istanbul election is a way of helping ordinary voters – echoes the pretensions of the second-referendum brigade — or ‘The People’s Vote’, as they duplicitously call themselves.

Erdogan’s regime appealed to the election board and yesterday the board decreed that the Istanbul election should indeed be rerun. The people of Istanbul aren’t taking this dictatorial measure lying down. Protests exploded across the city last night. People banged pots and pans and marched through the streets in protest at Erdogan’s outrageous ‘second vote’ policy.

Guess what, Remainers? People don’t like having their votes ignored and their democratic rights trashed. Anti-Brexit politicians and campaigners here in the UK should feel utterly mortified by these events in Turkey. Because they are on the same side as Erdogan, as this anti-democratic, illiberal leader who thinks nothing of casting aside the votes of 4,169,765 people — the number who voted for the opposition mayoral candidate — and instructing the throng to rethink and vote again.

Next time a ‘People’s Vote’ type tells me we have to hold a second referendum because the first vote was so close, there were lots of irregularities, and the people didn’t really know what they were voting for, I’ll say: ‘Ah, the Erdogan approach.’