Brexit: UK may be divided, but we are united by this one key thing – leader comment

A pro-democracy protester is detained by riot police in Hong Kong (Picture: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
A pro-democracy protester is detained by riot police in Hong Kong (Picture: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
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We should remain true to democratic ideals whatever happens about Brexit – Leave or Remain – and respect the views of those who disagree with us.

China’s “one country, two systems” policy in relation to Hong Kong was always doomed to fail. Perhaps its most significant achievement was to provide cover to the UK as it did what it had to do in 1997 – hand back its former colony to China – despite the undemocratic nature of its rulers.

Thirty years on from the Tiananmen Square massacre – an anniversary marked around the world but censored in China – Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is facing a crackdown by the authorities. One can only hope there is no repeat of the same deathtoll of that bleak day in Beijing in 1989, which is unknown but was claimed to be at least 10,000 according to a declassified British diplomatic cable citing a source close to a member of China’s State Council.

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The problem for President Xi Jinping is that the existence of a small democratic enclave is a constant reminder that he has no legitimate right to power because a majority of the people he rules over did not give it to him.

By contrast, the UK is a functioning democracy and this means peaceful protests are not just allowed but facilitated by the authorities. They are not a fundamental challenge to the system, but part of it.

Honouring democracy

And so, as a new poll reveals that 77 per cent of people believe Britain is more divided than ever, we should put our faith in democracy and remain true to its basic values.

Whatever the future holds, from a no-deal Brexit to remaining in the EU, provided the decisions are taken in a democratic fashion, we should all respect them, just as we should have a basic level of respect for the politicians responsible and for ordinary citizens we disagree with.

Some on the Brexit side of the debate believe it would be a betrayal of democracy if the 2016 Brexit referendum result is not “honoured”.

However, democracy is continually expressed, never set in stone, and we are allowed to change our minds if we want to. Even if Brexit takes place, it is possible that people will start campaigning for the UK to rejoin the EU and they would be perfectly entitled to do so.

Protests can turn violent in the UK, forcing the police to respond, at times with batons and riot gear.

But the violence in Hong Kong is different. It is what happens when arguments take place that ultimately have no democratic solution because they are about democracy itself.