Chilcot, Brexit & Implications For Democracy

Chilcot, Brexit & Implications For Democracy

Presenter: Dr. Paul Kamill

July, 2016

Two truly momentous events for democracy have happened within the last month. The Chilcot enquiry ( into the Iraq war finally reported its conclusions on July 6th, and the UK Referendum on whether or not to stay within the European Union divided my country almost up the middle on 23rd June.

What does Democracy mean to you? Yes, a seemingly simple question, but is it really that simple?

Henry Sidgwick, a Utilitarian Philosopher over a century ago wrote… “as I have defined them, Ethics aims at determining what ought to be done by individuals, while Politics aims at determining what the government of a state or political society ought to do and how it ought to be constituted, – including under the latter head all questions as to the control over government that should be exercised by the governed”(Sidgwick, 1988) This defines Politics, but what about democracy?

These two events give glimpses of some aspects of what might be part of a democratic process. I shall take you, not to Plato or Pericles, but simply to the decade in which some of us were born, the 1940s, for this was when the United Nations was also born.

Consider that the United Nations was conceived during the course of the Second World War. In 1941 representatives of 15 different countries, among whom were Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Australia, not to mention several European powers, met at St James’s Palace in London. One of the statements mentions that “the only true basis of enduring peace is the willing cooperation of free peoples in a world in which, relieved of menace of aggression, or may enjoy economic and social security”. The Atlantic Charter, agreed before the United States came into the Second World War, formed the basis of the United Nations Charter. There were other meetings, including a meeting in Teheran, and the Dumbarton Oaks conversations in Washington. This culminated in the San Francisco conference where, to all intents and purposes, the United Nations was born, on 24 October 1945.

The truly devastating nature of WWII is outlined in many texts. Here is part of an introductory chapter to “Savage Continent”:

“Between 1945 and 1947 tens of millions of men, women and children were expelled from their countries in some of the biggest acts of ethnic cleansing the world has ever seen. This is a subject that is rarely discussed by admirers of the ‘European miracle’, and even more rarely understood: even those who are aware of the expulsions of Germans know little about the similar expulsions of other minorities across eastern Europe. The cultural diversity that was once such an integral part of the European landscape before, and even during, the war was not dealt its final death-blow until after the war was over.”…

“In the aftermath of the war waves of vengeance and retribution washed over every sphere of European life. Nations were stripped of territory and assets, governments and institutions underwent purges, and whole communities were terrorized because of what they were perceived to have done during the war. Some of the worst vengeance was meted out on individuals. German civilians all over Europe were beaten, arrested, used as slave labour or simply murdered. Soldiers and policemen who had collaborated with the Nazis were arrested and tortured. Women who had slept with German soldiers were stripped, shaved and paraded through the streets covered in tar. German, Hungarian and Austrian women were raped in their millions. Far from wiping the slate clean, the aftermath of the war merely propagated grievances between communities and between nations, many of which are still alive today.”(Lowe, 2012)

It is in this context that the precursors to the EU, and the United Nations were born. This quotation only gives a sanitised outline of what happens in the aftermath of war. And it is because of this that I have chosen to discuss what both “Brexit” and the Chilcot Report reveal about Homo sapiens.

Enough of history, although we shall come back to this.

What does this have to do with the EU referendum, or Chilcot? Well, Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations states:-

“the purposes of the United Nations are 1.) To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace…”

Here we have immediately a contradiction concerning the actions of the United States, and of Britain, and the stated aims of the United Nations. If you read the Chilcot report you will see that he makes it clear that Tony Blair, on the coattails of George W Bush, had declared war without the sanction of the United Nations. They had not complied with articles contained in Chapter VII of the Charter. There is a degree of contention about the so-called “dodgy dossier” and the validity of the information given therein. Hans Blix states that Blair assured him that his, Blair’s, information concerning WMDs was sound. Although Tony Blair disputes that he lied, and Blix, kindly, calls this a “disastrous failure of judgement”, he took the British to war, a war of aggression, it seems clear that he did so.

Although the Chilcot commission has taken seven years to report, and it is suggested that Chilcot pulled punches (he is, after all, a “mandarin”) in his criticism of Tony Blair, nevertheless there has been an exposure of serious misconduct at the head of the British government. I suggest that this is one of the cornerstones of a modern democracy. But it is unlikely that Mr Blair will ever find himself in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Sadly, impunity from prosecution seems to come with the job for certain people. It is even less likely that we will see George W Bush in The Hague as the United States, under his leadership in 2002, un-signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and refuse to acknowledge its jurisdiction.1 The court deals with four crimes, 1) the crime of genocide, 2) crimes against humanity, 3) war crimes, and 4) the crime of aggression.

Now we come to the question of the “Brexit” vote in the United Kingdom. Broadly speaking 49% of the population voted to remain in the European Union, while 51% voted to leave. This is a majority vote. However, consider the possibility that the vote had been won by a single vote – unlikely, I know. Does it mean that such a vote should be binding? Consider the losers.

The “Brexit” vote exposes a flaw in our voting systems. Can this be considered democratic? Divisive, yes! My belief is that the FPTP (First Past the Post) system as opposed to something like a Proportional Representation system is undemocratic. It fails to represent peoples’ – all the peoples’ – views. Those who continue to favour FPTP seem to suggest that it is important to have a clear basis for power, to govern, and that permitting votes, every so often, allows a democratic process. This suffices, and can be called democratic. I suggest it is simply lazy. There are alternatives that are admittedly harder work. We can discuss this during the Café. Among these is Principled Negotiation (Fisher & Ury, 1987), a technique used at the Oslo Peace Accords.

Nevertheless, the EU Referendum has had a startling effect on the people of the still United Kingdom. I have spoken to a few, and the remarkable active engagement in a political event, by all and sundry, is quite astonishing. The population were galvanised into thinking politically.

Combine this with Chilcot, and the advent of an insight – limited though it might be – into what goes on in the minds (go on! Let’s be charitable!) of ‘some’ politicians, is bound to be enervating. The EU Referendum woke many people up to realities of politics. The real message is that the largely ignored people in the UK, those who perceived that they had little say in the running of the country, those who had become disenchanted with the present system have wielded power. Chilcot, although flawed, was also a message to those disenfranchised after each election.

To remind you, I warned you we would return to history. Aldous Huxley wrote “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” Reading the quotation above from Keith Lowe’s book, it seems that 51% of the British population are ignoring history. Furthermore, the war in Iraq, followed by the devastation in Palestine and Syria, also demonstrates political amnesia.

First Past the Post leaves large chunks of any population with nothing to do but accept that “33%” is going to rule! There are better systems, surely, that might involve everyone in managing a country?

Chilcot is also a message to would be demagogues. Sadly, the message is muted. But there are now means of exposing our leadership, such as it is. I had not been aware that a similar process had been undertaken by the Government of the Netherlands and had reported six years ago! It is to be regretted that, while the Rome Protocol seems to suggest that Blair and Bush, and their cronies ought to be in the dock in The Hague, it is an unlikely event.

Pericles, a demagogue – yes, we finally got back to more HISTORY – was, by some accounts removed from power in ancient Athens while promulgating what became a 27-year war(Thucydides, Strassler, & Hanson, 1998). Were they, more than two and a half millennia ago, more advanced than us?


Charter of the United Nations 

CHAPTER XIV The International Court of JusticeArticle 92 The International Court of Justice shall be the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It shall function in accordance with the annexed Statute, which is based upon the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice and forms an integral part of the present Charter.

Article 93

  1. All Members of the United Nations are ipso facto parties to the Statute of the International Court of Justice….”

However, from the outset the USA has refused to comply with these articles. The title of United, both in UK and UN is, perhaps, ironic? However, we should be allowed to disagree. The misattributed phrasei “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” comes to mind. Here is another aspect of the democratic process – free speech.


Disclaimer: I am interested – very – in human rights but most certainly no expert, and, of course, have no legal training or experience. I have been long interested in Moral Philosophy, mainly from the medical side, but lately have started a degree course in Philosophy. The questions here are for us at the VSHA to tease out and I hope they interest you as much as they do me?

Reference List

THE UNITED STATES STRATEGIC BOMBING SURVEY. Summary Report: (European War) (1945). [Electronic version].

Fisher, R. & Ury, W. (1987). Getting to “Yes”. How to negotiate to agreement without giving in. London: Arrow.

Lowe, K. (2012). Introduction. In Savage Continent. Europe in the Aftermath of World War II (1st ed., New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Sidgwick, H. (1988). The Relation of Ethics to Politics. In The Methods of Ethics (7th ed., pp. 15-22). Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett.

Thucydides, Strassler, R. B., & Hanson, V. D. (1998). Second year/Summer. In R.B.Strassler & V. D. Hanson (Eds.), The Landmark Thucydides. A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War (pp. 89-156). New York: Free Press.

1 This is in spite of the USA practicing “rendition” of those it chooses to call war criminals.

i[1] Voltaire never said it. It comes from a book, The Friends of Voltaire, by S. G. Tallentyre, a pseudonym for Beatrice Hall.