Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Kathy Gyngell: Vote Leave to save Britain’s historic right to freedom of speech


(TCW has commissioned a ComRes poll which shows that an overwhelming majority of people are now afraid to express their opinions openly. This is a chilling finding in a country that virtually invented freedom of expression.)

There is only one way to vote tomorrow if you believe in freedom of speech. It is Out.

For me, it’s the most overwhelming and fundamental reason to vote Leave.  Freedom of speech is already under attack. With continued membership of the EU we can kiss goodbye to it.

We’ve never needed a Bill of Rights or a First Amendment, for freedom of speech is as intrinsic to the British political system and democracy as is our common law – to the envy of the world.

We have a history of being free to test anyone’s ideas – to mock, expose or refute them; to use all the weapons a free society offers to change the public’s mind.  The only constraint used to be incitement to crime (mob violence, burning down houses) – John Stuart Mill’s liberal limit on speech. No dystopian Fahrenheit 451 film scenario for us, I always used confidently to think – no oppressive future, no fear of becoming a fugitive for reading.

That was until the Common Market mutated into the EU. Now I am not so sure; not now that our freedoms are constrained within the context of ‘human rights’, and now that European Law, with its different tradition has come to prevail over our national law; now that we are subject to the European Courts.

I am even less certain since the death of Jo Cox last week, with its political exploitation set to continue until polling day. Friends of Cox will “remember and celebrate her life at rallies across the world on Wednesday – the day that would have been her 42nd birthday” – the day before the referendum. We are not going to be allowed to forget – not to agree with Jo Cox is to be ‘divisive’ or worse to hate, exemplified in the interview carried last night on BBC1 News at Ten of Brendan Cox.

Frankly, I am repelled by this not-so-subtle exercise in bullying.

What is startling about the EU debate over these past few weeks has been the absence of interest in this culture of conformity – especially the extent to which it has been driven by our subordination to the European courts. Yet only if we vote to leave the European Union can we be free of their influence and return to parliamentary sovereignty and have a chance to challenge these new norms.

For if these weeks of debate have taught us anything, it is how compromised freedom of speech has become in Britain.

Simply talking about the problem of uncontrolled migration across Europe has become a offence, leading to baseless accusations of xenophobia (which, lets be clear, means dislike of or prejudice towards people from other countries),  and of bigotry (which means being obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion, or faction, and intolerant of other people’s beliefs and practices).

If we haven’t been free to discuss numbers without such attacks, no wonder there’s been even less discussion of integration – whether of Poles or Syrians – or of cultural incompatibilities. Forget it. That’s been a no go area.

Politicians, bar Nigel Farage, who has stood like Horatio on the Bridge against the hate accusing hordes – have fallen over themselves to avoid any such opprobrium heaped on him; to assure the BBC’s witch-hunters, that no, Nigel has nothing to do with them. Point for point though, the difference between them on the problem of mass immigration and how to deal with it, I suspect, is negligible.

But no matter, the more immigration reared its ugly head in debate, the more we’ve been encouraged to enter la la land – one in which border controls per se are themselves racist. Yes that’s an interviewee speaking, virtuously proclaimed on BBC TV’s Daily Politics yesterday, to the tune of open our hearts and our border, never mind who is meant to take responsibility for all these people. Never mind the extraordinary number of refugee children in our ‘care’ system reported already to have just gone missing that the all-embracing big mother state has found herself unable to care for at the most basic level.

What cleverer way to inhibit political debate than to frighten someone by association – with someone who has already been grotesquely smeared. This is exactly what Remain have done and it is the stuff of totalitarianism.

Instead of fostering a spirit of responsible discussion, the Remain campaign has hysterically pointed the finger of blame and shame.

We are conducting this vote in a climate where we must watch what we say for fear of being labelled and accused of sowing division or inciting hatred. It is nothing less than Orwellian.

This is the climate in which we’ve been debating the most critical decision to face the country since the Second World War. A poll commissioned by TCW on the eve of the referendum confirms it.

The poll of over 2000 people, carried out by ComRes, finds that twice as many people think Brits feel less free to express personal beliefs or thoughts in a public place than they did ten years ago. It is a startling to discover how aware people are of being constrained.

The poll also found that:

  • Eight out of ten Brits say political correctness hinders free speech
  • Six in ten (61 per cent) say that people who criticise Islam should not be punished by ‘hate speech’ laws.
  • Eight in ten (78 per cent) think being offended is inevitable and acceptable within limits
  • Nearly nine in ten agree that the right to free speech, even when we sometimes disagree with what is being said, is a valuable liberty which is important to defend.

The EU referendum is the most critical vote on Britain’s future since the Second World War, yet it is being conducted in a climate in which British people have never felt their freedom to speak more constrained.

This is deeply worrying.  An atmosphere where you must watch what you say for fear of being labelled, or accused of sowing division, or of inciting hatred is bound to affect the terms of the debate and to influence the outcome.  It is bound to have inhibited the public as well as the politicians.

That is exactly why the vote tomorrow matters so much, especially to anyone too scared to have spoken out in public – or who’s been publicly reprimanded for their views.

For remember that in the sanctuary and the privacy of the voting booth, you are free to do what you want. It may be your last chance

I, for one, will be voting Leave because I don’t want to be bullied. Throughout this referendum campaign that is exactly what has happened – we have been bullied out of free speech.

Securing free speech once more rests on securing Britain, the Britain of Shakespeare, Milton and the King James Bible – this royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle – as an independent nation state

Our fundamental freedoms are in jeopardy. Vote Leave to secure them for the future.

(Image: Abi Begum)

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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