The Slovenia Times

Britain's black farce offers lessons to Slovenia



In the latest episode: a tiny and utterly unrepresentative electorate of elderly, middle-class right-wingers chooses whether the country should be led by an adulterous serial liar - or an opportunistic geography dunce. Comedy does not get much darker than that.

How we got here is not exactly a secret. But for me, it started in Slovenia. I was in Ljubljana on 24 June 2016, the day after the fateful vote which transformed Britain from an influential voice in this region to a gibbering irrelevance.

The idea was to hoover up soundbites from the European heads of state who were gathering in the city to mark Slovenia's 25 years of independence. I had also lined up an interview with the then-prime minister, Miro Cerar. All of this was arranged on the assumption that the UK would be remaining in the European Union - with the leaders making the appropriate noises of approval.

Instead, it was a scene of desperate discombobulation - and that was just the journalist. The leaders made remarks informed by a mixture of shock and hurt - while insisting they would respect the decision of the British voters.

This set the tone for what has followed. Politicians drone about their "responsibility" to "deliver Brexit" as if it were an Amazon order, while deliberately ignoring inconvenient - but crucial - facts. "Brexit" was never defined in the referendum, the vote was not legally-binding and the margin was so tight that if 2% of voters changed their minds, the result would flip the other way.

Three extremely fraught years on, if there ever was a mandate for Britain to leave the European Union, it needs to be renewed in the hard-won knowledge of what this would entail for the country and its people. Unfortunately, politicians of all colours have prioritised their personal positions over holding an honest conversation and informed confirmatory vote. This has been exacerbated by newspaper reporting which - when weighted by circulation - favours leave by a margin of 4-to-1.

One could fill pages with the ins and outs of this desperate black farce. But as in any crisis, there are lessons to be learned - not least for a young democracy like Slovenia.

Getting hooked on government by plebiscite is a dangerous game - as is blaming the EU for problems in your own party or country. Parliamentary and constitutional conventions exist for very good reasons. And attention to detail is not optional when it comes to matters of national importance.

As for my profession, responsible media organisations need to understand the difference between balance and due impartiality. Offering a platform to both mainstream and marginal voices, then leaving the audience to make up their own minds on the veracity of those views, is a dereliction of duty.

Perhaps Britain may no longer serve as an inspiration to countries like Slovenia. But at least it may be useful as a warning.


Guy De Launey is a presenter and correspondent based in Ljubljana. He works for BBC News, Monocle magazine and several international broadcasters.


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