Swiss criticism: ‘The Brexit vote wasn’t direct democracy – it was drivel’

German subtlety: a Brexit float at a carnival parade in Düsseldorf in February


The British referendum in 2016 on leaving the European Union was a lesson in how not to carry out direct democracy, former Swiss Finance Minister Kaspar Villiger tells His ‘shock attack’ on Brexit has been picked up by a British tabloid.

“The Brexit vote wasn’t direct democracy – it was drivel,” Villiger, who was also defence minister, told in an exclusive interviewexternal link.

“Neither was the formulation of the question clear enough, nor had all possible consequences, risks and strategies in the event of a yes or no outcome been discussed beforehand in a thorough manner by scientists and politicians.”

+ Listen to the Swiss view on Brexit from the former British ambassador to Bern

On June 23, 2016, British voters were asked whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the EU or leave it. On a turnout of 72.2%, 51.9% of voters crossed the Leave box.

“The Swiss system is the result of work that has crossed many generations. It’s not easy to export that”, said Villiger, 77, who has just written a book on democracy in an age of populismexternal link.

There have only ever been three national votes in Britainexternal link: in 1975 (on staying in the European Community, yes); in 2011 (on changing the voting system, no); and in 2016 (Brexit).

“[The Swiss] have decades of experience with such decisions. In political opinion-forming processes, there’s also always propaganda – but from both sides, so voters can really form an opinion. What’s more, the large-scale use of financial means in voting campaigns is fortunately no guarantee of success.”

‘Shock attack’

Villiger’s comments were picked up by The Expressexternal link, an anti-EU British tabloid, which reacted on Tuesday to his “grilling by” and his “shock attack” on Brexit.

The article in The Express, which in 2015 attracted the attentionexternal link of the UN Human Rights Commissioner for running “22 negative front pages stories about asylum seekers and refugees in a single 31-day period in 2003”, also generated hundreds of reader comments.

“So sorry MR Elderly Swissman that I inconvenienced you alongside 17.4 million others, but do you know what? I simply do not care for your inconvenience. I want my country back,” wrote one reader.

“Its [sic] his opinion but he is the stupid one. Switzerland can be torn apart at any moment. His comments are very nieve [sic],” wrote another.


1 reply

  1. Of course we can criticize Swiss referendums too: The referendum ‘to ban construction of minarets’ was stupid and should not have been permitted to go ahead: I am saying that because construction of minarets are already covered by the building code. Each minarets needs a permission. There was no single construction pending at the time. The reason of the referendum was actually to give an anti-immigrant message. There should not be a referendum saying one thing and meaning another. Similarly in UK too many who voted for Brexit stated ‘because the NHS waiting line is too long, if we had less foreign workers it would be shorter. Well, tackle the NHS problem then.

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