As the EU debate heats up Mayor of London Boris Johnson has begun to speak more openly about why is supporting Britain’s exit. In order to make a pitch for more socially liberal sections of the electorate Johnson made some interesting comments. They are interesting because they bypass logical reasoning and his conclusion is wildly incoherent. Because of the speculation about the future Tory leadership, Johnson’s comments will always carry weight because the media like the horse-race element of politics. What we need to do is expose the inanity of what he says.
In a YouTube message on behalf of pro-Brexit LGBT group Out and Proud, Johnson calls on members of the LGBT community to vote to the leave the European Union. When I first head about this story I thought he was going to beat the nationalistic drum with something along the lines of ‘we achieved so much working together, and therefore we don’t need the EU’. I don’t agree with this sentiment but it would be logically consistent. However Johnson didn’t do this. To begin with he said: “It was us, the British people, that created an environment of happiness and contentment for LGBT people and it is absolutely vital we fight for those rights today because those rights are under threat in Poland, in Hungary, in Romania and other parts of the EU where they are not protected in the same way they are in our county”.
I would like to point out that this statement is not false. British campaigners worked tireless for decades to decriminalise homosexuality, introduce civil partnerships, lobby for same-sex marriage, and continue to this day trying to overturn other anti-LGBT practices. The second part of the statement is also true. A number of countries that Britain calls its ‘European partners’ have shocking records on LGBT rights and many have incredibly right-wing governments that will block any attempts to change these facts. The amazing part of Johnson’s remarks was actually his penultimate sentence: “What we need is to take back control of LGBT issues and everything else”.
In the study of philosophy an argument is deemed valid if the conclusion follows the premises. This is done in the form of ‘P statements’, where people take a series of assertions and see whether the conclusion follows those statements. Let’s now do this for what Johnson has said.
|P1||The EU didn’t give LGBT people rights.|
|P2||British activists and campaigners gained these rights.|
|P3||In parts of Europe LGBT people don’t have the same rights.|
|Conclusion||Britain needs to reclaim LGBT issues and leave the EU.|
I don’t claim to be Bertrand Russell but I can see that there are some fundamental problems with this argument, and also some glaring omissions from what Johnson has said.
As I said there is nothing wrong with any of Johnson’s premises, the problem lies in the conclusion.
- If the EU doesn’t give LGBT people civil rights, why does Britain need to leave? Surely Britain’s membership of the EU is irrelevant in this conversation?
- British activists achieved LGBT rights in Britain. If the EU is preventing progress in Eastern Europe why would have it permitted it in Western Europe?
- If the British parliament is sovereign enough to create this more equal society, how can the EU override other national parliaments on the same issue?
- What LGBT issues are you trying to reclaim from EU control?
- Why is the continued inequality of LGBT people in Eastern Europe the EU’s fault and not the fault of right-wing governments in individual countries?
- Is the EU this monolithic institution interfering in all LGBT people’s lives across Europe, or is it so impotent that it can’t prevent discrimination?
I’d like to point out that there are more questions about Johnson’s statements but I didn’t want to lay it on too thick. There is another point to make about his ‘argument’ which was Johnson’s conspicuous omission about the campaign for LGBT rights. Campaigners have been fighting for decades but the shifting opinion towards equality began properly in the 1980s right the way through to the modern day. This was, of course, a long hard struggle as in the 1980s the majority of people were not on the side of equality but now discriminatory attitudes are in the minority.
During this period Britain was in Europe. The change in attitudes about the LGBT community whilst Britain was in EU, and the legislation to improve the lives of this community took place whilst Britain was in Europe. How on earth can Johnson argue, as is his implication, that EU membership is what is stopping Eastern European nations from enacting equal rights legislation? There is no logical argument that links the statement ‘Poland doesn’t give equal rights to gay people’ and the conclusion ‘Britain should leave the EU’ unless the EU was the organisation preventing Poland from enacting such legislation.
This discussion is part of an EU debate that is getting progressively more farcical. Johnson’s comments are so detached from logical consistency that they don’t constitute an argument. We return once again to the questions I’ve laid out above. All of these questions point to the same conclusion: EU membership has nothing to do with a country’s approach to LGBT issues. If it did, the EU would have insisted on uniformity across Europe and this would have resulted in either all countries having full equality (which would be nice), or all country discriminating. That fact that neither of these is the case is clear evidence that Johnson has no idea what the hell he’s talking about. This is clearly a move to get more liberal minded and young people to endorse Brexit. My advice to Mr Johnson would be to try something else, because anyone with any modicum of rationality can work out that this is an atrocious argument.