Final vote needed to settle Brexit
30 November, 2018
• THE looming deadlock in Parliament over Brexit is down to the sheer chance of our current parliamentary arithmetic, combined with too many MPs, of all stripes, being unable to break free from narrow party interests.
This is forcing more and more people to conclude that a People’s Vote will be the most democratic way to settle how, or even whether, we go ahead with the Brexit project.
But a lot of voters still worry that this would be anti-democratic. Surely, they argue, the 2016 referendum produced a clear mandate that we must now stick to. If we go for a second referendum, why not then a third or a fourth?
Representative democracies like ours – unlike the plebiscite ‘democracies’ beloved by dictators – have relatively little experience of using referendums to mandate major constitutional change.
Those with written constitutions very often stipulate that major change requires the approval of a super-majority – two-thirds of voters. Our 50 per cent threshold in 2016 was exceptionally low.
It is also unusual, in a representative democracy, to set up a referendum to mandate major constitutional change without a clear prospectus as to what the change entails.
Usually – and this was true of our referendum on Europe in 1975 – the question is put to the people after the negotiations, when people can have some realistic idea of what they’re voting for.
We can view the 2016 referendum as giving a clear mandate to the government to explore and negotiate leaving the EU, but few would have regarded it as a blank cheque allowing it to proceed whatever the outcome.
This is why a second referendum should be used to settle the matter: it doesn’t open up a case for a third or a fourth.
Deep dissatisfactions in our nation were shown up (not for the first time) in the 2016 referendum. A misleading Leave campaign persuaded a thin majority of voters that the country’s problems were in large part down to our EU membership.
Since then, in over two years of negotiations, our government has been unable to square an unsquareable circle; the Opposition wouldn’t be able to square it either.
Although no one would claim the EU is perfect, it’s much clearer now than in 2016 that leaving it, far from dealing with the nation’s many discontents, will make things worse for the great majority. Now the prospectus is so much clearer, it’s time for a final vote to settle the matter once and for all.