During the whole Brexit process so far I have been astonished and horrified at how our democratic procedures have been corrupted and debased. The 2016 referendum was seriously compromised. Now some people are trying to prevent a referendum on the deal in 2019. Here are the reasons why in my opinion the People’s Vote in 2019 is urgently needed and why it is corrupt and dishonest to oppose it.
1) The majority in 2019 are against Brexit
Opinion polls indicate that in 2019, the majority of people are against Brexit. Many who voted for Brexit bitterly regret their choice. There are others – a much smaller number – who voted Remain and would now vote Leave. Huge numbers of young people who weren’t old enough to vote in 2016 are being denied a voice. Even if there was only a small chance that the people didn’t support Brexit, there should be a vote on the deal. It’s clear, the People’s Vote needs to happen. The majority should not be gagged into silence by the minority.
2) People oppose a referendum on the deal because they are afraid they will lose.
Those who support pushing ahead with Brexit without a vote are afraid they will lose this vote. People who oppose the vote are mostly Brexit supporters. Their motivation is clear. Prevent a second referendum at all costs, otherwise the people are going to be able to reject Brexit. As committed Brexiters, their goal is to force the UK out of the EU, even if it is against the wishes of the majority. I find this attitude utterly corrupt and dishonest. One of the emptiest and most cynical of the excuses they give is the ‘Keep asking them again and again until you get the result you want’ argument. I find this attitude deeply insulting to voters, as it assumes they are stupid. On two occasions, referenda were repeated – in Ireland and in Denmark. On both occasions the majority shifted from ‘no’ to ‘yes’, based on changed circumstances. If they had still been against the proposal they would have voted against it. As David Davis rightly said “If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.”
3) The People’s Vote will not cause division but could bring calm.
One of the reasons given for opposing the People’s Vote is that it will ‘cause further division’. This is utter nonsense. Politics is about division and one side winning arguments over the other and attracting majority support. In 2016, the Brexit offered by Leave supporters wasn’t clear. It consisted of any number of different and contradictory possibilities. It’s one of the reasons why the majority was extremely slim. Now we know the facts better, people can express their preference in a new vote on the deal, based on the facts. If there is an increased majority either way, division can be overcome.
4) The 2016 vote was tainted
It is a fact that the Leave side broke the law, and there is a strong possibility that the result was achieved through illegal tactics. It would be possible to declare the result null and void – in other juristictions it would be – but an alternative solution is simply to have a new vote, which has the advantage that people are making a decision based on facts and new knowledge gained over three years.
5) The 2016 vote was advisory
The 2016 vote was advisory but the government immediately treated it as mandatory. In my opinion, the 2016 referendum gave the government a mandate to negotiate with the EU to explore what options are available, but not to impose their Brexit on a reluctant population. The whole Brexit crisis started with a referendum and the result of the negotiations – Mrs May’s unpopular deal or Remain – should be put to the people in a second and concluding referendum.
6) Millions were deliberately excluded from the 2016 vote.
The legitimacy of the 2016 referendum is further undermined by the fact that the people most seriously affected by the negative consequences of Brexit were deliberately excluded. That’s to say, young people aged 16-18, nationals of other EU countries who have made their homes in the UK, not to mention expats who have lived more than 15 years outside the UK. The 2016 vote could be declared null and void – there are many reasons it should be – but another solution is to have the People’s Vote in 2019 and make sure those whose voices were kept silent in 2016 are given the opportunity to contribute in 2019.
7) The 2016 vote didn’t set a ‘minimum percentage’ requirement*.
In the Scottish devolution referendum of 1979, 51.62% were in favour of devolution and 48.38% were against. Despite this, devolution didn’t go ahead as there was an amendment to the Act requiring a minimum of 40% of the electorate to vote “Yes”. As it was only 32.9%, the Act was repealed and devolution didn’t go ahead. This precedent was set in a UK referendum, and yet the Brexit referendum didn’t have this requirement, another reason why the referendum was not a mandate for Brexit.
8) The 2016 majority was very slim
In an advisory referendum, the result cannot be treated as binary. The quality of the majority needs to be taken into account. If there had been a big majority for Brexit, for instance two thirds one third, then there would be no doubt that public opinion was in favour of the move. But the majority was only 3.8%, which some described as a ‘clear’ result. I disagree. When there is such a marginal result, public opinion could easily move by just a few percentage points and the majority would be wiped out. In fact, that is what has happened. The People’s Vote is urgently needed as it cannot be proven that there is a majority for Brexit in 2019.
9) People did not vote for either of the 2019 Brexit options
If either of today’s Brexit options – ‘no deal’ or Mrs May’s agreement – had been offered to the public in 2016, they would have rejected them and chosen to Remain. If people could have looked three years into the future to see what would happen, the result would have been Remain. If anyone doubts this, then the only way to prove that this is wrong is to hold the People’s Vote.
10) If the government’s Brexit goes ahead without the approval of the British people, it will lack legitimacy
Brexit is already seen around the world as an example of flawed democracy, ironically in the the country often quoted as the home of democracy. To survive in the world, Brexit Britain must be able to build trust and respect. If other countries suspect that the Brexit decision was forced through against the wishes of the population, trade negotiations will be much more difficult. Trade depends on trust. If whoever is in charge of Brexit Britain can point to a decisive win in the People’s Vote, then it has some measure of legitimacy. The People’s Vote is needed to rebuild trust and confidence.
11) Brexit is such a drastic and controversial step, it needs final approval.
If what is being proposed was a relatively minor change in direction, then there might be less pressure to have the People’s Vote. But Brexit is of such a drastic nature, with so many dire and unpredictable consequences affecting millions, both within the UK and outside, it is simply undemocratic not to ask the electorate: ‘Is this what you really want?’. When you delete a file on a computer, you are always given a final dialog box asking you to confirm your decision. On a computer, many actions can be undone, but Brexit, like an execution, is an irreversible step. The British people must be asked to confirm this most drastic decision before it happens and if they reject it, then it must be abandoned and Britain must stay in the European Union.
12) The 2016 vote was on a different question to today
I haven’t even addressed the fact that the 2016 referendum was on a different question to what is being asked today. The question was, do you want to ‘leave’ the EU, but ‘leave’ was never defined. It was left up to anti-European propagandists to outline a variety of different scenarios, mostly involving more money for the NHS, no worsening of the conditions of access to the single market, no negative consequences and no damage to the British economy.
The 2019 referendum will ask ‘Do you want to leave the EU on the terms negotiated by the government or stay in the European Union.’ The 2016 referendum asked people’s opinion on a vague theory with no specific plan. The 2019 referendum will ask people’s opinion based on a wide range of facts and on a specific proposal, which people can compare to the benefits of staying in. These facts should be provided in a detailed statement written on the ballot paper, as is normal practice in referenda carried out in other countries.
13) It should have been a two-vote process from the start. It still can be.
It should of course have been a two-stage process from the start. Unfortunately the referendum arrangements were flawed, as it was assumed that the result would be Remain. A ‘Leave’ outcome wasn’t properly planned for. For that reason the right wing members of the Conservative Party were able to push for arrangements that would increase the chance of a ‘Leave’ result. It worked, and with no final check, there is the distinct possibility that the UK will be forced out of the EU against the wishes of the majority today.
This is a grave act of tyranny, seen only in Nazi-dominated Germany or the Communist-dominated Eastern Bloc. We can still right this wrong. We can still make it a two-vote process by arranging the People’s Vote in 2019. It can easily be organised and carried out.
This final reason is most important reason why the People’s Vote is an entirely democratic and legitimate step. Many people say the only reason for the People’s Vote is to block Brexit. This is a Freudian error, as it takes as a foregone conclusion that people will vote against it. If the government were to unilaterally cancel Brexit – as they have the right to – that could be seen as undemocratic, but the People’s Vote is entirely and unquestionably democratic for this reason:
14) Brexit can still go ahead if a majority vote for it in the People’s Vote.
If a majority vote for Brexit then it can go ahead. There would be nothing more anyone could do to stop it. It is a fair and legitimate political procedure, just like general elections. Every few years, the people choose between options and determine which political path the country should take, and that is what will happen in the 2019 referendum. If the result is for Brexit, then Brexit can go ahead. If the result is for Remain, then Britain stays in the European Union.
*Reason number 7 was added later, with thanks to a contributor to Liverpool for Europe, increasing the number of points from 13 to 14.