The case for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal has undoubtably gained a lot of traction in the last few months, most notably as the Labour party has made crucial strides towards supporting the cause. But the question must be asked as to why would anyone want to go through the chaos of the 2016 Brexit referendum again? This article will lay out the reasons why everyone – no matter party affiliation or position on the EU – should support a People’s Vote on the final deal by tackling the five main objections against such a proposition.
- “It would just be a re-run of the first referendum.”
Fundamentally this comes down to clarity. The first Brexit referendum offered a choice which failed to clarify the type of Brexit that would actually be negotiated in the end. This has meant that for the last two and a half years no one has known what would be the preferred choice, with options ranging from emulating Norway, Switzerland, Canada and others all remaining on the table. So even if one was to say that in June 2016, 51.9% of the electorate supported Brexit, can you truly say that there is a mandate of greater than 50% of the electorate for any one of those specific models? This is without even factoring in those advocating for no deal to be struck and for us to leave on World Trade Organisation terms, an option that was not even a part of the public discourse before the referendum.
If you are a Brexit supporter, a People’s Vote would allow a degree of clarity on the deal that has actually been negotiated, and it would give the government a mandate for a specific policy, rather than a vague ideal. While for those who still wish to remain in the EU, a People’s Vote would allow the public to demonstrate that they have seen the reality of what has actually been negotiated and changed their mind, which the public is free to do in a democracy.
The core difference then, would amount to the first referendum deciding whether the process to leave should begin at all, and the second would determine whether the specific deal negotiated was good enough.
- “It’s undermining democracy.”
This argument has cropped up frequently in the pro-Brexit camps and the idea at face value seems strange to me. Indeed, a referendum can either be democratic or it can be irreversible, by definition it cannot be both. In fact, democracies by their very nature are liable to change their minds as circumstances change. Thats why we have elections every five years instead of one party clinging onto power indefinitely because they won an election many years ago. Democracies therefore, have a right to change their minds as circumstances change and I’m not sure anyone can claim that circumstances have not changed since the referendum. Brexit has dominated the news cycle since 2016 and I personally have lost count at the number of people that both camps have put forward as examples of voters who have since changed their mind.
Far from a People’s Vote undermining democracy, it would show exactly what is so brilliant about democracies, that they are not set in stone. From a Brexit supporter’s point of view, it would give the chance to prove that despite everything in the news, the electorate still supports leaving the EU. Similarly, from a Remain supporter’s point of view, it would give the chance to show that the public has changed its mind as a result of everything that has happened since the referendum.
- “People knew what they were voting for.”
Personally, I don’t think it is insulting to say that no one really knew what they were voting for. Both sides will tell you that the other one lied throughout the whole campaign and if I’m honest, that only strengthens my point. There was a sea of lies, misinformation and and untruths about every aspect of the referendum and the reality is only really starting to become clear as we get closer to the deadline.
The truth is that the EU is complicated, far too complicated for catchphrases or slogans to reconcile. For a great example of this look no further than MP Nadine Dorries, caught on Twitter saying that the “Norway model [was] … always my preference,” yet in the same thread also saying that she would never want the UK to abide by EU law without a say … exactly as Norway does now under its agreement with the EU.
This is all of course without even discussing the Irish Border, backstop or countless other schemes such as Euratom or the Galileo satellite system, which were either partially or wholly ignored before the referendum. The hope is that people on both sides are now more informed as to just how complicated Brexit really is. Now that we have been through two and a half years of negotiations with countless news stories about the different effects of Brexit on both our society and our economy, the general public should be much better informed as to what they would be voting for and they could make a more informed choice.
As one further piece of evidence on this topic, after the referendum results were announced in 2016 the first and second most popular Google search results in the UK on the European Union were “What does it mean to leave the EU?” and “What is the EU?” respectively. So while individual voters may have been sure in their minds about what they voted for, the country as a whole definitely was not.
- “The public are fed up of Brexit, we just want it over with.”
As someone truly worn down by Brexit I sympathise, I really do and I think every political commentator would feel similarly, but I also feel that this is too important to begrudgingly accept due to sheer exhaustion. Make no mistake, from the amount of cash you have in your pocket, to food in your fridge, places in the world your can work or retire, or treatment you or a loved one may need, Brexit will affect it all. Simply, Brexit is the biggest social, political and economic shock that Britain has experienced since World War 2. Now I know that we survived World War 2 with a stoic sense of national pride and resilience but I would like to point out that there should be a choice here, before the effects become irreversible. Whether or not Brexit will make us better in the long term is not the principal argument of this article, but surely given a change of this magnitude the public should be allowed to either give its stamp of approval to the exact details of how it will be conducted, or be able to change its mind and refuse.
I can understand from a Brexit supporter’s point of view this may seem like more unnecessary red tape stopping Brexit itself, but given that the effects of this will last for generations surely it is worth pausing for 22 weeks to make sure that we get this right and that the public really do support it. Of course then, if the public decide that they still want to proceed with Brexit then it will be carried out. But more to the point, what is 22 weeks in the grand scheme of things?
- “It would stoke far-right nationalism.”
This argument is likely correct at face value, indeed, a People’s Vote and a delay to Brexit would likely lead to a resurgence of far-right nationalism and protest but I fail to see why that should stop it from happening. Just because something is difficult does not mean that it is not worth doing and just because there would be protests does not mean that we have to acquiesce to them.
Essentially this type of argument boils down to a form of political blackmail, it entails threats of violence and protest unless the will of their side is carried out. However, that is not how a democracy functions and it should not be how British politics does either. The idea and movement for a People’s Vote should be judged and decided on its own merits against the wider context of the Brexit negotiations, it should not be ruled out due to threats of protest or violence. Additionally, if it did come to fruition then steps should be taken to ensure the safety of everyone involved in its implementation and I’m sure that is something that everyone can support.
If one is going to try and stop the movement for a People’s Vote then you can peacefully protest, contact your MP or write articles in defence of your position, as we are all entitled to such rights. But once your position leans into implicit threats of violence as a reason to stop then that is where the line must be drawn. Fundamentally, whether a People’s Vote would lead to violence or not should be completely separate from the decision making process as to whether it should be implemented, anything else just shows British politics being held to random by fear of far-right thugs and surely we are all better than that.
The “Put It To The People” march for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal will be at 12pm on Saturday the 3rd of March in London
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