Is a new referendum legit?
That old mantra of a week being a
long time in politics huh? Sheesh…..
So last night Labour have potentially committed to voting for a new
confirmatory referendum which looks based on the underlying situation to in
practice be for May’s deal (or variation thereof) and Remain. Labour will first
try to get it’s own vision for Brexit passed (which will fail) then pivot to
A couple of things first up. I do not believe that this position will pass even
if Labour whip for it. A much more likely outcome is that this takes “No Deal”
out. I now think the overwhelmingly most likely option is that May’s deal, or
some variation on it will pass.
My gut feeling is that when faced with no Brexit, or a referendum, the ERG will
fold, and there are sufficient quantities of Labour MPs determined to stop
either no Deal, or no Brexit that May will get over the line.
However should some version of a
referendum actually get through is this legitimate?
To be clear I’m not talking here
about the wisdom of holding another vote. There are of course strong arguments
for and against this. Nor am I talking about the prospects of how it will go.
I think it is worth slaying a profound
falsehood though. It is simply not true that a Peoples Vote would be a “second
referendum”, it would in fact be the third such referendum that the UK has
held. The UK held confirmatory referendums on our continued membership of “Europe”
in 1975 and in 2016. This is a matter of fact. If a PV happens it will be our
third confirmatory referendum.
The timing of such repeats, their
respective appropriacy, is of course open to debate. I suspect that everyone
would have their own criteria for if and when this should happen. The amount of
time that has passed, the closeness or the result, the extent of changed
circumstances, maybe the lawfulness or legitimacy of the previous vote.
Unless you believed and argued,
that it was in principle wrong to seek to overturn the 1975 referendum in 2016;
then you cannot credibly claim an in principle objection to a Peoples vote now.
If you want to claim not enough time has passed, that the situation hasn’t
changed sufficiently to warrant one now, or that the consequences of holding
one outweigh the benefits or that the vote was so decisive that there is not
possibility that people could have changed their minds then that is fine (I
But that is an argument about timing and appropriacy, not about principle.
For what (little I suspect) it is
worth, in my clearly not humble opinion, a referendum can be justified even if
it may well be unwise and not change anything.
result was very close, by nature a very close referendum does not settle an
issue as much as a decisive one. Inevitably it will come into question sooner
that if the result had been much clearer. Indeed the most prominent leave
campaigner, Nigel Farage, publicly claimed that a 52-48 result for leave would
not have settled the issue.
Brexit on offer (May’s deal or No Deal) is substantially different from what
was promised by both Vote Leave/Leave.Eu. And by main parties in 2017 General Election. What is
being proposed is quite literally not what people voted for in 2016.
Leave and Leave.EU cheated, in fact had the referendum been binding, and not
advisory, it would have been set aside. I realise our whole establishment want
to pretend this doesn’t matter but it sure makes me mad.
world has changed, particularly the rules based international order (specifically the WTO) is being
challenged by Trump and Putin, and the idea we were sold of Britain’s place in
the world is more specious now.
of Putin that a hostile foreign power tried to influence our Democracy, even if
we cannot be sure of the extent to which they were successful, clearly raises
some questions of legitimacy about the vote.
Similarly I think that in 2016
the amount of time that had passed, plus the degree to which the EU had changed
and developed since 1975 means I find it hard to argue against the fact that it
could be reasonable to see if people had changed their minds.
But the important point here is both of these are judgements about degrees; not
a question of principle. Either it is legitimate in principle for people to
seek to overturn the result of a previous referendum or it isn’t.
I dislike referendums; particularly
for very complex and nuanced issues like our membership or otherwise of the EU
(or indeed any involvement with complex international law). But despite my
(actually in principle!) objection to the use of referendums in this way the
cat is out of the bag.
I’ll leave you with this, any
referendum can either be Democratic; or it can be unchangeable. It cannot be
both. I choose democracy every time.