Five arguments against a #PeoplesVote

22nd October 2018

On Saturday 20th October there was a march in favour of the “People’s Vote” – for a further referendum in respect of Brexit before the UK departs the EU.

The march was heavily attended, good natured and peaceful.  The photographs on the news were striking, especially of the sheer size.

The legal tweeter and QC Sean Jones set out a compelling justification for the march, even if the prospects of getting such a referendum are low.

And I know many good and sensible (and admirable) people who went on the march.

So it is not with any joy that I set out arguments against a further referendum.

(Please not that these are my assortment of arguments, and should not be seen as a package, as you may find some weaker than others.)

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As a preliminary point, however, there is a bad – if popular – argument against a further referendum.

That argument is that the 2016 referendum result was determinative of the issue, that the people have spoken and there is nothing more to say.

But, as I have contended elsewhere, a referendum result is either democratic or irreversible, and it cannot be both.

Just as no parliament can bind another, no electorate can bind another.

The votes on that June day in 2016 have no special magical power which cannot ever be gainsaid.

If there was a reversal of Brexit, by any constitutional means, that would be just as constitutional as the 2016 vote.

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The first argument against a further referendum is the simple one of time.

A further referendum would need primary legislation, and probably secondary legislation, and there is simply not enough time for it to be done – that is, properly done – before March next year.

This blog pointed out the issue of time back in December last year.

The last referendum statute took a year from beginning to end (in a far less controversial atmosphere).

Also: issues to do with voter registration and campaign funding, which were dealt with by secondary legislation, would also have to be revisited.

(And the last lot of secondary legislation here has not stood the test of time well, as various findings of illegality indicate.)

In theory, a statute can be rushed through Parliament in a day, in an emergency, but that is for short legislation where there is no dispute between parties or between the lower and upper houses.

This “time’ argument has less force if there is an extension to the Article 50 period, but no extension is being proposed by any main player.  But even then, the easy and quick passage of the legislation cannot be taken for granted.

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The second argument against a further referendum is that Brexit has already been subject to constitutional checks and balances, and has passed them all.

Brexit does not hang only on a referendum result but now also on subsequent decisions of the supreme court, of parliament, and of the electorate.

The 2016 referendum was advisory, and the the result in and of itself had no legal effect.

After litigation which went all the way to the supreme court, there was a bill put before parliament so as to provide a basis for the prime minister to make the notification.

This bill was passed and became a statute, by significant majorities in both houses.

You may think MPs and peers were misguided in voting for the bill, but they did.

And then, unexpectedly, there was a general election and the question of Brexit was put before the voters themselves.

The electorate voted by a significant majority for parties committed to  the UK’s departure.

Again, you make think that voters were misguided.

But the brute constitutional fact is that Brexit has now been approved by both parliament and the electorate.

It has passed through two constitutional pressure valves.

The objection to Brexit is now not only to the referendum result but also the decisions by parliament and the electorate.

In my view, parliament can and should still assert itself before March 2019, but that is unlikely.

But it cannot be denied that Brexit has passed through the required constitutional checks and balances.

Supreme court, parliament, electorate: how many more bites of the cherry?

(And it is, of course, difficult to place credence on a campaign for a further referendum promoted by those who, by definition, do not accept the results of referendums.)

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The third argument against a further referendum is that referendums are part of the problem not part of the solution.

This can be also be seen as the problem of duelling mandates.

Referendums on a UK-wide basis sit badly with the UK constitution.

A mandate derived from a general election is a weak mandate.  Many victorious parties ignore many promises in their manifestos.  Some government’s even u-turn on manifesto promises (as the Conservative government did in 1990 over the poll tax/community charge).

But a mandate derived from a referendum is a different creature (or a poison, depending on your view).  It seems not to have any way of being extinguished.

Some may argue that a further referendum is the only means the Brexit mandate can be cancelled out.

But instead what you will have are two decisions – two heads of a dragon instead of one.

And what if the further referendum is on a lower turn-out?  Or a different majority?

Which mandate takes precedence?

This is why it is a matter for parliament to assert itself on.

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The fourth argument is that a further referendum campaign, and a further fall-out from a referendum result, will make things worse.

You may wonder how a referendum could make things worse.

How it could make things worse has been set out by Robert Shrimsley at the FT (click here).

As he argues (in my view persuasively):

“If the previous campaign was ugly and divisive, imagine the next: a full assault on every institution of political stability with added venom for foreigners.”

Is there anything about how the Brexit debate has been conducted for two years which makes any serious person doubt this?

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Fifth, there is the argument that the vote is unpredictable.

Those who were surprised by the 2015 and 2017 general election results, and by Trump’s defeat of Clinton, seem to believe that somehow this result is predictable.

But there is no particular reason to believe the electorate will suddenly side with Remain, as much as opponents of Brexit would want it to do so.

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So overall: there is not enough time for a referendum, the constitutional opportunities for checking (or slowing) Brexit have already come and gone, there will be no way to choose between competing mandates, the whole thing will be divisive, and it may not get the result its supporters want anyway.

This is not to say that those opposed to departure should give up.  They should carry on opposing with all their might until the very last moment, using any legal or political weapon available.  There is nothing wrong with that.

I would love this Brexit story to have the happy ending so many of you want, with the #PeoplesVote saving the day.   Sadly, however, this is likely to be a Brexit by Quentin Tarantino, and not by Walt Disney.

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Unless parliament asserts itself before next March  – using the deeper magic of the constitution to defeat the witchcery of the 2016 referendum – the most sensible thing to do seems to be to prepare and influence the post-Brexit regime, so UK can continue being in the single market and customs union.  I have described this as a “Burma Brexit”.

Any other way, it seems to me, does not rid the UK polity of the 2016 referendum “mandate” for the UK leaving the EU.

Let’s get it over with, stay close to the EU or rejoin – and let us never – ever – have a UK-wide referendum again.

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59 thoughts on “Five arguments against a #PeoplesVote”

  1. You do not mention that parliament’s approval of Brexit was not unqualified. It included provision for a vote on the final deal. Is this not an important nuance to set alongside your “brute constitutional fact’? Is it not too early to say whether Brexit has “passed through the required constitutional checks and balances’?

  2. Well, that’s all thoroughly depressing, isn’t it? As a Brit in the EU27 who wasn’t allowed to vote in the referendum, I have no doubt that disenfranchising me and 900,000 other Brits was LEGAL, but it was also manifestly UNJUST. I am losing my European citizenship, which I use every day and which I value, without even being allowed a say in the process. I obviously aim to carry on fighting Brexit by every means possible, but on a personal level, I have had to take steps to protect myself. I have closed my UK pensions plans and savings accounts and moved them to Europe, transferred my business from the UK to an EU jurisdiction, applied for a long-stay residency card in my host country and am preparing to ask for citizenship. It is a great shame that the effect of Brexit is effectively to force Britons, as well as EU nationals, to cut our ties with the UK.

  3. Excellent analysis and I share your hatred of referendums. So I will carry on opposing with all their might until the very last moment, using any legal or political weapon available.

  4. I think you are missing the subtelty with which the “People’s Vote” has been framed. It is not a straight repeat of the original vote, but rather seeks to endorse the “Brexit deal” or lack thereof procurred by HMG. If such an endorsement is not forthcomming, the electorate is able to state that they now wish to remain in the EU.
    Whilst there is much logic in the points that you make, the original vote was advisory, the promises upon which assent was granted will not/cannot be honoured (voiding the mandate); there was criminality with respect to electoral commission rules; some evidence of external actors agitating for the Leave side and, crucially, the decision taken no longer enjoys a majority support in the country (indeed, it only ever had 37% support).
    The damage that Brexit will cause is very significant, so “just getting on with it” is not an option – it would be the most eggregious betrayal of the British people.
    Parliament is sovereign and ought to have the courage to act in the national interest. If it lacks that courage, the only course of action left is to put it back to “the people” – if Brexit still claims majority support then that position will win: if not, how can the nation be properly served by following a disasterous course of action that is no longer “the will of the people”?

    1. Bravo! I second that! As a mandate it was a pretty weak sort of affair was it not? A snapshot picture on one day more than 2 years ago. A low turnout in many areas. Very little information to go on and even less understanding of the implications. A half-hearted Remain campaign. Many not allowed to vote for a long list of reasons including their youth or because they resided abroad. Parts of the UK voting unequivocally to Remain. Illegality as yet not fully established or quantified. Very likely interference from people whose only interest was to de-stabilise Europe. Implications even now just coming to light. Politicians (Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Hammond et al) only now admitting we will be a poorer country with a diminished economy and less influence in the world. It just doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny, at all, does it?

    2. Surely, with all the excellent arguments you make against respecting the outcome of the previous referendum, the minimum bar to which any future referendum must be set is that those problems have been addressed?

      Otherwise the argument seems simply to be a fervent hope that repeating the same mistakes will lead to an objectively better outcome?

    3. The damage that Brexit will cause is very significant, so “just getting on with it” is not an option Surely this is the point? The UK will become weaker, poorer and possibly meaner. Why? To pander to an age long gone when the UK was strong and independent. That ended after the second World War. 50% of the UK’s exports go to the EU. That is in jepardy and the arch Brexiter, Boris, says f… business’. Well that may mean f… the UK. Thing is that the consequences of leaving were not spelt out by Camaron and he now thinks the UK should stay in the single market.

  5. There wouldn’t be any need for these referenda if politicians were doing their jobs properly. Far too many are forming their opinion on personal prejudice, poor research and misinformation. Our Parliamentary system is totally broken due to the poor quality of people we have elected.

    1. As one who has, through necessity, been forced to deal with hundreds of MPs this past two years, I have to say you are right. Virtually none of them understand complexities such as Euratom, REACH, ECHA access, the Irish border, etc, and many on the Brexit side are personally vicious, even gleeful at the predicament of EU nationals in the UK and Brits living in the EU27. I’ve had a ton of ‘you were the one who chose to desert the UK’, and ‘you made your own bed – now lie in it’ from some of the most unpleasant people it’s been my misfortune to come across. How these nationalist ignoramuses get elected is beyond me.

  6. Matthew Taylor in a recent RSA podcast said he thinks May will deliver a deal at the last minute and Parliament will approve it. (it must include a very special exception on the NI border issue, but anything is possible). Would that be a better outcome than a people’s vote on the deal in your opinion? Will it lead to both extreme sides of the argument saying betrayal and if so is that a preferable outcome.

  7. “But, as I have contended elsewhere, a referendum result is either democratic or irreversible, and it cannot be both.”

    Jacob Rees-Mogg would agree with you. The argument against another referendum now which offers staying in the EU as an option is that the 2016 referendum was presented on the basis that whatever option was chosen by the majority would be implemented. To use a second referendum to avoid implementing the promise made on the first referendum is an abuse of democracy which will not go down well in many quarters.

    I think referenda are a very bad idea to be avoided if at all possible. Let me illustrate with an analogy which some may see as being Brexit in disguise.

    Parliament comes to me and says. “Here’s a big red button. We are giving you the choice of pressing it. We strongly recommend you don’t press it as if you do some very bad things may happen.”

    Well, firstly, if pressing it is so bad, why are Parliament giving me the choice? By giving me the choice, Parliament are implicitly saying pressing the red button is a viable choice.

    Secondly, being a cynic, I have the nagging feeling that if I don’t press the button now, then at various points in the future Parliament is going to agree something that I strongly dislike, and when I object they will say “we gave you the option of pressing the red button, and you didn’t do it. If you didn’t want this to happen, you should have pressed it.”

    So, give me the choice, and I will press the red button.

    1. “Well, firstly, if pressing it is so bad, why are Parliament giving me the choice? By giving me the choice, Parliament are implicitly saying pressing the red button is a viable choice.”

      That’s not being cynical: that’s being utterly naive and believing that parliament would never make a mistake or let anything bad happen to you.

      But I don’t actually think you are that naive: its just a little debating point.

      “the 2016 referendum was presented on the basis that whatever option was chosen by the majority would be implemented”

      Being a cynic, I can’t help but notice that the £350 million extra a week for the NHS was ditched the morning after the vote, and we’ve long ceased to be able to say things like ‘sunlit uplands’, ‘easiest trade deal in history’, ‘have or cake and eat it’ etc. with a straight face, so it rather looks like the option chosen by the majority isn’t going to be implemented and never was.

      But I don’t actually think you care about the promised £350 million having always been a fiction: just say whatever you need to so that the voters tick the right box

    2. “To use a second referendum to avoid implementing the promise made on the first referendum is an abuse of democracy…”

      Utter rubbish. A vote is a vote. If a second referendum produced a second Leave vote despite the electorate being fully aware of the destruction it will wreak on the economy and the loss of individual rights then so be it. If the electorate uses it’s new found knowledge of the realities of leaving the EU to vote Remain then so be it. Either result is still democracy, and shame on you for trying to portray any such vote as ‘an abuse’.

  8. From the Continent can only agree with this analysis and its included aversion, not so much of referendums, but to advisory referendums which politicians expediently say they will adhere to the outcome of (basically by saying so doing something non-constitutional). Question; what if the same politicians, or the current ones, in a sudden impulse of being honest and upright, agree on an election explicitly to be fought over the outcome of current Brexit. Procedures for such elections should the be repaired for the manifold faults and inconsistencies that my English friends – in the UK as on the Continent have identified such as non-UK residents voting, facilitating young people voting (awareness raising and voter registration where they live and study, not where their parents live etc.).

  9. I agree with nearly everything in this post but I wish to add that there is one good reason why there may (rather than should) be a second referendum – the HoC fails to agree on the departure deal.

    However, this may not get the question remainers would like to see. If there is a deal with the EU but parliament fails to support it the question would be ‘this deal or no deal’, after all we have voted to leave the question now is how.

    Only if we fail to get a deal with the EU and parliament states that we can’t leave with no deal, then in this case the question would be ‘no deal or remain’.

  10. Now to bolster your “neutral on Brexit” credentials, how about a blog post on five arguments for a #PeoplesVote?

  11. Interesting and compelling, but I think you are taking a ptoentially restricted English view of the UK’s constitutional checks and balances.

    “The second argument against a further referendum is that Brexit has already been subject to constitutional checks and balances, and has passed them all.”

    What happens if the Supreme Court supports the Scottish government’s contention that it does not need to follow the UK’s withdrawal bill? https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2018-0080.html

    You also wrote compellingly about the EU’s “grave mistake” on the Northern Irish backstop, but have we heard anything about the reality of how a border soft, hard or medium is to be avoided in practice?

  12. Whilst I agree that the points made are valid, suppose that the march (which I was on) had not taken place. Then it would not have been demonstrated to the government that many people are deeply unhappy with the way things are going. If nothing else, the march must show Theresa May and her Cabinet that there is a political cost to her ineptitude.

  13. An issue that effects a large number of Londoners is whether or not they would be eligible to vote despite meeting the electoral residence test and paying tax, national insurance etc. Within the EU residents from Ireland, Cyprus and Malta have the right to vote. Along with Commonwealth citizens over even for a short stay. The only way someone from France or Italy can vote is by obtaining citizenship in the UK- a tedious process! So 2 or 3m. people are disenfranchised under the Representation of the People Act 1918 – it is enjoying a centenary this year due to the inclusion of women and a much wider franchise for men.

    Time for another reform?

    1. I have 2 former schoolfriends, both were in my class, both are British, neither of them got a vote, although both of them will be seriously affected if we leave the EU. One lives in Jersey. The other lives and has a home in Germany, but has always retained a home in the UK. I realise there is no time for reform before a follow up to the Referendum, but this does further undermine the first vote.

  14. Lots of good points but, as ever, I’d prefer to see you look at the ‘Leave’ version of each of your points in a bit more detail:

    1. Time. UK is unbelievably badly prepared for Brexit so I’d argue that this applies with even more force as a reason not to Leave. Plus I feel pretty confident that if the EU saw that the UK was carrying out a referendum in good faith we’d get an extension.

    2. Constitutional checks & balances. Can’t really take this seriously after watching the carry-on in parliament over the last couple of years. Shall we start with Theresa May making a mockery of fixed term parliaments and promptly losing her majority? There is no electoral mandate for the type of Brexit we end up with: hard / soft / other it has never been put to the voters in a remotely honest form. Plus what about the dark money / foreign influence? Putin must be splitting his sides laughing at what he’s helped achieve.

    3. Referendums. Agree they’re awful but we are where we are and a another one is the only plausible way to stop Brexit.

    4. Fall-out from a referendum result. Yes it could be bad… but can you imagine what the fall-out from a hard Brexit is going to look like? How do you think the Remainers are going to take it when the UK takes the hit? How are the Leaves going to take it when the promised land does not appear (and how many more foreigners are going to be beaten to death)? Plus add in some inter-generational poison: I for one am never going to pay a penny towards the pension or healthcare of any babyboomer (full disclosure: am non-UK tax resident and cannot imagine moving my family back to Brexit Britain in the future).

    5. Unpredictable. Yes, but would hope that a) its going to be a lot harder for Johnson, Gove & co to tour the country promising their imaginary £350m, and b) presumably security services would be paying more attention to dark money / foreign influence via facebook etc… and if the British do vote for Brexit a second time given everything that’s happened then they deserve everything they get.

    1. Concurring on your Point 2 complaint. Either nobody in the Cabinet has heard of Legislative Consent Motions, or they’ve collectively decided not to care. This is especially messed-up since Scotland and NI both voted Remain by larger margins than the overall Leave victory.

      Which leads to my concurrence with your fourth point – The very real risk of the breakup of the UK must be considered.

  15. While I support the idea of a “People’s Vote” I think there is a difficult issue with timing.

    There is fairly good evidence that very few people who voted Leave had anything like either Chequers or no-deal in mind when they voted. So it is not unreasonable to ask the electorate “did you really mean that?”.

    If you hold a referendum before 29th March 2019, then you will still be asking people to make decisions based on forecasts. Since many Leave voters patently did not believe the forecasts they were given in 2016, why would they believe forecasts now, particularly as the arguments have since become even more polarised?

    If on the other hand you ask people to make a decision based on the actual (rather than forecast) effects of a no-deal Brexit you will have to wait until April 2019. If you ask people to make a decision based on the actual (rather than forecast) effects of a Chequers Brexit you probably need to wait until the end of the transition period, which may be years away.

    You could still dress this all up as a People’s Vote but in effect it would be a vote to re-implement the status quo ante.

  16. Much as I admire Robert Shrimsley, I think he got it 100% wrong on another vote.
    All elections are hard fought and this will be no exception. Today unnamed MPs are attacking May in the most extreme language, last time one MP was murdered. The weekend ‘demonstration’ was as peaceful as any I have been on.
    Another vote will not suffer violence from the Remain cause.

  17. There have already been several comments here that echo what I would say, so I won’t rehash those points.

    Instead, I want to talk about the last sentence and particularly the first part of it “Let’s get it over with, stay close to the EU or rejoin…” Given the rhetoric (Jeremy Hunt’s Soviet Union comparison) and EU-blaming of the past few weeks, plus Salzburg and May’s dreadful war-like speech (“We stand ready!”) the following morning, do you really think that is going to help us stay close to the EU? And is the EU is going to be in any way kindly disposed to readmit us at any point in the future? We will have no leverage, we will have burnt all our bridges (quite apart from the terrible negotiating strategy employed by our Government, crashing out with No Deal will also harm our EU friends, particularly Ireland and The Netherlands) and if we renege on our commitments, as has been bandied about, we will be seen as thoroughly untrustworthy.

    The People’s Vote movement is putting pressure on the Government and making them aware that a huge number of people oppose what they are trying to do. It might not be perfect but we are running out of options and time. Once we hit 29th March next year, that’s it. We can try and rejoin the EU but I think we will be in the wilderness for a long, long time.

    1. For me the strongest argument for a People’s Vote is that it is the only way we get to remain in the EU on our current terms. I have no doubt that Brexit will either be a disaster or a fudge that leaves us as rule-takers but otherwise basically unchanged ( which would, in fairness, put us about 4% further from the EU and consequently represent the mandate of the 2016 referendum ) and that we will quickly come to regret it. I cannot imagine that we will ever be able to return to the EU with anything like the terms we have now, so taking the chance to try and preserve those is strongly in the national interest.

      I have seen people argue that remainers should push for the mildest possible Brexit, but honestly I don’t think that is what we want and even if it was, when did asking for less than you are hoping to get ever work as a negotiating strategy?

      But most importantly, “Referendum 2: Electric Boogaloo” has a ring to it. Even if we voted Leave again, I could get behind a Boogaloo Brexit in name at least.

    2. Karen Venables – I don’t think you should be so pessimistic.

      The EU is in a state of flux. Italian debt is an unexploded bomb primed to go off under the Euro. Macron is laying into Germany about fiscal transfers and much more, and heavily pressing full federalism which Germany is resisting. Eastern European nations are strongly resisting EU attempts to interfere in their governments.

      Above this there are tensions between the European Parliament and national governments. The European Parliament is incentivised to press for more powers in all cases without any downside. They have power but are responsible for nothing. It is a highly dangerous organisation.

      As a Leaver I thought we should walk away with no deal at the start, and time has only hardened that view. Politics is about power, and only when we have shown determination in getting power back can we have sensible conversations. No deal could be harmful to Ireland, for instance, but I didn’t vote to Leave to make Ireland poorer, so we should be ready to have conversations about how to minimise economic damage and more importantly help Ireland take advantage of the opportunities.

      So once we are out, having conversations about the nature of co-operation with European countries would be a proper thing to do. Personally, if you could persuade the EU of a need for a federal core and a much looser outer ring of less stringent membership, then I could see myself supporting a move to rejoin that outer ring. But the current campaign for what amounts to complete surrender to the EU and reducing the UK parliament to a glorified town council will never get my support, or I suspect, support from the majority of the country.

      Finally, I do listen to Remainers, but I listen to EU voices more, and they aren’t saying what you are saying. That is a problem that isn’t going to go away for the pro-EU lobby.

      1. Dipper, I feel that your ‘listening’ to EU voices is highly selective. The vast majority of Europeans are in favour of the EU.

      2. We are in the outer ring with lots of opt-outs. Getting back to our current situation will be well nigh impossible if we leave.

      3. “…complete surrender to the EU…”

        Therein lies the problem. Why do you, as do many Leavers, treat the situation as a ‘them and us’. We are the EU. We chose to be part of it and pressed for many of the rules now in effect across 28 countries. We can leave – easily – if you ignore the damage it will do. We are sovereign.

        Do we surrender to the UN or NATO by being a member or more to the point will it be surrender to the US or any other country in concluding the much heralded Free Trade deals?

      4. Your comment “As a Leaver I thought we should walk away with no deal at the start” is typical of the way Brexit has been handled from the beginning by those who pushed for it – no plan, no real idea of how Brexit could be implemented sensibly, just let’s walk away and if we believe hard enough, it’ll all work out. Never mind the consequences, the cost to our economy, people’s jobs, relationships, livelihoods, that’s just collateral damage, the most important thing is to leave and sort the details out later.

        Well, guess what? Turns out planning and detail is important after all and people are furious at having their rights unilaterally removed from them by 37% of a gerrymandered electorate. The EU isn’t perfect, no, but those of us pushing for a vote think the alternative is worse.

        You may call me pessimistic, I prefer realistic. Only time will tell who is right.

  18. Good points, well made.

    The closeness of the last referendum result is what makes it such a divisive issue and has leant such a hysterical tone to the arguments of those who support it. Basically, they fear but can’t admit this indicative result could be overturned and extreme proponents fear that any pause for reflection would allow the weird rag bag of right wing ideas that weren’t part of the mandate to spill into proper public view. This is what has lead to attacks on institutions and the dismissal of any and all concerns voiced by other citizens in the most intemperate and derogatory terms. This festival of ranting and raving has seen illiberal ideas normalised and has also been bad for democracy.

    Personally, I think that another referendum considering the actual alternative, would, whether the result was win, lose or draw and however ugly the process, be a valuable corrective reminder that holding views about such an important issue is not treacherous, subversive or despicable in a democratic state.

  19. Whatever one thinks of the People’s Vote campaign, the significance of the demonstration and its size is that The European Issue will not be going quiet any time soon.
    After the referendum to join, a very small number of people were left dissatisfied – at least to extent that they would make the effort to protest. No matter what the outcome in March 2019, a dramatically larger proportion of the population are furious (and this may include those who voted to Leave as well as those who voted to Remain by the time we’re done). The debate will rage on.
    And, yes, please no more yes/no referendums. For such a complex issue they are a facile tool that will yield no other information than highlighting the impoverished state of public political discourse in this benighted isle.

  20. While I am not in favour of another referendum (Ref2), referendums are not necessarily terrible things – if run honestly and earnestly.
    Even the 2016 referendum would have left less of a bad taste in the mouth, had it been played out as ‘intended’: With the responses to it, and the conduct of the campaigns, being soberly weighed-up.
    Instead, while its nature (advisory ONLY) was employed time and again to dismiss safeguards; thresholds and the like; the ploy of Cameron declaring his Government’s policy was to be tied to a strict FPTP read of the ‘count’, ran directly counter to the previously stated sole aim of it being advisory only.
    That other Party leaders went along with this does not rescue the FPTP ploy from being a thoroughly underhand tactic.

    As far as the 2017 election goes – That was a ‘Brexit’ only affair, as no alternative to ‘Brexit’ was offered by any of the established Partys. So, in no way can it constitute a popular confirmation of ‘the public will’.

    While I agree that the chances of MPs seeing sense and voting ‘Brexit’ down, are slim to none. I hold out some hope that a realistic, positive, alternative to ‘Brexit’ could be offered to the electorate at the next election: The sooner the better.

  21. You trot out the argument that “The electorate voted by a significant majority for parties committed to the UK’s departure.”

    Not so. For significant numbers of the electorate, Brexit is not the main issue. Issues such as the cuts happening to their children’s schools, closure of Sure Start centres and such like, which affect their day to day lives, are the issues which motivated them to vote.
    I campaigned in the Witney by election, when Cameron stood down. If any, that should have been a Brexit by election, but it wasn’t by any means. One big issue was the closure of a local surgery.

    May was supposed to be getting a 100 majority, don’t forget, but many were voting for the best placed candidate to get the Tory out.

    1. Yes, this argument that the majority support Brexit because of the way they voted in GE17 is infuriating. Many voted tactically to try and reduce/prevent a Tory majority, plus FPTP effectively reinforces the two-party system, leaving many voters with no viable alternative.

  22. It took eight days for the Greeks to organise their bailout referendum, from announcement to polling day. Are we really so vastly less well-organised than Greece?

      1. Broadly, the same way as the Greeks did it, by executive action approved by Parliament rather than by statute. Such a referendum couldn’t be legally binding, but since the first referendum wasn’t binding a second referendum doesn’t need to be binding in order to overturn the first.

        1. Simple choice –
          1. Accept the deal (which will have full description and implications)
          2. Cancel Brexit ie Remain on current terms.

  23. I am probably one of the least qualified to comment (what with being a bit of a potato), but I do have so e objections:

    The electorate did indeed vote for two parties that support Brexit, but it’s also true that one of them (Labour) made it their tactic to be amazingly ambiguous about their position. Just look at the consistent narrative that has “Jeremy” play the long game and really being a Remainer. My husband had to vote for Labour as they were the only ones who stood a chance against the Tory candidate in our safe Tory seat.
    At the very least, wouldn’t the sitation he and anyone who had to vote tactically warrant a change in your electoral system in the future? If Brexit has to happen, at least make it spur some change in this country so that such a cock-up is unlikely to happen again.

    Others have pointed out the behaviour of then Leave campaign and the misbehaviour of the electoral commission, I am sure. My argument there would be as above: let Brexit happen, if you want to be technical about what checks it passed, but at least make it an opportunity to add better checks for the future so such a fundamentally changing event can’t be started on the basis of an advisory referendum used to justify an enormous act of national self-harm.

    I agree it’s imperative to focus on what happens after the whole sorry mess is done, but for me that entails also fixing your system so that:

    – politicians that lie during referendums (there!) face some sort of penalty. Serious enough that it actually puts them off reoffending. And if their fib is bad enough, just exclude them from public office.
    – overspending is punished heavily, so it can’t be seen as an act with small consequences. Don’t cap at a meagre 70k. Make it the sum that was over spent.
    – do something about referendums in general so it’s impossible to ever put such a non-specific question ever again and so those who win have to implement the result. Cameron was in government but just sodded off in the sunset and no one in the Leave campaigns was in any position to implement the result directly. Furthermore, the ones that ended up being cabinet ministers just resigned and are now back to their whinging from the sidelines. Ask the populace if they want a specific set of conditions to be met, no more Leave or Remain and then letting anyone filling the gaps and decide that one outcome is anything that they dreamed up that particular morning on the loo during a particularly disruptive gastric event.

    So my view is: fine, but at least make it a teachable moment.

    Apologies for any typos, breastfeeding makes typing a bit of a challenge and I’ve exhausted my patience.

  24. The UK is very unlikely to get a clear resolution from a new referendum, there is no evidence, despite marginal changes in the polls whether or not people will actually turn up to vote in any predictable way at another referendum. We might as well resolve Brexit by dice (best of 3 goes)
    There has been no significant education of the public in the detail of the issues involved, the Government has only issued empty statements such ‘a bad deal would be worse than no-deal’.
    If the Government cannot provide a path forward that Parliament will pass, what is the point of Parliament if it does not take over control of the situation? If the Government ends up by arguing all the way to a default no-deal Brexit, what credibility will Parliament have left? What would be the point in having any Parliament in that situation? Parliament must to take control, ‘ take back control’, if the Government cannot provide it, apparently we voted for that.

  25. Agreed that referendums of the 2016 kind are bad and should be avoided if at all possible.
    A parliament that was acting in a mature, responsible manner should not allow major constitutional change to be imposed without the agreement of at least 50% of the electorate. So no wonder we have the bitter divides at present.
    Politicians have failed the UK in an almost unforgivable way. How can a trusted government tell the electorate that it will implement a decision that it knows will damage the country? That’s what Cameron proposed (without even requiring a minimum turnout). A complete abdication of responsibility. What more damage would they be capable of wreaking in an attempt to stay in power?

    Parliament continued to act irresponsibly by voting to proceed with Brexit without requiring a plan or having a say in the aims of the negotiation. Looks like it is going to struggle to have a meaningful vote on the outcome of negotiations.

    However, I do think that the best way of righting some the wrongs of the 2016 effort is to have a public vote on the results of the negotiations. Voting on new EU treaties is what was proposed after the fury and outrage surrounding the Lisbon Treaty. More votes means more democracy not less. Then bin referendums for good and carry on the EU membership debate by having two Houses of Parliament that are elected on proportional representation basis.

    1. What would be the question in a “Peoples’ Vote”? Would it be a choice between the negotiated deal or leaving without a deal? Or would it be a re-run of the referendum, offering a choice between the negotiated deal and remaining in the EU?

      1. If it were to happen, it should be a choice between May’s deal and remaining in the EU. No-deal should not be on the table – it’s far too catastrophic to even contemplate.

      2. I guess that a ‘deal’ will either not be accepted by UK gov or not be accepted by parliament.
        Therefore a vote would be between ‘no deal’ and Remain.

  26. The Peace Ballot 1934/35 was a carefully-devised, multiple choice, referenda. Despite the best intentions (oft-used to pave etc..) and being honestly-promoted it proved disastrous for the country.

    The lesson Mr Attlee gleaned therefrom was that any further referenda (about which he was, by then, famously scathing) should only be held after three or four years of public education about the issues.

    I respectfully suggest that even Mr Attlee, were he still with us, would be satisfied that we have all, by now, learnt enough about our EU membership to warrant a properly-democratic vote.

    Please treat the one in 2016 as a dry run…

  27. We will not allow the treason of the EU Treaties to continue.
    Britain is an independent sovereign nation, and its People are sovereign over all hired help politicians and public servants.
    We have commanded the Government to end its treason and leave the EU, but still it defies us.
    The English Constitution must be restored in full, and the traitor betrayers tried for their crimes against the People.

    It will be, for a randomly elected Jury of the People to decide their punishment.
    As per British Law.

  28. I address each of your arguments in turn.

    There is not enough time for a referendum: We are talking about the EU, which is the master of keeping the show on the road. Time can be made, if needed.

    The constitutional opportunities for checking (or slowing) Brexit have already come and gone: Tecnically true but then giving into Leave campaign illegality and mendacity undermines the rule of law. Which is more important?

    There will be no way to choose between competing mandates: Only if you rerun with the same question. A different question about whether we take the deal or stay would in no way be a “competing” mandate with the vague booby trap question in the June 2016 vote. It is the logical next step in the process.

    The whole thing will be divisive: Whatever happens will be divisive.
    We have had a referendum in which the “winning” side engaged in illegal behaviour and used outright lies to win in a narrow result. These people were not held to account before a court of law. Absurdly, some of these sociopaths were given positions in the cabinet.
    If we go the way you suggest of sticking close to the EU, then the Leavers will be upset. Given that nothing has befallen them for their behaviour during the referendum and subsequent ratcheting up of their rhetoric (various gruesome descriptions of how to dump May), it would be naive to think some of them will not ratchet up from rhetoric into action should their beloved Brexit not happen how they think it should.
    We really are on a slippery slope if we give in further to the debasement of public debate, policy development and administration by allowing lies, half truths and misrepresentation to be the basis of fundamental constitutional change.

    It may not get the result its supporters want anyway: We will need to have close monitoring of the adverts used to avoid the repetion of Leave Lies, especially the hyper targeted ones on Facebook. Fighting for the rule of law, honesty and integrity in public life is worth the risk.
    If despite all of the evidence to the contrary the electorate still chooses to shoot itself in both feet, then so be it.

  29. “I fear Brexit is one of those issues such as Catholic emancipation or Irish Home Rule that will be divisive for decades…” (from Twitter)

    Well, that depends quite a lot on what happens to the EU. Currently, it is half-formed; half superstate, half coalition of nation states. Very much Work In Progress. Germany, for instance, likes the bits of the superstate that suit it (single market in manufactured goods, for example), and likes the nation state bits that suit it (keeping fiscal surpluses, no single market in retail financial services). So most of the action will be happening on the continent, not here. Macron has presented a much stronger federal vision only for the Germans to veto it.

    first up, the Italian Budget.

  30. Empires come and go and, with the right wing coup that is ‘brexit’ now almost complete, this one is now long, long gone.
    In an increasingly dangerous and unstable world the UK has allowed itself to be cut adrift from the mainstream and, excuse the oxymoron, this can only be rationalized in the most insane of terms. To add to this gloom, I would now expect to see Irish unification and Scottish independence: ladies and gents, I give you…Wangland!
    Some history:
    My Brit father was born in Egypt (Gramps was mustard gassed, married his Italian nurse and worked in the FO in warmer climes for health reasons obv) and came over on the Windrush from Port Said. He met my Finnish mother, a polyglot, while studying history at London. I am a product of the English Public School ‘system’ and my partner of 26 years is Scot/Spaniard and Oxbridge… we have options, but words cannot express my sorrow for those who will now not. Who knew it was possible for a country to commit suicide…?

  31. I don’t disagree with most of what you say, but there is at least one legal aspect for which I have seen almost no analysis in the Brexit debate and it is this:

    One consequence of the Government’s preferred approach to leaving the EU is that UK citizens (at least those born outside Northern Ireland) will lose a very significant set of rights – those of EU citizens.

    I entirely accept that there is a significant portion of the population which gives little or no value to those rights, but there are clearly very many who value them greatly, some of whom (UK citizens living long-term overseas, those under 18 years old etc) were explicitly disenfranchised.

    We have instead a Government which insists on plan whose consequence is a mass elimination of rights, based on a limited advisory referendum and limited (if any) electoral mandate for that course.

    As a thought experiment: imagine a 52:48 result in an otherwise consitutional referendum to disenfranchise women. Would we expect women to accept this as “the will of the people”.

    The main thing I have learned from Brexit is that our constitution is no-longer fit for purpose as it does not appear to offer the checks and balances needed to guard citizens’ rights.

  32. One thing that seems missing from a lot of the Brexit debate is the question of what country we want to live in for the longer term. I don’t just mean economically – that’s part of it, of course, but I’m thinking more of the overall experience of living in the UK. We currently have about half the electorate divided against the other half, and all the political effort and rhetoric has been directed towards one half and not the other.

    This doesn’t bode well for the future. We are going to have, for example, remain voters who lose their jobs due to Brexit, living on the same street (or even in the same house) as leave voters who willed Brexit to happen. And lots of other similar examples. So the big question is what can be done to deal with these divisions. The best answer would be a soft Brexit, as a compromise between the two halves. No-one would love it, but most people could live with it if it were presented, with some leadership, as a compromise to reflect the 52-48 split. The problem is that this sort of pragmatism seems to have fled the scene, and instead we have people pushing towards both extremes. A second referendum, as David says, won’t resolve this. One way or the other, if we don’t want to live in such a sharply divided country, we are going to need to find some form of workable compromise.

  33. It comes down to politics, and the prospect of another lacklustre and leaden-footed ‘Remain’ campaign fills me with dismay.

    The leaders of that defeat are, of course, convinced they ran a brilliant campaign – an outstanding success in everything except the result, and we can surely overlook that – and are eager for the opportunity to repeat it.

    Someone, somewhere, might be eager to spend all the money that would pour into a second ‘Leave’ campaign; and those who revel in the damage that it did – or rather, the progress in normalising their agenda, as they see it – might relish stepping up for a second round.

    I hear Steve Bannon is available to offer them assistance and advice, this year, and I do not doubt that it will be gratefully received and skilfully applied.

    So we have a touchstone for rational Brexiteers, who wish to avoid the damage of another referendum – and the risk of losing! – versus nihilists who see the damage as advancing the society they want to live in.

    I’ll let you guess where I stand on Europe, and our exit.

  34. Fair points, though I feel referenda are more democratic than less so and many oppose them as they don’t really want to know (or care) what the electorate actually think or want!

    Many of the comments above are fair but I have to say that the remain side was plagued with lies too and that there have been many fingers pointed at bogus funding and dodgy backers of remain.

    Everything will turn out all right in the end, I am fairly certain…

  35. Art 50 opens with the statement that “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”. Minor campaign financing irregularities might be dismissed as just technical imperfections; but we now hear some aspects are being investigated by the police as serious criminal allegations. If criminality on the scale now alleged in the referendum were to be proven, arguably it would add up to sufficient constitutional impropriety (within the terms of the treaty rather than simply by UK law) to invalidate the decision of Parliament to leave. Wouldn’t that make it impossible for both the UK and the EU to continue with the current process on the basis of the 2017 decision?

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