Brexit – The Case for a Second Referendum

Brexit is a mess and it has been ever since the result of the referendum was announced in June 2016.

We can discuss the wisdom of David Cameron’s choice to put it to a public vote (which in the author’s opinion was a short-sighted attempt to unite the Conservative Party that has resulted in dividing the country).  We can even bemoan the arrogance in how he argued that he could win the case to remain thanks to a towering self-belief that in recent history has only been topped by Tony Blair (remember how he tried to shrug off the Iraqi WMD debacle and probably didn’t even convince himself).

Remainers bleat that the vote to leave was misinformed, backed up by the often cited statistic that the most Googled item in the UK after the referendum was ‘What is the EU?’  Negative campaigning – on both sides to be fair – left the public confused and reduced the vote to an emotional reaction rather than a rational decision. 

Leavers insist that the vote should be binding and that to not leave makes a mockery of the oldest sustained democracy in the world.  They also claim that those who didn’t vote for whatever reason can’t complain about it.  Promises of more funding for the NHS have proven to be unrealistic as has a completely closed door on immigration.  The deed has been done and that is the end of the matter.

Theresa May, infamous for using her words to say nothing, declared Brexit means Brexit and she is fully intent on delivering it because the British public has spoken.

Division, dissension and disarray – we have become an international embarrassment.  The world looks on in wonder how such a cultured and civilised nation has been reduced to such a state.  Even EU President Donald Tusk, who has been notably diplomatic and conciliatory in his approach to the negotiations (unlike the self-important one time city mayor Jean-Claude Junker), finally lost patience in declaring (paraphrased) that ‘(he) wondered what special place was reserved in hell for those who devised Brexit without any idea of how to deliver it.’

Frankly I agree.

This was another mistake Cameron and Co made.  Remain or Leave were simple choices, but Leave was vague in its definition.

Allow me to digress for a second.  Imagine you want to move house.  You don’t simply sell up and move out.  If you were to do so you would end up on the street.  You make a plan, or maybe even two plans.  Maybe you will sell and rent while waiting in a chain or for a suitable property to become available or maybe you will buy and move in before you sell your old house.

The permutations don’t matter the point is you make a plan.

Brexit is about the whole of Britain moving out and no plan was made.  If we want to leave we should already have provisional bilateral agreements in place, and an understanding of the position concerning immigration, trade and border controls – especially with the Republic of Ireland.

I’m leaving is tantamount to just walking out, but as with a marriage we cannot just walk away.  There are certain moral and legal obligations that remain.  Were we told this?  Did we understand the implications of these commitments.  European projects are figuratively the EU’s babies, we can’t nor shouldn’t walk away from these projects in the same way as a parent can’t nor shouldn’t walk away from a child.

On this point it is important to make clear that the EU needs to give ground too!

Dwelling on the past, however, doesn’t deal with the core issue of whether we should remain or not.  Brexit should be an informed decision carried by either a Parliamentary majority, or – and now that particular Pandora’s Box has been opened – with a clear majority in a referendum.

Dear Mrs May, Brexit means Brexit because the British people have spoken is a misguided belief!

Let’s look at the statistics.

Accessed on 26 February 2019 and reproduced from Wikipedia:

In terms of percentage it was close, often cited as 52/48% but in terms of numbers it represented more than a million people who cannot be ignored.  However, a true extrapolation of the data reveals that declaring the British public has spoken isn’t entirely true.

Out of the British public with the right to vote (46,500,001), the number who actually voted to leave was 17,410,742.  Therefore the actual percentage of the public that voted to leave was actually 37.44%. 

Newsflash Mrs May! This is not a majority.

Of course the same claim could be made of the remainers; whose actual vote comes out as 34.71%

Brexit however was such an important decision with major repercussions on the future direction of the country that this should have been taken into account.  My first thought was to skew the vote, but this would be fundamentally undemocratic.  To insist on at least a 60/40% vote in favour of Brexit to change would be unfair.

However what would be fair would be to insist that whatever the turnout, based on the number of registered voters the threshold to achieve Brexit would need to be greater than 50% of the whole or in this case, as the number works out quite nicely, 23,250,001. 

The British public would need to be informed very clearly that not voting communicates, ‘I can’t be bothered’, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not interested’ means they don’t care and it is reasonable to interpret a non-vote as don’t change anything which is tantamount to remain.  Thus their non-vote, while not being overtly a vote to remain, does become significant as it is not added to the leave total.  The apathy of the non-voter would work against Brexit.  So long as this is clearly understood it is then for those who wish to leave to make sure they vote.

On the surface this may seem unfair.  Why should such restrictions apply to only one side?  Well it is simple, a vote to remain is a vote to carry on (albeit with a possible wish to reform the EU) whereas a vote to leave is a vote for change.  Change need to be voiced whereas simply carrying on can happen through the quiet acquiescence of the apathetic.  Those who drive political change are known as activists for a reason.

Again there is precedent in day to day life.  If my wife asks me what I want for dinner and I don’t offer a suggestion I can’t complain when she feeds me what she wants.  My apathy means do what you want.  Only a proffered suggestion can change this.

So to summarise, the original referendum was flawed in how it was set up and how the results were interpreted.  We have now opened the issue up to a public vote and we can’t force that genie back into the bottle.  So a new referendum is the only way forward with a clear understanding that an absolute majority (based on the total electorate) needs to be achieved to execute Brexit and it needs to be made crystal clear to the voting public what a non-vote means.

And in the meantime before voting let’s focus on clear reasoning rather than negative and populist arguments to make our points, whichever side of the divide we are on.   While you are at it Mrs May bash out a tentative agreement and inform the public of what it means so a vote for Brexit becomes an informed choice.

And finally Mrs May deal with the very reasonable Mr Tusk –whose loss of patience is fully understandable – and look to scope out a Norway or even Switzerland type of deal in the event of Brexit; after all when we joined the Common Market it was something more the shape of EFTA that we wanted in the first place.

Whatever you do ignore the hair fondling Juncker who is nothing more than a hyped up little man with a Napoleon complex.

© Richard Horton Omega Support Services. 2019

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