Theresa May is wrong to rule out a second referendum

23 Sep 2018

 

The week began with Prime Minister Theresa May indicating that Parliament must either accept the deal she agrees with the EU or face a no-deal Brexit. The PM also ruled out any further EU referendum, a decision which may make her already untenable position even more unstable in the future.

 

Just a day later, Vince Cable, leader of the Pro-European Liberal Democrats, addressed his party’s conference, arguing ‘Brexit is not inevitable – it can and must be stopped’. Cable also raised concerns about the impacts of the UK leaving the EU under a no-deal scenario, demanding a people’s vote on Brexit once the terms are known.

 

The Liberal Democrats are not the only party fighting Brexit, they have been joined by the Green Party who have also argued for another EU referendum. The tides are also appearing to turn for other parties too, as significant Labour figures are backing a people’s vote. Other senior Labour members, such as the shadow chancellor, have also shifted their stance by refusing to rule out a further referendum, though they are yet to expressly back one.

 

To make matters worse for the Prime Minister, the EU has rejected her Chequers proposal as was anticipated. May now has five options. She must either compromise on her red lines, achieve a deal with the EU, or make the UK recklessly leave with no deal. Alternatively, she could make yet another U-turn and call for referendum or ask for an extension of the Article 50 TFEU deadline. Finally, she could hold a snap election.

 

An extension of negotiating time is legally possible, as expressed in Article 50(3), although the Prime Minister has already ruled this out and it is likely that Brexiteers would not allow an extension to happen. Holding a snap election could be the worse case scenario for the UK as almost every poll since last year’s election predicts a hung parliament, leaving us in the same situation we are already in.

 

Any further compromise with the EU will almost certainly anger members of the European Research Group, made up of Tory Brexiteers. With many Eurosceptic Conservative MPs already refusing to accept May’s Chequers proposal, they are even more unlikely to vote for any deal agreed with the EU that contains further compromises.

 

11 of 12 Lib Dems MPs, and the Greens’ Caroline Lucas, will reject any Brexit deal agreed with the EU, leaving the Prime Minister to rely on Labour MPs to get a deal through Parliament. It is looking very likely that May will not have the numbers in the Commons to back her Brexit deal. However, it is possible that Tory Brexiteers may agree to back any deal agreed to leave the EU for fears of Brexit not happening.

 

May could stay true to her word and rely on her argument that if any deal is rejected the UK will leave the EU with no deal. This would be political suicide for her party, and economic suicide for the country, which is why May should back a people’s vote if Parliament reject her deal.

 

I believe the best option to solve the mess our country and the government faces would be to give the electorate a say in a referendum.

 

 

Bypassing Parliamentary deadlock by using a referendum could hopefully resolve the Brexit issue once and for all, with the electorate giving their final say on the issue. Regardless of what the public vote for, it will clarify what the British public believe any future relationship with the EU should look like.

 

For a long time, I have maintained the view of a second referendum happening because the 2016 vote was not a clear indicator of what the British public really want. Although it was clear that a majority of voters wanted to leave the EU, there was no consensus on what type of Brexit people wanted.

 

The result of the 2017 General Election further supported my view as no party secured a majority mandate for a specific form of leaving the EU. With a minority government in the Commons, legislation becomes much harder to pass and the Salisbury Convention in the Lords ceases to apply, allowing them to block legislation in a government’s manifesto. A further referendum can solve all of this.

 

However, It should be noted that there are concerns regarding the time left to hold another vote. Some constitutional lawyers and academics view that there is no longer enough time to hold a referendum before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, but views appear to be conflicting.

 

Professor Robert Hazell argues that a referendum could be agreed to and held within a six-month period. Conveniently, there are six months before the UK is set to depart from the EU. Alternatively, an Article 50 deadline extension could be agreed upon to give the UK enough time to hold a final vote.

 

Ultimately, Theresa May has a hard job ahead of her, but she should not rule out any option if she has the best interests of the country at heart. Giving the British public the final say on any Brexit deal or no-deal, with an option to remain in the European Union, is the only way to pass a future Parliamentary deadlock and the option should not be off the table.

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