A second referendum is not undemocratic - it is vital

12 Oct 2018

A recent Backbench piece by Joshua Godfrey ignores large parts of the arguments he addresses. Firstly, he seems to believe that political trust in this country depends on Brexit being delivered. He also argues that the EU has disrespected the UK throughout the process. I disagree with both propositions. 

Yes, 17.4 million people voted to Leave the European Union on the 23rd of June 2016. But what actually is it that they voted for? Femi Oluwole, chief spokesman at our campaign group Our Future, Our Choice, has been travelling the country since February, talking to Leave voters. He has found that Leavers voted for control over our laws, control of our borders, a better NHS, and to be financially better off. These are real demands - and demands shared by many Remainers too. But while these aims are widespread, they relate to the current state of Brexit neither in terms of values, nor in terms of aims. 

No Brexit deal on offer satisfies this constellation of goals. Take the last condition: we are already £500m/week worse off than before. The Prime Minister’s preferred option, Chequers, leaves public finances £615 million out of pocket. It has been predicted that a no-deal outcome would reduce our GDP by 7.7%. 


In terms of the NHS, the depreciating value of the pound means we pay more for pharmaceuticals, primarily priced in dollars. Furthermore, 10% of NHS doctors are from the EU. Four-fifths of NHS doctors worry for its future. 


The Royal College of Nursing has reported a 96% drop in the number of EU nurses registering to work in the UK. If we leave, this will presumably get worse. 


On the subject of controlling of our laws, Chequers means accepting current regulations on goods - as does the Norway option - leaving us as rule takers, not rule makers. 


On immigration, we have always had more control than we have exercised. It is the fault of successive UK governments that promised to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, not of the EU. The new plan unveiled by the Prime Minister ahead of her conference speech does not appear to curtail immigration, merely to increase numbers from around the world and reduce those from the EU.

In what democracy can decisions not be undone? Joshua argues it would be catastrophic to overturn the decision made in 2016. At Our Future, Our Choice, we believe it would be catastrophic for our democracy not to ask people what they think now that all the facts have come to light. One of our founders, Will Dry, voted Leave in 2016, but has changed his mind after observing the shambolic delivery of Brexit. 

He’s not alone: Best for Britain polling shows that 2.6 million Leave voters would now support Remain; only 970,000 Remainers have gone the other way. A million new voters have entered the electorate since the referendum - and they overwhelming reject Brexit. Are they really to be denied a vote on the most important issue of their young lives? 


John Curtice’s analysis, collating different polls on the national feeling towards a People’s Vote and indicating that there was not a stable consensus, was cogent and accurate at the time. But public opinion is shifting. Just in the last week Curtice himself admitted that the chance of a second vote has grown after Labour kept it on the table at party conference.


Joshua claims that the events of Salzburg were low, disrespectful and rude. But the EU has raised concerns with the Chequers plan since it was proposed. Their concerns have remained the same, voiced by a number of different figures; the four freedoms are indivisible, and no deal can be better than full membership. But the British government has refused to listen. If Theresa May does not understand, at this stage, the EU's problems with the White Paper, it’s possible she hasn't been paying attention


Joshua says that overturning Brexit would disenfranchise millions: we say we should enfranchise them again; ask them what they want now that they know what is available. Claiming that people won’t bother voting again if they lose the next vote is not only patronising, it is empirically wrong. Three times have countries had second votes on the EU in quick succession: Denmark, and twice in Ireland. In the second vote, in every case, turnout went up, not down. Intelligent electorates are capable of changing their minds, and it is undemocratic not to give them the chance to voice their opinions in this rapidly changing landscape.

Worst of all, if we continue on this path, we may get something that only a very small percentage of people in this country actually voted for: the chaotic disaster of no deal. 


The show is a sham; it can’t go on. 


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