In a democracy, power is not permanent. Every four years most of us will go to the polling station after carefully analysing all parties’ stances on the issues that matter to us. This bundle of pledges offered to us determines whether or not we give them our vote - our trust.
Governments win and governments lose. We take the events of the recent past and decide if it was all worth it. And if our minds change, and this is broadly in line with what the nation believes too, then the government will change.
Just like an election, referendums shouldn’t be treated as something entirely sacred, that when we vote once this is to be the ‘holy grail of decisions’ and everyone must rally behind ‘the will of the people’. I disagree. Rather take the decision as a ‘message’ that ‘something’ and not everything must change. Having said that, 52% is too close to call and cannot be a clear message that we must fall back from the 43 years of strong and intertwined British government ties with the European Union.
And let’s be clear on this point, where some think a 2% mandate is sufficient. We can argue all we like about the 50+1 in every election, because that will come back around in four years’ time. But this issue is not a changing of the people at the desk, but rather a change in our image as a nation, one that is renowned for its excellent breadth and depth in diplomacy for generations. Brexit is different, not a game of the here and now.
Today it is increasingly likely either that no agreement will be reached with the EU or that no deal will be ratified by Parliament. This should be enough to make all of us want a final say on the outcome of Brexit. The notion of ‘one voter, one vote, once’ is not the spirit of democracy. The electorate have changed, and so have the minds of those witnessing two years of endless post-referendum analysis on our TV screens.
Theresa May has a difficult job in getting a deal in the first place. She then is tasked with making sure it passes through Parliament. Even if this is agreed and passes through, who will ever know if the public agree with the arrangement made? This would be divisive, much more so than a public referendum in future. Indeed, MP’s will have a difficult time balancing constituent, national and party interest.
But there is a better option in all of this, one that allows us to take the cumulative events of the past, combined with the details of the final deal, and make our decision- a referendum on the final deal. There could well be three options on the balance sheet here: the deal, withdrawal of notification to leave, and no deal. It is possible to organise such a vote.
In making matters worse, suppose that there was no deal to put before voters. Now there would be just two choices: the ‘no deal’ option, and withdrawal of the notification. That would be far simpler and would allow a clear threshold condition to be placed.
If we want to well and truly reinvigorate our politics, and more importantly if we want to show the world that sometimes it’s good to take a step back and reflect on our decisions, then a second referendum with a clear threshold is the way forward. No politician can argue against this. They should support this idea of a second referendum to at least give remainers closure, or even bolster what leavers already knew was right, if it was the case to turn out that way again.
What we all must appreciate from this, is that although the vote to leave was the biggest vote in our nation’s history, remaining was the second largest decision ever taken. The 48% cannot be ignored.