The ability to vote in elections for political representatives has long since been the foundation of democracy, highly valued the world over – especially in the UK. But democracy must be seen as a linear, continual process instead of one that can be moulded according to particular agendas.
It’s important to state at the beginning of this piece that it is perfectly legitimate in a democracy to have groups that challenge (or sustain) an established position or the status quo. This article does not seek to undermine these but instead questions and critiques the methods used by these groups.
In 2010 the UK were reminded that forming a government is not always easy. The electorate upset the stability of a two-party system and returned a hung parliament result, which eventually saw the Conservatives form a Cabinet – with the Liberal Democrats in coalition. There were expectations that another General Election would happen before the scheduled 2015 one because of the fragility of the Coalition, though this never occurred. Now, would an election under these circumstances be illegitimate? The answer is a simple no.
Electing a government in the UK is a very linear, simple process on paper: an election is announced or scheduled; Parliament is dissolved; election day occurs; result made; government formed; Queen’s Speech – and then all systems go until the next election. In this process, it is the Queen’s Speech which confirms that the electorate's democratic choice has been enacted.
It is therefore democratically legitimate to hold another election any time after the Queen’s Speech, starting this process all over again. You may think that I have just contradicted what I stated at the beginning – that democracy is a linear process – however I have expanded on this: democracy is a linear process that moves forward, regularly delivering a fresh mandate for a particular programme, be it a decision or a manifesto.
The 2016 EU Referendum started the process necessary for the UK to leave the EU, but we have still not left. There are concerted efforts on both sides of the debate to either leave now or stop the process altogether. There is a reason I have written this piece and that is because I have a genuine fear that democracy is being threatened.
There are campaign organisations like Best for Britain and Open Britain which are fundamentally ‘remain’ organisations and do not wish to see us withdraw from the EU. Like I stated in the introduction, there is nothing wrong with these groups simply because they challenge a democratic referendum result. However, one thing they unite behind is another referendum on the issue. To put it on the record I voted ‘Remain’ in the 2016 Referendum which lost by 4% to ‘Leave’, but I am a democrat and fully respect the result, despite it not being what I voted for at the time.
There are many politicians, groups and political parties which call for another nationwide referendum. A second referendum, if some campaigners had their way, would see the electorate vote on the agreed deal negotiated by Theresa May with the EU versus an option to ‘remain’ a member of the EU – for me, this poses a huge issue. Put in the context of a general election, the process I described earlier, we have had the election day and the decision was made, but we have not had the equivalent of the Queen’s Speech yet. That is, we have not enacted the electorate’s decision and left the EU.
Having another referendum relating to EU membership before we have left the EU is not a preferred option anyway, but a proposal to have ‘remain’ as a choice is truly worrying. The groups mentioned above can often be heard saying that ‘No Deal’ (vs Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement) should not replace ‘remain’ on another ballot paper because it is, in their opinion, “an act of economic self-harm” to the country. ‘Remain’, in their view, is the only option. It is at this point where democracy is threatened.
There are three ways forward in this situation: leave with the existing Withdrawal Agreement, leave with ‘No Deal’ or stop the process altogether (also called revoking Article 50). Pro-Remain groups, politicians and campaigners cannot countenance ‘No Deal’ being an option because it is their view that this would be hugely damaging for the country. But I argue that no matter how uncomfortable and messy this option could be, it should never be excluded from another referendum pre-leaving the EU.
In order to maintain the linear process of democracy and ensure a fresh mandate for a major new political decision, it is only logical to extend the mandate rather than stop the continuum and try to bend its direction. By this, I mean if there is another referendum related to this issue before we leave the EU then the only democratic options would be a furthering of the 2016 decision: leave with the existing Withdrawal Agreement or leave with ‘No Deal’. Remain should absolutely not be an option for the electorate.
I understand that this may, will and does greatly upset Remain campaigners. But there is light at the end of this tunnel for you: the nature of a democracy allows that after we have left the EU, one way or another, you would be free to legitimately campaign for a fresh mandate to re-join the EU. Put this back into the general election process described earlier, it means that the (in this case, metaphorical) Queen’s Speech has happened and it’s all systems go for another mandate, another vote. And this could genuinely be a referendum on becoming an EU member vs remaining outside the EU (mirroring 2016’s Remain vs. Leave).
Although it is taking years to sort this out, we still have not completed the process of delivering the Leave mandate given by the electorate in 2016. Metaphorically, we have not yet delivered the Queen’s Speech and, therefore, action aimed at keeping us in the EU stops the democratic continuum in its tracks, putting it in reverse based on perceived damage it would do to our country.
Leaving the EU with a Withdrawal Agreement or, indeed, ‘No Deal’ and whether this would cause serious damage to our country is a matter of individual opinion. But continuing the linear process of democracy is something our country and our position as a globally leading nation are built on. To try and bend that line would certainly do untold, irreparable damage to the UK and all 66 million who reside here.