Would overturning the referendum result be a betrayal of democracy?

10 Sep 2019

 

Brexiteers on social media have described the prospect of a second referendum as a ‘betrayal of democracy’ and ‘the will of the people’. But are these accusations fair?

 

Although Boris Johnson is willing to take the UK out of the European Union without a deal, parliament has passed a bill to block a no-deal Brexit. This has left the Prime Minister with little choice but to call for a general election, after promising the country that we would leave the EU with or without a deal. Opposition parties in the House of Commons have come together to rebel against the government on both no-deal and a general election. 

 

The Brexit deadlock doesn’t seem any closer to breaking and was strengthened by Amber Rudd’s recent resignation from cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The former cabinet minister cited the over preparation for no-deal as a reason for her resignation and surrender of the Conservative party whip. 

 

Many other MPs have been expelled from the Conservative Party for rebelling against the government to block a no-deal Brexit. Although many of these politicians want the UK to leave the EU, including former Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond, parties like the SNP and Liberal Democrats want a second referendum so they can campaign to revoke Article 50. This would mean that the UK would remain in the European Union. But, would this be a betrayal of democracy?

 

The importance of this decision has been highlighted for over three years now, even before the referendum took place on 23rd June 2016. The closeness of the 52%-48% result in favour of leaving the EU caused much controversy and is one of many reasons why opposition parties have called for a second referendum. However, Brexiteers would argue that the result was a clear indication for parliament to take the UK out of the EU. This is considering over one million more people voted for the Leave option over Remain. 

 

Politicians promised that we would leave the EU based on the referendum result, no ifs, no buts. This video created by Change Britain includes figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Sir John Major stating that “Labour accepts and respects the result of the referendum” and “there won’t be another referendum on Europe”. These are two people who are now supporting a second referendum.

 

The first referendum should have included conditions before it took place, such as the need for a decisive 60% majority to leave the EU, or the possibility of a second referendum should have been discussed before 2016. This would have reduced the anger of Brexiteers at the prospect of having another vote on our membership of the European Union.

 

If the result of the referendum is not implemented, why should we ever vote in another referendum like this again? This was such an important decision that was put to the people. If parliament over-turn the result, the consequences may be very serious. 

 

The flip side of this argument is that parliament is responsible for protecting the best interests of the citizens of the UK. If politicians believe that staying in the EU would be the best course of action for the UK, surely they have every right to fight that battle. Is this not democracy in action? 

 

Although the decision on the UK’s membership of the EU was put into the public’s hands, it could be wise to listen to politicians who are likely to have more knowledge on the benefits and drawbacks of being a member of the EU than the average person who voted in the referendum.

 

Whilst England and Wales voted to leave the EU, the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland were in favour of remaining. The Scottish National Party have been opposed to leaving, partly because of the result in Scotland. The 62% result in favour of Remain was a very clear message to Westminster, unlike the UK’s result as a whole, with fewer than 52% of voters wanting to withdraw from the EU. You have to feel for Scotland in this situation, who may be dragged out of the EU despite their strong support for Remain.

 

Another question that has been pondered is: is it undemocratic if we’re unable to change our minds about the 2016 result? We now know more about the difficulties of getting a withdrawal agreement through parliament. It’s a tricky issue that will need to be considered carefully by Boris Johnson, especially when jobs and businesses are potentially at risk.

 

There are always two sides to a fiery debate, and this is no different. We can only hope that this issue gets sorted quickly so we can move on to addressing the issues that need the most attention from our politicians.

 

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Please reload

Want to respond? Submit an article.

SUPPORT BACKBENCH

We provide a space for reasoned arguments and constructive disagreements.

Help to improve the quality of political debate – support our work today.