In light of the recent march calling for People’s Vote, Comment writers Nathan Clarke, Hannah Lay and Jonathan Korn discuss whether public input into the Brexit process is a good idea
Nathan Clarke argues that a People’s Vote would not undermine the Brexit vote, but would support the democratic system and the interests of the country as a whole
In June 2016, the British public were posed the question: ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’ This was one question with an array of possible outcomes. No one really knew what they were voting for. A question like this was too simplistic to be the foundation for such a complex decision. The reasons many people gave for voting have been ignored, since the referendum made no effort to identify particular areas of concern amongst voters.
The result of this ignorance has been disastrous. The government has been forced to make ill-informed assumptions as to what it is they believe the public had actually voted for.
The majority of leave voters did not vote for Britain to leave the single market and customs union. The majority did not vote for a no-deal Brexit. The majority did not vote for a weaker pound and economic uncertainty. And no one voted for a vicious and shameful rise in hate crime. Brexit has placed MPs of leave voting areas in the precarious position of having to respect the decision made by their constituents knowing full well it will make them worse-off.
Brexit has delivered for nobody. Not even the far-right who have become frustrated with Britain leaving Europe ‘in name only’.
Why then, if the government has proved so inept at delivering a Brexit that works for everyone, is the prospect of a people’s vote on the deal such a betrayal of democracy?
Voters should have the right to intervene in the negotiation process, even change their mind entirely, if they believe the government are no longer acting in their interests. The nature of the negotiations with Brussels are constantly changing and it is unreasonable for the government to not allow the public to change their own opinions accordingly. This explains the recent significant swing in favour of a people’s vote.
A recent Guardian article found that Swansea (a leave voting area) now overwhelmingly backs remain and cited government incompetence as the major factor in this U-turn.
May’s government hardly inspires confidence. Her departure seems inevitable. A deeply divided Conservative Party does not have the power, unity or mandate to deliver a workable Brexit to the British people; let alone one which satisfies the Party itself. For this reason, the prospect of a second referendum seems sensible and a People’s Vote on the final deal, a necessity.
On a much more personal note, as a 17 year old at a time voting, I, along with a million and a half other students, were denied the chance to vote in the biggest decision my country has had to make in decades. A recent NUS poll concluded that 75% of 16-17 year olds would have voted if they had been given the chance and the vast majority would have voted for remain. The fact that Brexit will not be finalised until 2020 only exacerbates this problem and leaves more and more young people unrepresented and with no say on their future job prospects, education and security.
The possibility of a second referendum is not a threat to democracy. What is a threat are the flagrant lies which plagued the Leave campaign and forced people into making misguided judgements. People were promised a future in the single market and a better funded NHS. They have been handed a no deal Brexit and a £39bn divorce bill.
The huge turnout in the recent People’s Vote march conveys an outright rejection of the government’s handling of Brexit. These were not ‘Remoaners’. They were people with genuine concerns for their and their family’s futures.
Protest has always been an indicator of a healthy, working democracy. Why then is a march for a people’s vote on Brexit any different? How can giving people a second chance to vote, given their greater knowledge on what their answer actually means, possibly be harmful to democracy?
Hannah Lay argues that the public’s lack of knowledge on the EU and Brexit negotiations, a People’s Vote would have as similarly an unhelpful result as the initial referendum
On Saturday 20th October more than half a million people assembled in London demanding a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal. The issue of a second vote on Brexit is attracting debate from lots of people. Some argue that it is our democratic right to have a say on the final deal whilst others argue that a second vote goes against the principle of democracy altogether.
I missed out on being able to cast my vote in the European Union Referendum by a mere 3 months. I would have voted remain and I do wish the vote had had a different outcome. However, if the vote had gone in favour of remaining in the EU, I would have expected it to have been upheld, therefore I respect the result of the referendum and the fact we have to leave.
I think that having an EU referendum was a mistake. The public were able to vote on something they didn’t fully understand. How many members of the public, myself included, really knew anything about the UK’s position in the EU and what leaving it would actually mean? The public’s lack of knowledge was exacerbated by campaigners on both sides making bold claims which were not supported by enough evidence. For example, the Leave campaign’s pledge that leaving the EU would bring back £350 million for our NHS. The claims were supported by high profile political figures such as Boris Johnson, so people were willing to believe them. Such a decision should have been left to the ‘experts’ who whether they can agree on a course of action or not, at least understand the EU and how the UK fits within it.
In light of this I would argue that a people’s vote is useless. The public should not be allowed to vote on the final deal as the majority of us do not understand it enough. Even now, two years after the initial referendum, with almost daily reports on the EU and Brexit, a significant proportion of people will not know anymore about the EU than they did when they cast their initial vote. The media is certainly antagonising the situation with daily reports on how badly negotiations are going however I think that unless the public all had experience of global political negotiations and deal-making, their opinion on the final deal is not overly useful.
I question the motive of the people’s vote. Are these campaigners trying to get the best deal for the UK or are they trying to block the UK from being able to leave the EU. If the people voted against the government’s deal and the government could not provide a suitable alternative, the options would be to remain or face leaving with no deal. I suspect the motive of some of these campaigners is to push the government into deciding to remain because there would be no viable alternative. This would be undemocratic as the majority of those who voted in the EU referendum voted to leave therefore, as we live in a democracy, this vote must be upheld and respected.
Jonathan Korn makes the case that a People’s Vote would be unjustifiable, undemocratic and disrespectful to the voting British public
For David Cameron, it was the opportunity to ‘Settle this European question in British politics.’ For Sir Nick Clegg, the idea of carrying on the fight after the referendum was publicly declared childish at the Oxford Union. A cabal of politicians who backed Remain sought to scare people into voting against Brexit by warning them that the decision was irreversible. What changed? Well, they didn’t get the result they wanted, did they? So now it’s time to try again. And again presumably, until we get it right.
This push to overturn Brexit culminated in the ‘People’s vote’ rally, where 700,000 people marched on London to demand an end to Brexit. Whilst an impressive number for a protest demonstration, it can hardly be held up as a sign of shifting public opinion, bearing in mind that 17 million people voted to leave the European Union (over 20 times more). The campaign for a ‘People’s vote’, billed as a call for democracy ‘no matter how you voted’ (although I’m not sure any leavers have lent their support to this campaign) is nothing more than an arrogant attempt to overturn the democratic decision made to leave the EU.
A vote on the merits of Brexit has been taken, and has been conclusively decided. A majority voted for Brexit in what was billed as a mammoth, once-in-a-generation democratic opportunity. The British people voted out, and it is the job of government to respect and implement that vote. Even if the polls show the public have had a change of heart, this is what should happen- we can’t keep re-running referenda every time the polls show a change of attitude. The question of whether we leave has been resolved for a generation at least. That is what we were told before, and it remains true now.
The more interesting question is the idea of a People’s Vote specifically on the deal itself, where the people are offered a choice between different versions of Brexit. Here, there is more of a case to be made that whilst people voted for Brexit, the specifics of the deal have not been decided democratically. However, practical problems remain here. Not least, what would the options be? If the choice is between whatever deal is agreed and leaving with no deal, it is hard to argue with the Remainers who describe this as a hollow choice. If there are more than two options on the ballot and none win a majority, can the option with a plurality really claim to have a proper mandate? If we voted for an option that was unacceptable to the EU, where would negotiations go from there? It is hard to see any second referendum question that would prove truly fair or viable.
Most crucially, there is the question of precedent. Precedent matters. If the UK government is seen to overturn the decision made by 17 million people on the 23rd of June 2016, it will set a very worrying precedent for democracy indeed. So let’s reject talk of a second referendum to stop Brexit and show some respect to the British people.