The UK is in desperate need of a ‘People’s Vote’; not to overturn the result, nor to betray democracy, but to establish the UK’s future direction. Over the course of three years, Parliament has proven it is no longer the beacon of democracy; the beating heart of British politics that has, until now, unfalteringly symbolised the strength of our polity for the last 800 years. Now, it is has become the pinnacle of gridlock, trapped in an oppressive and partisan bind; unable to agree on the best course for the British public.
But perhaps the most fervent disarray lies at the heart of the executive. Born out of a tawdry deal between the Conservatives and Democratic Unionist Party, the current government has become something of a lame duck. Incapable of reaching consensus and putting partisan bickering before the national interest, the Prime Minister, in negotiating her flawed deal, has sold the future of our country down the river. Indeed, there is no deader horse in the realm than the deal brokered by Theresa May. Flogged and flogged again, it expired a third time on the floor of the House of Commons- characterising the disarray that has engulfed politics for the last three years.
This is why our representatives should embrace a People’s Vote; to delegate the power of determining the future of this country to the very people who have to live it. This is not – to quote the hegemonic vernacular – ‘a betrayal’, but rather an opportunity of the demos to take back control their destiny. But as you would expect, the outlines of the ‘Brexit betrayal’ myth have already been drawn. It’s victim? The people who voted on a summer’s day in 2016 for a supposedly simple, clear desire – leave but who, they claim, were betrayed by the ‘liberal elite’, by universities, by independent analyses, by Brussels, by corporations, by the ‘dark’ forces who ‘conspired’ against those who voted in good faith.
That’s the ‘stab-in-the-back’ mantra that has been lovingly nurtured as a standard response to any utterance of a second referendum. It will spread, mutate and poison our discourse. We cannot allow this to occur. We must move on with putting the national interest first.
Even today we face a terrifying cliff-edge, with
Whilst the Brexit saga has compounded uncertainty, Theresa May has confirmed one important thing: that the government is contemptuous of the people, our constitution and our economy. It is clear that we are not, to quote the PM, “building a Britain fit for the future”. Rather, we are forging a future based on blatant inaccuracies- one that quite reasonably should be consigned to the dustbin of history.
The principal reason, then, we face such political stagnation lies in the very Referendum itself which, with the Electoral Commission’s recent findings into Vote Leave, casts doubt over the legitimacy of the said vote. Indeed, we voted with no indication of the actual facts! Regardless of whether you voted ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’, the months since the vote has demonstrated what an incomprehensible and cost-prohibitive challenge Brexit is to deliver (in costing the UK around £500 million a week – according to reports – we will lose more than we were allegedly told we would save. Ironically, it would seem under the current trajectory we won’t be able to cover the cost of the red bus, let alone the £350 million towards the NHS printed on the side). This reaffirms, then, why the simple, binary question put to the electorate in the 2016 Referendum could never be heralded as the final word on the matter.
Our membership of the EU was never a simple ‘yes’/’no’ choice- this has been shown in the endless discussions surrounding membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union. People may say ‘we had a referendum’- yes we did, but one that eroded the constitutional significance of the issue of EU membership by overlooking our various treaty obligations when shoehorning the question into an absurdly simplistic question.
What, in reality, should have appeared on the ballot in 2016 was a series of questions: do you want to leave the EU as a whole? Would you like to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union? This was not what happened and is why we need a fresh vote. This is essential because we only began to address the questions above after June 2016. Not only did we not know the answers to these questions, but vastly inaccurate information hijacked the referendum.
But of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. If anything, a second referendum will address blatant constitutional breaches which, if left unchallenged, will demonstrate that any government can subvert the very political edifice on which our country relies. The government’s standard response is ‘The British people have voted to leave the EU and the government respect that decision”.
Yet, the government themselves do not know the outcome of that decision, so how can they possible respect it? To quote Theresa May: “We don’t know what the outcome will be”. Crucially, this is because the referendum was advisory, not conclusive. Hence, legally, the vote breaches Article 50 (1), as in order for Article 50 to be triggered a binding vote must be issued. Politicians need to remember, this was not simply achievable by simply by holding a botched vote.
The June 2016 referendum started a meaningful national debate about EU membership for the first time in at least a generation. This debate should have happened many years ago, but it is happening now. And only once this debate is over, once we have heard everything we need to hear about what EU membership means, should the electorate then decide whether they support it or not. We have witnessed the so-called parliamentary ‘experts’ unable to decide what’s best for our country, so let those who are most adept make that decision- the people.