Having rejected the only Brexit deal available, again, the idea that the UK government is capable of reaching a satisfactory outcome regarding the British electorate’s decision in July 2016 to leave the EU is laughable. The only solution is to return to the people for a second referendum, writes Michael John Williams (New York University) – offering voters a choice between Theresa May’s deal and no deal.
Another referendum cannot be a re-do of the July 2016 vote. No, that will do no good – the past cannot and should not be redone. The referendum must be on whether the UK should leave the EU with the deal negotiated by Theresa May or a no-deal ‘hard Brexit’. To allow the current situation to endure will only tear the UK apart at the seams. Britain has already lost must prestige and respect as a result of this debacle – it is time for the voters, not Parliament, to bring to a conclusion the process they began in the summer of 2016.
May’s gamble of running down the clock portends ruin. The Brexiteers have shown time and time again that they are willing to see through a hard Brexit. And whilst they continue to argue that a hard Brexit will be just fine, the news points to an alarming reality that a hard Brexit will not be good for Britain (yes, yes, it won’t be good for the EU either, but such logic is the UK cutting off its nose to spite its face). The looming storm of a hard Brexit is already damaging the UK – just look at Sony’s recent decision to move their European HQ to Amsterdam and concern amongst auto manufactures that Brexit is yet another hurdle for a slowing industry. That said, HMG simply cannot stop Brexit: such a move wreaks of elitism and it will widen the rift between the people and the government, threatening to hollow out what little faith is left in the political system. It will also allow the Brexiteers to continue to propagate the fantasy that Brexit – even a no deal Brexit – would have been so much better than staying in the EU.
It would be nice if Parliament could settle this issue, but this will not happen. Parliament has lost the ability to govern. Fractured internal party politics dominate the right, and the left is driven by domestic electoral ambitions. Jeremy Corbyn’s recent (tentative) U-turn will not alleviate the problem. And a new general election won’t fix it either. General elections are about a raft of issues, not just Brexit and it remains to be seen that the public would be willing to elect Labour, led by Mr. Corbyn, in the hopes of averting Brexit, whilst ushering in a new era of renationalisation. In fact, polling demonstrates that the majority of the UK electorate does not trust Corbyn to get a good Brexit deal for the UK if he were Prime Minister. Theresa May’s decision to try and achieve Brexit along party lines failed, and there is not enough time build a cross party consensus. If Parliament chooses to delay Brexit simply to continue the folly of the current process, politics will remain fractious and the public strong opposes a long delay. The sentiment that ‘delay means no Brexit will dominate’. Britain will remain crippled, focused on this five-star circus of its own making, rather than a raft of other, pressing challenges.
Putting the question back to the people is the only option. But it cannot be the same question as in 2016.
There is no indication that a second referendum posing another in or out question will settle the division in the country. Britons remain more or less evenly divided about Brexit as they were in 2016 so a “do-over” of the first vote will not clarify matters. This opaqueness could have been prevented with the requirement that the original vote require a 2/3 majority on such an issue of importance. This is because a 52-48 vote is not a mandate, it’s a whisker. There is a reason, for example, that the US Constitution requires that 3/4 of the states (38 of 50) to ratify any amendment to the Constitution – with such a majority the ‘will’ of the people is clear, a mandate is evident. Furthermore, there is good reason to worry that second referendum on the same question may so irritate voters making the leave vote larger than in 2016. In fact, a majority of the public (60 percent) in recent polling a second EU referendum would “betray leave voters’ wishes.” This questions assumes, however, the second referendum is an “in or out” question like the first. UK voters are almost evenly split as to whether the country should leave without a deal or apply for an extension of Article 50 given the second parliamentary rebuke of May’s negotiated deal.
The question for the 2019 referendum is easy one for Britons to understand – deal or no deal? Should Britain leave along the terms outlined in the Brexit deal negotiated by May, or should the UK leave with no deal as espoused by the hardliners? This is a clear question based on an agreement that exists and one that will not be bettered by further negotiations – the EU has been resolute in their position, it is astounding that British parliamentarians and Tory columnists fail to grasp that no better deal will be had. The UK has the weakest hand and the EU cannot better the deal on offer if it hopes to maintain the Union after Britain’s departure. This keeps the power with the people and respects the first referendum. Furthermore, polling shows the May’s deal will most likely pass a public vote. If UK politicians truly believe that the Parliament should respect the will of the people, then this is the only way forward.
The debate in this new referendum will be be centered on fact, not fantasy and the decision truly will be the ‘will of the people’ as opposed to the will of Westminster party politics. The UK should immediately ask for a one-year extension of Article 50, moving the exit date back to 29 March 2020. The EU should agree, economic calamity can be averted and a truly democratic process will take place. The referendum should be held within six months, leaving an additional six months for the UK and EU to proper for an orderly Brexit, regardless of the outcome.
This agreement will not make everyone happy, but such is the nature of compromise. It will, however, move the debate from the realm of fantasy to facts. It will put the power in the hands of the people, not the politicians who have proven them so unworthy of the task.
This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of LSE Brexit, nor of the London School of Economics. Image by Ritchie333, CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.
Dr Michael John Williams is Clinical Professor of International Relations and Director of the International Relations Program at New York University. He is the author of “Special relationships in flux: Brexit and the future of the US-EU and US-UK relationships” with Tim Oliver published in International Affairs and Science, Law and Liberalism in the American Way of War, co-authored with Stephanie Carvin (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Well done, that is a legitimate question to ask – offering Remain is not.
I think it has become a farce and Politicians will be arguing the toss for ever a day.
Vast majority of the population agree its not turned out ad expected.
An agreement should be made now to have a Peoples vote down the line.
Vote should be
Do you want to stay in the EU?
Do you want to leave the EU?
If you do want to leave extra ?
Do you want to leave the EU with no deal?
The negotiated deal whenever that is?
If the people know there is going to be this vote they won’t mind this to drag on a bit longer to get a better deal.
I think this will get things moving and might even result in Remainers switching sides if they want to uphold democracy or they can see a decent deal has been negogiated.
Also should mean EU will give us more time.
At no stage has it been anything other than absurd to see a 52% majority in an advisory referendum as obliging the UK to undergo massively impacting constitutional change.
Five times in the Government leaflet that cost more than the election limit (£9 million to £7 million) it stated quite clearly it was “your decision”. Had remain won would you still say it was advisory? Of course not.
Another referendum, especially as it likely to be even higher for leave, would be massively damaging.
It will take some time to organise another Brexit referendum. It would be better to go for a June General Election. However, the suggestion that the question this time should be Brexit or May’s negotiated ‘deal’, so-called no deal or a deal, is misleading. The referendum in June 2016 was quite specific about what would happen in case Leave won the referendum. David Cameron was clear just the same about his promise and undertaking what the government would do to honour the result. In the event, Cameron left and May took over the government and the promise and the duty to implement the result. This is a well-known fact, ignored or derided by remoaners. Brexit must be given effect. May’s negotiated agreement is the WA, not a deal. Any deal must await successful negotiations post-Brexit. As everybody who knows about May’s WA understands, but is not always, for reasons best known to themselves, be prepared to admit, May’s so-called deal is not a variation of Brexit, Brexit with a deal or some such. It is Brino. The so-called no deal Brexit is in fact a Brexit as delivered according to the referendum result and all the assurances from Cameron and May, backed up by statute law, as is also undeniable. Delivering Brexit on time was never contingent upon the conclusion of a withdrawal agreement. Negotiating a Brexit deal with the EU can only begin after the UK has exited the EU.
Having said that, the glaringly obvious, a referendum on any deal on offer after it is negotiated between the UK and the EU would be a good idea, but there should always be the option to refuse any deal on offer to hold out for a better deal. The resistance against Brexit as per statute law in business circles, leaving 29th March, is one of the main reasons for the fear campaigns-We are now on Fear Campaign Mark IV, I think.
It is now alleged that the Civil Service has been quietly preparing for a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Who knows what is true or false anymore. The May government, a one-person band if ever there was one posing as government of a parliamentary democracy, has presided over a period of unprecedented subterfuge, duplicity and prevarication in its obstinacy to force a personal view on Parliament and a willingness to bend the rules to seek to achieve it.
And if UKIP became the largest party or the official opposition then what? Neither a referendum nor a general election can be held before May 22nd. Kicking the can down the road isn’t a solution.
“It is possible, of course, that May refuses to follow the will of the people, and threatens the UK’s economic and territorial integrity with ‘no deal’”
Unless/until we have another referendum “the will of the people” is still (by default) that we leave .
“The referendum must be on whether the UK should leave the EU with the deal negotiated by Theresa May or a no-deal ‘hard Brexit’.”
There is no legitimacy to the Conservative Party’s ideological policy to take the UK out of the EU. The opinion poll in 2016 had and has no mandatory effect whatever Cameron’s promises at the time, which were purely political and not legally binding on Parliament then or now. Further the campaign to leave was run on illegal funding and based on gross misinformation, which, if it were not for the many deficiencies in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, would have rendered the result null and void.
PPERA 2000 must now be urgently reformed to re-establish tight control over local spending limits, and to give the Electoral Commission real powers to supervise all campaign participants in a real time continuous audit during any campaign (ie: embedded auditors), and to intervene immediately as appropriate if it is not satisfied that the campaigners are complying fully with the standards set. Fines must be truly punitive and potentially unlimited in scope and the courts’ sentencing remit should include prison sentences – before any fresh referendum can be legitimately held.
The referendum must be definitive so that the result is fully legitimate and unarguable.
Briefly, as we all know, 2 referendums have been held on this subject so far, in 1975 and 2016, both being of the pre-legislative, or purely advisory opinion poll type having no legally binding effect whatsoever and which simply provided advice to Parliament from the electorate.
The 1975 advice from 67% of turnout was to remain in the fully fleshed-out and agreed relationship as ratified in Dublin by the government of the day on 11th March 1975, which established the enduring legitimacy of the current status quo.NB: the 67% result on >40% turnout exceeded the minimum standard for a definitive referendum but did not (retrospectively) change the status of the referendum.
The 2016 advice from 52% of turnout (37% of the electorate, or 27% of the resident population) was simplistically to “leave” without any new relationship being agreed even in outline much less a fully fleshed out form, which has inevitably as predicted resulted in the current impasse. The result did not meet the standards of a definitive referendum complying with the UK’s constitutional requirements and in any democratic society would not amount to sufficient mandate to make massive changes to the constitution.
The absence of a fully fleshed out agreement before service of notice under Art. 50(2) of itself renders that notice invalid, as the notice is clearly in ultra vires.
The 2017 general election, insofar as it conferred any effect was to eliminate any mandate by removing the government’s majority in the HoC.
Ken Clarke neatly demolished the legitimacy of the “manifesto commitment” yesterday as reported in Red Box:
Ken Clarke, the father of the House who has been fairly helpful to May up until now, rose to magnificently shred this argument, pointing out that she was so wedded to the manifesto that she had “dropped fairly promptly” the social care policy before a vote had even been cast.
“May I remind her that that manifesto appeared only halfway through the election campaign? I do not think that it was discussed in cabinet. It was not circulated to the candidates, who were already fighting their campaigns, and nothing on Europe in that manifesto played any part in the general election. We are all being asked to show pragmatism and flexibility and to put the national interest first. May I ask my Right Hon friend to be prepared to bend from her commitment to the manifesto, apart from the one proposal that she dropped fairly promptly when it first appeared?” .
Recognising, pragmatically, that the current HoC sentiment does not at the time of writing support the most logical course of action, namely revocation (despite the petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584 which has garnered 5,700,015 signatures as of 10:40 today), the next most viable option would be a definitive plebiscite fully conforming in all parameters to the UK’s constitutional requirements (see Miller 2016 EWHC & 2017 SC, et al) by which Parliament, for the very first time ever, would delegate its sovereignty to the electorate to make the decision in this most momentous fundamental change to the constitution.
Another advisory referendum would, as the first 2, simply provide advice to Parliament, which would itself then have to decide whether to accept it, which would in turn almost certainly put us right back where we are: in a deadlocked hung parliament. What we definitely don’t need under any circumstances at this stage is a cut and paste re-run of the last advisory opinion poll!
The only lawful questions – conforming also to May’s statement in the HoC yesterday: “Any options considered must be deliverable in negotiations with the EU.” – (whatever the actual wording on the ballot paper) are (a) do you agree to the implementation of the government’s memorandum of agreement to continue discussions with a view to trying to reach an agreement, or (b) do you agree to the continuation of the status quo established by the 1975 referendum. There simply is no legal third option which can be considered by the EU as conforming to the acquis which binds it.
Ian O “PPERA 2000 must now be urgently reformed to re-establish tight control over local spending limits, and to give the Electoral Commission real powers to supervise all campaign participants in a real time continuous audit during any campaign (ie: embedded auditors), and to intervene immediately as appropriate if it is not satisfied that the campaigners are complying fully with the standards set. Fines must be truly punitive and potentially unlimited in scope and the courts’ sentencing remit should include prison sentences – before any fresh referendum can be legitimately held.”
I disagree with almost everything else you write but I agree with the substance of this. The UK Parliament needs to have a long discussion about how referenda are conducted before there are any more. In general elections candidates have a fairly strong incentive not to breach spending limits because otherwise they risk being kicked out in a by-election. There doesn’t seem to be a similar incentive in referenda.
Other issues which need to be addressed are a. the government’s notorious pro-Remain leaflet before the 2016 referendum, which was clearly unfair. b. the fact that civil servants effectively worked for the Remain side before the purdah period started.
I think there is also a case for avoiding major decisions which affect the status quo being made on a small majority. For example, I suggest that if the vote to change the status quo is between 50 and 60%, the decision should be postponed to a second referendum 12 months later, the result of that referendum being decisive. This suggestion is not perfect but it’s the best I can think of.
But all these are very complicated issues and it will take time for MPs to agree appropriate rules. This needs to be done before the second Scottish independence referendum, which I fear is not very far away.
Note that there was no referendum at all when the status quo changed from EC to EU, and that sonce the status quo has changed again and again, and is moving along towards a federal state.
“the EU cannot better the deal on offer”
This is factually untrue.There is no better offer only if Mrs May’s ‘Red Lines’ remain unchanged. If they were to be removed a better deal would be available.
This article does not reflect how decisions are actually made either in theory or in practice.
“Let’s go for a picnic tomorrow in the park”
Tomorrow comes. It’s raining.
The author of the article would say that our only choice was raincoat or umbrella. But of course not going on a picnic is also an option.
Nor would a Remain/ Leave referendum in 2019 be a repeat of 2016.
In 2016 Leave had no plan. So the 2016 Leave vote was the sum of all the Brexits that anyone wanted – deliverable or not.
In 2019 there would be a defined Brexit plan. So the choice would be quite different: Brexit on this one plan, or Remain.
If there are several actually available Brexit plans that command public support it would be possible to have a fair choice if it was made in two stages.
The first stage would choose between different Brexit plans. The second stage would choose between the best available Brexit and Remain.