By Barney Potts
Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece and views expressed in this article are not necessarily reflective of The Beehive or The Beehive’s associated writers.
Brexit is the biggest political decision in our country’s recent history. The UK has backed away from the last fifty years of our foreign relations, to try and carve our own path in the world. The vote to leave on the 23rd of June will no doubt be long remembered and discussed in this country’s future, but should it be a be all and end all? Recently, I have found myself believing more strongly in the need for a second referendum on the issue of Brexit, and rather than incoherently rambling about this on twitter, I felt I needed to get them all in writing to clear my views. In this article, I will seek to prove three vital ideas. Firstly, that the first referendum is not a good vote to base our policy on, secondly that a second vote could be good for Brexiteers and aid the negotiations with the EU, and thirdly that we need a second referendum to represent the people and their will.
So firstly, I will address the elephant in the room around all Remain debates, the fact that we lost. In 2016, people were given a very simple question to vote on: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” to which there were two very simple possible answers: “Remain a member of the European Union” or “Leave the European Union.” The response to this was simple, 51.89% of people wanted to leave. This has been used to justify every single action taken to leave the EU, on the face of things its basic democracy, most people want it, so this is what we are going to do.
However, as it will become obvious, I disagree that this vote gives a mandate to Brexit. I have a very simple analogy to prove this point. Imagine if you will, going to vote in the next general election, and there are only two options on the ballot paper. You get the choice between voting for “The Conservative Party” or “Not the Conservative Party.” If you vote for the Conservatives, that’s fine, you elect the conservative party into office to rule the country, however if you voted for the “Not Conservative,” what would happen then? This fictional vote is the same as the Brexit vote. A vote for remain was very precise, the UK would remain exactly as we were, full members of the European Union. However, let’s examine the Leave vote. A vote for leave could be a vote for anything. There are factions of Brexiteers who want to maintain freedom of movement with the EU, there are those who don’t. There are factions of Brexiteers who want to create a ‘Norway style’ free trade agreement with the EU, and those who want to have a total hard Brexit and leave the EU to work with them under World Trade Organisation rules. In my view, it should be obvious to any observer that Brexit can take many forms, in the Not Conservative vote could. In this analogy, imagine a majority Not Conservative vote being used to justify a UKIP government. ‘The majority of people didn’t vote for the Conservatives, so this gives us a mandate to provide a different government.’ The Not Conservative, just like the Leave vote, presents no solid solution and can be construed to produce any output.
So, why does this mean we need a second referendum? Well, as I have just shown, a Leave vote could mean any form of future relationship with the EU. So, if we go back to our fundamental idea of democracy, that we should do what the majority want, then should we not ask them? Once a final deal has been reached, and it is made obvious what future relationship the UK will have with the EU, should people not be allowed to decide. This is the fair election. This is where people are given the option to either Leave on the specific terms agreed, or to remain on the specific terms we have.
Now that I have addressed the reason why a second referendum is needed, I will move onto the second part of this article and look at the repercussions of this for a strong believer in Brexit. So, because of the second referendum, there would be two possible scenarios, which I will examine here. Firstly, if the country by enlarge votes to leave. This would be very good for the Brexiteer because it would finally remove any opposition to Brexit. Nobody would be able to put up a credible defence to continuing to stop Brexit after two successive lost votes. Currently, many Brexiteers are blaming failing negotiations between the UK and EU on people wanting to remain in the European Union undermining the government and removing the national unity we will need for Brexit. This would be the best way to destroy these groups, and finally prove the national unity that Brexit is what people want. So, the second scenario, that the majority of people want to remain. Now, this would be a damaging prospect for a Brexiteer, but one that their own logic would surely need to accept. The campaign to vote leave was very vocal that the EU was undemocratic, and we needed to remove it to preserve British democracy. To me, this democracy means that we need to respect the will of the people. When the UK leaves the EU, if the majority of people are against leaving, is this not the wholly undemocratic thing to do?
Now, I come to the final part of this article. Already, I have tried to show how a second vote would be needed to display the real public opinion and that a second vote is needed by Brexiteers to help their own political standing. So, I will now seek to prove why a second referendum will cause no harm and is in fact needed. Currently, politicians around Brexit are taking the view that they have a mandate from the people to deliver their version of Brexit. The whole reason against a second vote is that people have already spoken and that their view must be fixed. If a person is to take this view, then they must be totally certain that this is what people feel. If they do not know they have the majority, then they have a burden to see this in a vote. If they are sure then a second referendum surely causes them no harm. I have already shown how it would bring them benefits, but even on a more basic level, if the population still votes to leave, no harm was done. However, let us imagine the doomsday scenario, the situation where the UK would leave the EU without a second vote, and the majority of people would be in favour of remaining. It should be fairly obvious how bad this situation is. Not only have we broken the fundamental idea of democracy, we have also broken this on an issue that it is almost impossible to come back from. Once we leave, the process to re-joining is long and difficult, so long that any damage from Brexit would happen, and the difficulties in re-joining may even prevent us from joining all together.
The prominent argument of a fair British democracy and the will of the people being listened to from Brexiteers serves as an amazing reason for a second vote. If we fail to secure a second vote, there is, therefore, a chance that we do something which the majority of people do not want. I cannot comment what a majority of people want, but if it is to not leave the EU, then this is a disaster. If you are so sure that public opinion is still heavily weighted in favour of leaving, prove it at the ballot box once and for all, and if that happens, I will be quite happy to accept Brexit.