The People's Vote: There is no Mandate for a Destructive Hard Brexit
We find ourselves at a crossroads. The current path we are on, is one of immense existential importance for the security, prosperity and image of our country. What we choose to do will affect the country for generations. We face tough decisions, and we cannot afford to get things wrong.
Of course, I am talking about Brexit. The shining beacon of hope for renewal and independence, as once envisioned by the Brexiters, now descended into endless chaos of rhetoric, bullying and deceit. This chaos has not only consumed Parliament and the national discourse, it has also stifled any real debate about what Brexit is and what it should look like. Because of this, it looks like there’s no way out. I see no other way than a ‘People’s Vote’ on the final Brexit deal, if there is to be one at all, and I will explain why.
There are two incredibly important reasons for this: one, is that the ‘will of the people’ so to speak, is, if we are still living in a liberal democracy, allowed to change over time subject to new information and secondly, because of the fundamental ambiguity of what Brexit actually is.
Part of the very essence of democracy is the access to good information, and open mindedness. Without either, we sleepwalk into totalitarianism. By the time we leave the European union on the 29th of March 2019, it will have been almost 3 years since the referendum on EU membership. In the U.K, the Fixed-term Parliament Act means that by law, we must have an election every 5 years. In reality, the Prime Minister can call an election whenever she so pleases. In various European countries, elections are far more common.
Whether or not you agree in the efficiency of a system that votes regularly is beside the point, no one calls the next free and fair election a betrayal of the last. It quite clearly doesn’t violate any democratic norms to vote on an issue. Any talk of betrayal is borderline fascist, and has, in no uncertain terms, absolutely no place in the United Kingdom. There of course will be disagreements on whether a second referendum will be required or desirable, but what we cannot, and must not condone, is talk of any second referendum being undemocratic. It is in fact, entirely undemocratic to suggest otherwise, and yet this has captured the national debate. Anyone who deviates from this narrative, acting with great courage and conviction, is open to attack and abuse from national newspapers, fellow politicians and people at home. If we hope to unite the country and reopen a rational dialogue, this must stop.
Furthermore, the idea of what Brexit means to the nation and what it should look like, has been captured by the far right of the country. Given the ambiguity surrounding Brexit, this is not only damaging, but impossible given that there is not, an cannot be one conception of the referendum. Bullying by brandishing individuals ‘mutineers’, ‘enemies of the people’ and shouting betrayal in any slight deviation from a “hard Brexit” has led to not only the poisoning of our political system, but the collapse of any necessary debate. This has left us with only one Brexit; a clean, hard break from the European Union. This outrage is wholly unfounded not only because of the damage a hard Brexit will do to the country, as warned by almost every government impact report and business leaders, but in the reality of the vote.
There are those that scream loud and clear that we cannot remain part of the single market and customs union. To do so would be a “betrayal of the people” as we would cede control to the ECJ, continue to sanction freedom of movement and thus lose the right to control our laws and borders. Immediately, this argument sounds convincing, but on closer analysis, not so much. Forgetting that any comprehensive trade deal would necessitate and require regulatory alignment to the EU, and given market size disparities, all but make ECJ rulings sovereign, a closer look into the opinion of the British public is important.
A YouGov poll around the time of the referendum found that British voters overwhelmingly favoured a ‘Norway-style Brexit’ 2 to 1 than not in the event of any Brexit at all. Leading Brexiters repeatedly reassured the British people that our place in the single market was not threatened. Despite all of this, there has been a nefarious misinformation campaign to recreate the referendum in their light, in order to get the Brexit they so ideologically desire; because the referendum is not, and was not a mandate for a no deal Brexit. Of course, the leave campaign was not without hostility to the single market, and of course the remain campaign were also very vocal, but the point is the ambiguity surrounding the issue. This ambiguity makes it impossible for the term “Brexit means Brexit” to mean anything outside of colourful rhetoric, which admittedly seems to be the Right’s main weapon.
The reality of the situation is that there is almost no deal that will gain any type of majority in parliament. A softer Brexit, acceptable to most moderate Conservatives, will likely endure open onslaught and eventual destruction from the right (as we have seen from Chequers), and a hard Brexit will lead to enough opposition from moderate Conservatives to gridlock the whole process. We have but 6 months left to sort this almighty mess out of which with this intractable ideological concept of Brexit, disregard for the increasingly ominous reality and dogged tribalism lead me to believe that no progress can be made. The words of Michael Heseltine’s words in the Lords ring ever clear, “there can be no compromise with the Brexiters, there never has been and there never will be”. As this seems increasingly to be the case, and as there is no mandate for a no deal/hard Brexit, the only way to settle this is to send it back to the people.