“Should there be another vote on Brexit?”
The question posed in the first of a new debate series: Two Faced.
In Two Faced, the two sides of the argument will be presented in a fair, unbiased way with no persuasive commentary, no foregone conclusion, no allegiance. This is where you can find the information for and against controversial debates. You are presented with the arguments, you make your mind up (or not). This idea initially came about as a reaction to the tendencies of most mainstream media to form agenda-pushing echo chambers and consequently offer their readers biased narratives and a patronising lack of personal agency. That doesn’t happen here. If you are looking for a place to consider the debate without your opinion being assumed and decided for you, you’re in the right place.
Without further ado…
The Argument For: Why we need a People’s Vote
This is not a call to re-write history or undermine the decision made in 2016. It is a campaign against the series of failures that have taken place since then. It is a campaign for the the people of the UK to be granted their democratic right to vote on the final Brexit deal
We were lied to
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Had we known in 2016 just how costly and complex the reality of Brexit would be, perhaps the same outcome would not have been reached. Many Brits feel that much has changed since 2016, with the Brexiteers’ rampant misuse of statistics and information, not to mention the blatant lies that have now been exposed. It has now come to light that the UK will owe a £50 billion divorce bill, to be paid by 2064 simply to leave the EU. We now know that there have been many broken promises made by the likes of Nigel Farage and various Brexiteer politicians. The most notorious, of course, being the notion – splashed across the side of buses – that £350 million a week could be diverted away from the EU and towards our National Health Service. Even Dominic Cummings, the mastermind behind the bus debacle, upon seeing the realities of leaving the EU, has admitted that Brexit may be “an error.”
Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader, attacked Cummings’ discourse contending that: “Dominic Cummings has let the cat out of the bag. This is the man who slapped the £350m NHS lie on the side of the bus who is now saying leaving the EU could be a mistake…These Brexiteers have sold us a pup and lied to the public. This is why I believe the public should be given a say on the final Brexit deal.”
Brexit isn’t what we thought it would be
Westminster’s politicians have made a mess of Brexit. A mess which threatens to wreck our economy, annihilate the hopes and ambitions of young British people and, crucially, devastate our public services and our communities. The first referendum authorised the government to negotiate Britain’s departure from the EU. Yet three years later we are still far from a satisfactory or even a clear deal. Although, it has become increasingly apparent that the Government will offer us a bad deal or no deal at all.
Swathes of Leavers now regret the decision they made back in 2016. Sean O’Grady (who voted Leave in the first referendum) now makes the case for the second referendum in an article for the Independent: “I decided some time ago that Brexit wasn’t worth it, and should, with the express and informed consent of the British people in a suitable referendum, be binned. Embarrassing, but the right thing to do for the long term…So, yes, I want another vote. Even if I was still a Leaver, I hope I would accept that everyone should have a say on what is about to be done in our names. It is so momentous that it demands one. It is a decision where the practicalities and actual consequences are clearer than they were in 2016. Whatever Brexit you might have wanted, you now have one that you can vote on, for or against.”
Indeed, many people who initially voted Leave, now wish they could take it back. Many didn’t realise just how severe the consequences would be. Worse yet, countless Leavers feel that they were lied to, misled and ultimately failed by the politicians who insisted that Brexit would benefit us all. If there is one thing that unites us all, whether we voted Leave or Remain in 2016, is that none of us wanted this. None of us voted for this utter embarrassment, this catastrophic series of blunders, this botched Brexit. If this is the only way Brexit can be, then we should all be able to agree that we are better off without it.
We all deserve a final say
Brexit will affect generation after generation of people in the UK. But it was largely decided by those who won’t suffer for the consequences in the formative years of their adulthood. Many of those who were too young to vote back in 2016 have come of age now and this issue will affect them as much, if not more, than anyone else. Young people are being left to deal with something that they largely never agreed to. An issue that affects young people’s careers, the economy, housing, healthcare and education. Therefore, it only seems fair that they should have a say in something that could have potentially disastrous repercussions for their future.
It is important to put the Government’s Brexit deal before the country in a public vote so that we can decide if the decision benefits us or not. To quote the People’s Vote campaign: “You wouldn’t sign a bill without checking it first, so why should the Brexit deal be any different?” We deserve a final say on the Brexit deal, whichever way we voted in the first referendum.
The first referendum was based on a dishonest use of information. There can be no democracy without a well-informed citizenry. After over two years of a disastrous back and forth, the public’s view may have changed dramatically, they may be more informed. A referendum, when all is said and done, serves simply to represent public opinion that the Government can take into consideration. The whole point of democracy is to represent the people’s views. Therefore, if they have changed, the Government should listen to the current will of the people, not the past. If the people’s will is indeed still to leave the European Union then surely a second referendum will tell us so?
It is of vital importance for our country’s future that we hold a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. Then we can see once and for all what the people of the UK really want.
The Argument Against: Why we should not have a
Those longing for a second referendum should be careful what they wish for.
The 2016 vote has been regarded as a tragedy by a number of EU leaders, who have stressed that the UK will always be welcomed back should sentiments change. The UK had, after all, footed the bill for a large chunk of the EU budget and was viewed by many as a tempering counterweight to other large powers such as Germany and France. Perhaps the UK should be welcomed back- but not right now.
It would hurt the EU
If the EU’s strength and stability were the priority, there should be nothing more terrifying than the UK scrapping Brexit.
Another referendum and subsequent return to the EU would truly be a kick to the hornets’ nest. If the result of the second referendum contradicts the first, it would unleash an ideological cold war. Millions of bitter Leavers, about half the country, would feel betrayed by an already despised elite who promised them that the first vote would be the final vote and put an end to the Europe debate for good. This would further widen the chasm between richer and poorer parts of the country and unleash rage-fuelled public unrest. The UK would be resuming its EU membership in a state of turmoil and social trauma.
This could not come at a worse time for the EU. With the wave of anti-establishment anger sweeping the continent confronting liberal democracies such as France, Italy and Hungary. The raging Gilets Jaunes protests in France prove that the ghosts of our tumultuous past are far from behind us. While the EU attempts to tackle nationalism in Warsaw, populism in Rome and authoritarianism in Budapest, a UK working across Europe to oppose anything threatening its own fragile national cohesion could present the European Union “with one of its most insidious challenges yet“.
The last thing the EU needs, whilst trying to overcome these challenges, is a traumatised UK throwing its weight around, using its tangible power and diplomatic sophistication to halt the EU in its current state. The agonising standoff over Brexit may be undermining the UK’s standing in Europe, but the UK is still a force to be reckoned with. If the EU wishes to safeguard itself, it will be forced to enact some serious changes in the way it deals with migration, tackles climate change, prevents poverty, manages its security and common currency. It has to become easier to manage, easier to understand and more democratic.
It wouldn’t heal divisions in the UK
The shock reversal of a second referendum in favour of the Remainers would bring into being a permanently aggravated extremely large minority of close to 50 per cent of the British electorate. This bloc, feeling persecuted and oppressed, “would inevitably be served by a virulently anti-EU media and openly eurosceptic politicians, all fired up with renewed fury that Brexit had slipped from their grasp.”
A second referendum would undoubtedly give rise to anger and outrage from Leavers who would feel cheated and dismissed by the aforementioned unpopular political elite. Let’s not forget just how deep the divisions over Brexit are in the UK. Sara Hobolt of the London School of Economics is undertaking research exploring the cognitive biases brought about by the 2016 referendum, she emphasises how Brits now view politics through “Brexit-tinted lenses”. The Brexit debate has only served to cement pre-existing opinions regarding immigration and economic policy. What are the chances that a second vote would repeal or alter this as oppose to bolster it? Not very good, presumably.
A second referendum would be more supportable if it was guaranteed that there would be a clear majority this time. But unfortunately the polls tell a very different story, showing a stubborn public still steadfastly divided. Despite a marked shift towards a modest majority conceding that the vote to leave was the wrong decision, the margin is still pretty meager; not enough to prevent any uncertainty as to the outcome of another referendum.
In the event of a narrow victory for Remainers, the underlying problems that paved the way for Brexit would continue to be unsolved. In fact it would may even play into the hands of the EU’s opponents, and the establishment would be rendered liars and betrayers.
Democracy has to come first
A simple point but one to dwell on: if you reject one of the People’s decisions, what’s to stop you from doing it again?
The call for a second referendum is not indicative of a good faith attempt to execute a democratic decision. It conveys that when the establishment and the political elite do not get the answer they wanted, they can simply reject the result and try again. We may be wise to view the political situation in Russia as a warning.
This could become a slippery slope of politicians playing fast and loose with what democracy is.
What side of the debate do you fall on? Do you have anything to add?
Any retorts for the arguments for or against? Have your say in the
comments section below!
One thought on “Two Faced: should there be a second referendum?”
There are a few arguments against the Second Referendum that I think are very poor.
‘It won’t heal the divisions in the UK’
So what? Leaving won’t heal the divisions, either. It’s an entirely moot point to say a Second Referendum won’t achieve something it doesn’t set out to achieve.
‘To protect democracy’
There is actually a lot democratically wrong with the 2016 EU Referendum. Boris Johnson is going to court over part of it. The National Crime Agency is involved with some of it. The fact that the campaigns kept saying Brexit would look like some sort of EEA/Norway/Switzerland deal means it has been missold, and that’s another part of the democratic problem.
There are even deeper issues relating to democracy. What should a democracy even be able to do? I was born an EU citizen with certain liberties afforded to me by that fact. Why can people vote to take that away from me?
It’s also not a re-running or an ignoring of the original result. The original question had ill-defined terms: “Brexit” is an unworkably broad Church and any specific Brexit arrangement leads to a divided Church. It seems likely that no specific Brexit would have majority support in a Second Referendum — and that points to a problem in the way the initial Referendum was organised.
‘It would hurt the EU’
This is carefully allied to the idea that the vote wouldn’t heal the divisions in the UK. Those divisions that might lead to the social and political trauma referenced in the post can be healed. They have nothing to do with the EU and everything to do with domestic policy. The EU didn’t lead to in-work poverty and food banks, austerity did.
A note on how to do these in the future, though:
I don’t like talking about ‘A Second Referendum’. I think the term lends itself to the accusation that we’re trying to avoid or overturn the First Referendum. For the same reason, Leavers tend to really like using the term.
In each section, it might be worth having a small section for each side to define and outline its preferred terms. I prefer ‘Confirmatory Referendum’, for example. I prefer this because it allows me to talk about the broad idea that was presented in 2016 and empowering The People to vote for the specifics that have been worked out since.