Referenda and the ‘People’s Vote’ on the Final Brexit Plan


Michel Barnier must be under as much pressure as Prime Minister May….

The first ever referendum related to an electoral procedure. It was ordered by the General Court of Massachusetts in 1641. It was embodied in an order passed on June 2, which set forth that “The freemen were growing to so great a multitude as will be overburdensome to the country, ” and “the way of proxies is found subject to many miscarriages.” The Court proposed, subject “to the advice and consent of the freemen,” that “every ten freemen,” in each town, should “choose one to be sent to the Court (of Elections) with power to make election for all the rest.” The order provided that the Deputies should “carry the copy hereof to the several towns and to make returns at the next Court, what the minds of the freemen are herein, that the Court may proceed accordingly.”

As there is no evidence that the proposed plan of voting by tens was ever tried, it would appear that “the minds of the freemen” were adverse to it. However, no return of the votes can now be found.

It marked the way for referenda.

Ovid Boyd’s fifteen page paper neatly summarises the use of referenda around the world. Europe has accounted for about 2/3rds of all the national referendums held in world. However, this is largely due to Switzerland, which alone accounts for more than a third of those.

In February, 2016, David Cameron gave the nation 128 days to decide if we should leave the or stay in the EU. Daily in the newspapers, on the air waves, in pubs and local meeting halls people had one thing on their mind, Leave or Remain.

Politicians, no longer divided along political lines, criss-crossed the country advocating their arguments and on 23 June a record of over 34 million people voted. The outcome was Leave (17,410,742) and Remain (16,141,241). Clear enough for David Cameron to resign and leave someone else to negotiate our exit from from the EU.

Neither Labour and nor the Conservatives have a unified view of how to exit Europe, and remember the EU will have a say too.

The Conservatives produced the ‘Chequers Plan’ on 6 July followed by a more detailed White Paper days later. The Chequers Plan ran to 3 pages. The White Paper ran to 104 pages.

Labour have six, seemingly impossible, tests for any final plan:

1. Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?

2. Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?

3. Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?

4. Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?

5. Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?

6. Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

Prime Minister May’s plan is on the table, but apparently widely criticised by her own party and condemned by Labour, yet no clear option has been tabled by anyone else and whilst the EU may criticise it, it is the basis for the negotiations which must finish by November as we formally exit on 19 March 2019.

Michel Barnier must be under as much pressure as Prime Minister May as no deal is unattractive to both sides and it is unclear to me who would lose more, but both sides would lose.

As we approach the deadline, there is a growing chorus for a “People’s Vote”. Another referendum on whether we like the terms or not and if we don’t like them then we should do something (opt to remain?).

What would it achieve? Would referenda ever be trusted in the UK again? If after 128 days of argument the British decided to Leave, would we require another 128 days to decide on the “People’s Vote”.

Would an electorate which had suffered years of Tory austerity and was bored by the perceived squabbling of politicians turn out at the 72% level of the first referendum? Would the turnout reduce substantially as it would be perceived as meaningless anyway? Would Europe offer us a less good deal (as when Prime Minister Cameron renegotiated his four points: Emergency brake, Child benefits, Stronger protection for non-euro v eurozone, and Ever-closer union). The Europeans offered Cameron “thin gruel”. They could not believe that the UK would leave, perhaps encouraged by David Cameron who indicated that the prospect of the UK leaving was unlikely, just as Scotland’s referendum had failed at the last moment.

Now M. Barnier must know that if the EU does not give ground the UK will go out with no deal and any noises about a People’s Vote could well encourage M. Barnier’s team to push a hard deal for the UK in the belief that another referendum could lie around the corner with the potential for a vote to remain.

Now, we need to stay firm and believe in our democratic process. Let May’s team negotiate the best deal it can and let Parliament decide whether or not we should accept the final deal thrashed out between the UK and Europe.

If that’s not acceptable, we should ask the country if it wants to change the government by holding a General Election. But even that would not resolve the Brexit issue, it would just show up the splits in the Labour party.

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