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Analysis

3-way People’s Vote only makes sense if Brexiters want it

by Hugo Dixon | 10.10.2018

Some say a People’s Vote at the end of the Brexit talks should be a three-way choice between a deal, no deal and no Brexit. The thinking is that a two-way choice between a deal and no Brexit would disenfranchise hardline Brexiters who don’t want the half-in-half-out Brexit Theresa May is trying to negotiate. Putting “no deal” on the ballot paper is therefore necessary to get their buy-in.

Justine Greening, the former education secretary, backed this idea in The Times in July. Now University College London’s Constitution Unit has weighed in with a similar conclusion – assuming, of course, that the prime minister actually gets a deal.

But there is a flaw in the thinking. If pro-Europeans like Greening put “no deal” on the ballot paper, that won’t bind Brexiters such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage to the result. They will scream blue murder – saying they never advocated “no deal”, or that the version of “no deal” put to voters wasn’t the one they wanted, or something like that.

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“No deal” should only be on the ballot paper if some high-profile Brexiters call for it. And while Johnson, Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg have all toyed in the past with the idea of a second referendum, none is currently campaigning for it.

Without the buy-in of at least some of them, a three-way People’s Vote would fail in its primary purpose: gaining legitimacy with the hardliners. The electorate would be presented with a complex choice but there wouldn’t be any countervailing benefit.

Now if Johnson was to say there should be a three-way choice, that would be an entirely different matter. It would be hard to deny the man who swung the 2016 referendum the chance to put a viable alternative to the people.

But he would first have to say what he wants. At present, he says he wants a “Canada-style” deal – and a transition period as well to cushion the blow. But since he also describes the Irish “backstop” that the EU is insisting on as a “suicide vest”, he is not going to get it.

If Johnson wanted an option on the ballot paper, it would have to be feasible. The only one available is to quit the EU with no deal at all. That wouldn’t just mean no deal on our future trading relations. It would also mean no transition period either and that the EU would pursue us in the courts to get the £39 billion the government agreed we owe them when he was foreign secretary.

Does Johnson really have the cojones to campaign to crash out with no deal? If so, let’s have a three-way People’s Vote. If not, let’s keep it simple: a choice between whatever the prime minister proposes and staying in the EU.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

22 Responses to “3-way People’s Vote only makes sense if Brexiters want it”

  • II have argued elsewhere that if you expand the number of choices on the Leave side, it means that leave in some shape or other is more likely to win the most votes:

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/options-to-remain-57931.html

    In the same way, if customers are offered a choice between buying a BMW and 17 different types of Mercedes, they are more likely overall to buy a Mercedes, which is why firms offer a number of customised choices and options on their vehicles.

    A 3 way choice is a complicated matter, even if the AV system is used with ranked preferences, or something like the de Concordet system – see previous articles on InFacts.

    I agree the 2 way choice between May’s deal and Stay In is simplest and best.

  • I don’t get the logic of this article.

    From a #Remainer’s point of view, having more than one non-#Remain option splits the leave vote.

    From a Brexiter’s point of view, “#NoDeal is better than a bad deal”. Therefore #NoDeal is preferable to them than anything that May is going to come up with. If you’re looking for a #NoDeal proponent, is Peter Bone high-profile enough for you? His preferred scenario is #NoDeal. At least he says it is. And that view has a lot of support in the country from the “Haven’t we left yet?” brigade.

    The Brexiters say they want a Canada deal which they say the EU is offering. But as far as I understood, the EU isn’t offering any Trade Deal until Northern Ireland is resolved, which can’t be resolved by Canada, no matter how many pluses it has after it!

    Today, #NoDeal or #NoBrexit are the only options that are certain to be accepted by the EU. So rather take #Chequers out of the vote, if you will. That has currently no support from any quarter.

    I would have thought the more important question about a People’s vote is the counting mechanism. Aren’t we likely to get stitched-up with whatever counting mechanism makes the Prime Minister’s deal (if there is one) most likely to succed?

  • One solution to the three way People’s Vote that I’ve seen is to make it a two part vote, perhaps a week apart. The conventional way would be a Leave /Remain question in the first round, then which kind of Brexit in the second round but this would probably put us back to where we are now as again people would be voting for an unknown Brexit.
    The best suggestion I’ve seen (by a commenter in the FT online) is to have the type of Brexit in the first part of the vote (the government’s deal (when agreed with the EU) vs No Deal) and then put that preferred Brexit up against the choice of Remain. It’s a pity that this wasn’t done in 2016.

  • I have to disagree with this conclusion. We are facing the possibility of a peoples’ vote because it is possible that either Parliament may not be able to come to a decision, or that MPs will not feel that they are able to take such an important decision without direct reference to another referendum. In either case, the decision is not whether to leave on May’s terms or stay, it is very clearly a three way decision, whatever the various advocates might say. Furthermore, the decision is very clearly structured by the development of the negotiations: Accept May’s deal, or not; if not, then leave anyway, or stay on present rules and conditions. A two stage peoples’ vote is the only sensible way to get a final decision which is not subject to the arbitrary arithmetic of the counting system chosen to summarise a three way choice.

  • I agree the 2 way choice between May’s deal and Stay In is simplest and best…if Boris and his mate Putin will let us?
    Why is there no discussion of the (potential) effect of Russia on the referendum and recent election? Suddenly we publish what the GRU has been up to…serious stuff of course, but if it can be shown that Russia seriously influenced the referendum, well that could be an embarrassing game-changer for our elected elite.

  • I do not want a People’s Vote which has a complicated ballot form. We all saw what happened to the AV referendum promoted by the Lib-Dems. Many people did not vote because they did not understand AV. The same would happen with a second vote on the EU if people did not understand the questions. People switch off if it hurts their brain.
    If we can force a People’s Vote then the remain side must campaign hard to sell the message and not allow the other lot to dominate again.
    The problem is that all of our lives are so inextricably bound up with the EU it is impossible to unravel it all. May and her abject Tories fail to see that people have made life choices based on being citizens of the EU. It is morally wrong to pull the rug out from under the feet of these people. I have told my MP (Suella Braverman) this umpteen times but she ignores it. They do not care about ordinary people- austerity proves this as well.
    The stories about people being employed to quash civil unrest after 29 March 2019 are really worrying. The UK is fast becoming a third world country. Someone, somewhere has to see sense otherwise we are heading for war.

  • “I have argued elsewhere that if you expand the number of choices on the Leave side, it means that leave in some shape or other is more likely to win the most votes”

    So have a second choice for Remain:- Euro and full schengen. Personally, I would chose hard Brexit as first choice and hard Remain as the second, I don’t like half measures.

  • It depends how you stage the vote and it also depends if there’s a deal to vote on. If May’s deal gets voted down or is never agreed, is anyone seriously going to propose a choice of no deal chaos, or remain? MPs may not agree that is a moral choice and rescind Article 50 after the ECJ hearing in November. If it does come to deal, no deal, or remain it could split the leave vote. There will be enough leave voters of either type whose second choice is remain which when added in the second round would favour remain. Certainly May’s blind fudge deal gives us no advantage and keeps none of the Brexit promises, so should receive widespread rejection. Well I hope so. One thing is for sure – if you are fed up of Brexit and wan’t it all to stop and go away then voting for any type of leave will not be a good idea because the arguments will continue for years a we try and cope or rebel. Remain means it can all have been a bad dream (apart from two years of paralysis we won’t get back). Farage and Johnson will be seen as busted flushes needed to be taken seriously again.

  • It depends how you stage the vote and it also depends if there’s a deal to vote on. If May’s deal gets voted down or is never agreed, is anyone seriously going to propose a choice of no deal chaos, or remain? MPs may not agree that is a moral choice and rescind Article 50 after the ECJ hearing in November. If it does come to deal, no deal, or remain it could split the leave vote. There will be enough leave voters of either type whose second choice is remain which when added in the second round would favour remain. Certainly May’s blind fudge deal gives us no advantage and keeps none of the Brexit promises, so should receive widespread rejection. Well I hope so. One thing is for sure – if you are fed up of Brexit and wan’t it all to stop and go away then voting for any type of leave will not be a good idea because the arguments will continue for years a we try and cope or rebel. Remain means it can all have been a bad dream (apart from two years of paralysis we won’t get back). Farage and Johnson will be seen as busted flushes never to be taken seriously again.

  • It’s funny how diehard remainers are now having the temerity to call for a no deal or stay in vote, instead of the previous 3 question mantra. I think they
    Know that rigging the ballot to split the leave vote would cause a national outrage. I am quite relaxed about another vote as long as it is a binary choice between the negotiated deal or leaving on WTO rules. The in/out referendum was in 2016 which parliament was fully signed up to. Remainers surely know the only way to achieve the best deal is to genuinely threaten no deal. That is why the more treacherous remainers have been advising the EU to be as difficult as possible and then to scare the living daylights out of the British public to soften them up for another in/out vote. Now that is corrupt and dishonest!

  • Peter,
    The criticism of the EU is a bit rich. Leave won the 2016 referendum because it reduced a complex question to a simple binary choice. As many have already stated, most of the argument since has been between the Conservative Party itself as it has had to face that it is impossible to deliver a Brexit that pleases everybody. Now it is becoming clear that this is the case, I cannot see a good reason not to say to the public ”The reality of Brexit is a), b) , c) etc. Do you still want to do go ahead with this? ” The Government has so far singularly failed with being honest with public, preferring to shift the blame onto the apparent intransigence of the EU. The EU has been consistent throughout by insisting we really cannot have our cake and eat it. Whatever you think, it is not treacherous to point this out. I deeply care, as I am sure many others do for the well being of all the citizens of the UK, and for us to deal with our fellow Europeans in an honest way. The Brexit vote encouraged us to vote according to our personal likes and dislikes, to the detriment of realising we are in reality a community. In 2 years of I have not heard of a single tangible benefit that will benefit the UK as a whole.

  • Peter – an interesting use of the word “treacherous”.
    I was asked the other day whether I believed in the “will of the people” – what the questioner was really asking was whether I believed that the will of the people as expressed in June 2016 was immutable. It isn’t.

    But apart from all of that if we are to have a People’s Vote on “the deal” it is essential that it is clear what the deal is. Blind Brexit is no deal Brexit. A “deal” with much to be decided at some point in the future is no deal at all.

    It is clear that in June 2016 nobody really understood what Brexit would mean. If anybody believes otherwise let them speak now!

  • “I am quite relaxed about another vote as long as it is a binary choice between the negotiated deal or leaving on WTO rules.”

    A case of ‘tales I win, heads you lose’ eh? The point is that no-one (including May) genuinely knew what Brexit was. The Strategy Dept at Jaguar actually came up with 27 scenarios for Brexit for example. The truth is, not one person will know what Brexit is until the deal is done and the Tories truthfully detail their future plans for this country for at least the remainder of this Parliament.

    Most people are now wiser about the true intent and implications of Brexit after almost 3 years of non-stop debate. So what if there is a binary ‘accept the deal/stay in the EU’ vote? If Brexiteers are that sure they’re on to a winner with Brexit, they’ll welcome it with open arms as I’m sure they’d delight in telling us ‘remoaners’, “we told you so”. People would at least be voting with their ‘eyes wide open’ this time without being lied to by messages on big red buses.

  • Peter, what on Earth makes you think remainers are advising the EU to be at all difficult? This is typical of many Brexiters, blame others for the unworkable nature of Brexit, the lack of planning by its leading backers and the sloppy approach of those tasked with delivering it.

    And I’d be careful if I were you before using the words corrupt and dishonest. Esp. given the nature of the dishonest and corrupt activities of Vote Leave and Leave.eu. Which are of course well documented.

  • Given that the vast majority of MPs know that crashing out with no deal, no transition period etc would be an absolute disaster, can it make any sense to put such an option to the electorate? I fèel sure that some sort of deal will be offered by the 27. In that case the question to the people in effect is – “This is what brexit means. Do you want it or now that you know what it means would you rather stay in the EU? ” – put more simply for the ballot paper of course. An extension of the Article 50 period would be required to complete this process.

  • Funny how the ardent remainers know brexit will be a disaster – nobody knows what the outcome will be. All I know is that project fear was wrong the first time and I am pretty sure will be wrong when we actually leave.
    As regards to advising the EU to be difficult – wasn’t it that wonderfully honest non-politician Alistair Campbell that actually did that very thing?

  • What you write resonates with my hopes. I only hope it will come to choosing between the delusional deals that have been offered up time and time again and simply staying in the EU. That will make it a simple ballot and an easy choice for any thinking person. Every one of the brexit deals offered so far have been so full of holes and so far from reality that they will, again, be rejected by the EU for all the reasons we are so familiar with. How can the voting public be offered a deal that is not going to be accepted by the EU, on a ballot paper? How can we be offered a non deal or a crashing out scenario as the only options?

    How will the extreme exiters be kept in control so that they will not endlessly sabotage any renewed relationship with the EU? Who will call for Dakre and Murdoch to stop printing lies? The so called ‘respectable’ establishment are the enemies of the people and they care only about their own objectives, whatever the costs to the rest of us.

  • Mid – August we posted our position on logistic and design of another “brexit” referendum. Here is the intoduction:

    After some discussion and exchange we remain convinced that Parliament should prepare to hold a decision-making referendum about UK and EU which will offer the following two choices:

    Approve the government’s proposal to leave the EU.
    The UK shall remain in the EU.

    The referendum ballot must logically be held only after negotiations with the EU have been completed. The government must then formulate its “proposal” for leaving the EU and present this first to Parliament for a “meaningful vote” and then to the electorate for final decision by referendum. The government’s proposal might turn out to be for a “hard” or softer “brexit”.

    A correspondent wrote to suggest a three-way choice with preference voting, two similar ideas came from an MP and an anti-“brexit” campaigner. Our reply with some discussion about how the referendum should be designed and carried out may be found at http://www.iniref.org/record28.html
    ———————–
    Michael
    for
    Campaign for direct democracy in Britain
    Citizens’ Initiative and Referendum I&R ~ GB
    http://www.iniref.org/

  • I back Michael’s comments (Iniref). There can be no “people’s mandate” to send May et al back to Brussels to renegotiate something. They had a mandate (of sorts!) in June 2016 and the current mess is what has resulted. The end point of this will either be a Chequersesque deal or (much more likely) no deal. The question for the People’s vote then is binary: Do you endorse the result of HMG’s negotiations with the EU or do you wish the UK to remain a member of the EU (on its existing terms)? The final parenthesis is something that the EU have said remains on the table until the Brexit process is complete.
    The British people could demand May for their personal unicorn and she could accept the mandate, but the British people cannot bind the EU. What is on offer in a few weeks is the only deal (no deal) that we can have – the negotiation process having drawn to a close.

  • I am an ardent remainer and in favour of a ‘Peoples’s Vote’ as it seems that it is the only way Brexit might possibly be averted. However, it seems to me that there is a fundamental flaw in the arguments for this vote: We are constantly told that the people should have a say on ‘the final deal’ – but what is meant by the ‘final deal’? I suspect that most people think we are talking about the final relationship we will have with the EU, primarily the trade arrangement we will end up with; because that is what will impact their lives most profoundly. But the ‘deal’ that is being negotiated at the moment is not about these things. The ‘Brexit deal’ (or ‘withdrawal agreement ‘) is precisely what it says – the agreement on the conditions which need to be met for the U.K. to leave the EU, ie the bill, the Irish border, EU citizens in the U.K. and vice versa and a few other very specific issues. This document, which is expected to be about 140 pages long and legally binding, will be accompanied by a much shorter (about 10 pages), legally non-binding ‘political declaration’ about the possible future relationship with the EU. This document will be kept so vague that nothing it actually says need necessarily happen. So, even if it says something about ‘aiming to achieve a Canada-style trade deal’, what will actually emerge after the years of negotiations needed after Brexit, is a complete unknown.
    So, my question is: What are we actually saying people should have ‘a final say’ on? What, for that matter, is Parliament supposed to have a ‘meaningful vote’ on? The situation is something like this: A family has decided they don’t like their current house anymore and want to sell it and move to a new one. One of them negotiates the sale of their house and informs the rest of the conditions, the asking price, etc and asks if they agree. They agree but, more importantly, they want to know where they will move to after the sale of their house. Oh, they are told, we can’t start looking for a new place until we’ve moved out of the old one. And we don’t know if the money we are making will cover the cost of a new, better house.
    Do you think that the million or so people planning to take to the streets on Saturday are aware of this situation? Of course, most of them are hoping this will all be academic because a second referendum would include the option of ‘remain’ and that they would win. (Just watch the government give us a second referendum NOT including the option ‘remain’!).
    I believe that the reason we are in this situation is because throughout the 28 months since the referendum the debate in this country has been confusing and misleading because both politicians and the media (and on forums such as this) have not been clear on the process – it is a two-phase process whereby the second phase cannot start before the first one has been completed. The EU cannot negotiate a trade deal with a country while this country is still a member of the EU. The EU has reiterated this over and over, but it seems that no none is listening on this side of the Channel. I do not understand whether this is intentional or not. And if it is intentional I don’t understand how those responsible for the misrepresentation of the facts think this benefits them or the country. Sooner or later people will become aware of the fact that ‘the people’ cannot have a say on ‘ the final deal’ before Brexit, because the final deal can only be negotiated after Brexit has happened. And that goes back to the fundamental flaw of the original referendum itself – it asked people if they want to in or out of the EU; it didn’t ask them what they wanted once outside of the EU. Of course, for some being out is the goal in itself, regardless of the price, but I don’t think that’s the case for the majority.

  • There should be two stage vote. each with a binary choice
    Stage 1 Do you accept the agreement between the British Government and
    the E U?

    Yes

    No

    if the answer is No there should be a second vote:

    Do you want to

    Remain in the EU

    Leave with no agreement

    Two simple binary choices

    If the No a sxco9nd vote should ask