4 reasons we can have a People’s Vote – and stay in EU

by Luke Lythgoe | 09.10.2018

One big question hangs over a People’s Vote, as the idea gains popularity throughout the country: is it actually possible in practice? The answer is “clearly”, according to a new report by constitutional experts at UCL. It must also be seen to be legitimate. Here are four key insights and recommendations.

1. The Brexit process would need extending – and the EU would let us

The absolute minimum time needed to prepare for a People’s Vote would be 22 weeks, says UCL’s Constitution Unit. That’s because there are several processes before a referendum vote can be held: passing a bill in Parliament; testing the question(s) by the Electoral Commission; and a campaign period.

That makes a vote before the scheduled “exit day” of March 29 2019 all but impossible. The UK government must request, and the EU must agree to, an extension of the Article 50 deadline. Promisingly, EU officials have already signalled they would be willing to do this for a People’s Vote. And leaders from Emmanuel Macron to Donald Tusk have repeatedly said they would welcome the UK back. As for any clashes with the European Parliament elections, UCL’s experts say that “with political will, these obstacles could … be overcome”.

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2. There are plenty of routes to a People’s Vote

The experts reckon there are at least five technical routes to get a People’s Vote:

  • an amendment to Parliament’s “meaningful vote” on the Brexit agreement;
  • amending the bill that implements the Brexit agreement;
  • if parliament rejects May’s withdrawal agreement;
  • a failure of the UK and EU to reach any deal;
  • at some later stage, if negotiations continue beyond the current timetable.

This analysis generally aligns with the People’s Vote campaign’s ‘Roadmap to a People’s Vote’, in which John Kerr, one of the architects of Article 50, identified six plausible scenarios to get a People’s Vote. He includes a snap general election opening the way to a People’s Vote, and May herself deciding to propose one as possible ways to such a vote.

3. Staying in EU must be an option

The experts’ three “more viable” options for a question in a People’s Vote all include staying in the EU: May’s deal vs staying in the EU; no deal vs staying in the EU; and a three-option question, possibly done with an alternative vote (AV) system. Again, this conclusion matches Kerr’s analysis.

4. The franchise should not be changed – but there’s no need

The UCL team is right to say that altering the franchise, for example including 16- and 17-year-olds, would be “unwise” at this stage. One important role of a People’s Vote is to help bring a divided country back together, by averting the trauma of a hard Brexit, but doing so in a way that is democratic and hard to dispute. To add groups that weren’t allowed to vote in 2016, especially those seen as anti-Brexit, would invite accusations of rigging from Brexiters.

This should not worry pro-Europeans. Demographics are in our favour. If no one changed their 2016 vote, the natural process of young voters coming of age and older voters dying off would see a Remain majority by January 2019.

So, to conclude, this analysis from top constitutional experts shows that: a People’s Vote is possible; staying in the EU should be an option; and Brexit can be beaten in a legitimate and credible way. That should steel the resolve of pro-Europeans as we reach the climax of the EU withdrawal process.

Edited by Quentin Peel

Tags: Categories: UK Politics

6 Responses to “4 reasons we can have a People’s Vote – and stay in EU”

  • Unlike the first referendum, a second one should be legally binding so that we don’t have a repeat of the shambles of a non-legally binding opinion poll, which it took the Supreme Court to refer back to Parliament to make it binding. The first referendum statute (law) did not even state what constituted a majority (simple majority or special majority of those who voted, 40% of those entitled to vote etc). Had Cameron had the sense to make the first referendum binding and subject to a threshold of 40% of those entitled to vote, we would not be in this mess and he might still be in power, as only 37.44% of those entitled to vote voted to leave.

  • I can’t see why it is rigging the vote, to correct the anomaly of not including 16 and 17 year olds, or expatriates etc. If the injustices of last time have to be repeated, why don’t we specify covert funding from Russia and dodgy donations to the Leave side from Arron Banks ?

  • I believe that UK referenda are always ‘advisory’ so this might not be possible. The reason for this being that we are a parliamentary democracy so decisions have to be taken by parliament.

  • My dear British friends.
    I can’t help remebering Denmark in 1992 and how we managed to still be involved in EU from 1993 with exceptions to full membership.
    Maybee that could be an inspiration.
    First of all we had a free and fair debate, we had a majority in the Danish parliament outside the government, who joined government in the 1993 referendum.
    And 1993 every electoral having woting rigths in 1993 had the oppertunity to wote, also young electorals who did’nt have voting rigths in 1992.
    These basic premises where met, and in think is crucial, if you are to have a stabile democracy and a stabile political situation after a referendum.
    Just to inspire you.

  • There should be one exception to keeping the same franchise as in 2016. British citizens living aboard for more than 15 years should be allowed to vote. They were promised the vote by David Cameron before the 2015 general election, and again by Theresa May before the ‘next’ general election (scheduled for 2020). There is still no sign of the Vote for Life being implemented. However many people may object, this should be done before any more major votes are taken.