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5 remarkably unconvincing arguments against a People’s Vote

by David Hannay | 15.11.2018

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

Let’s be grateful for small mercies. The prime minister has openly admitted now that one possible consequence of Parliament voting down her deal would be “no Brexit” – doublespeak for the UK remaining in the EU.

That’s progress of a sort. But the government and its supporters (rather a diminished band by now) continue to pour forth a long list of arguments against holding a People’s Vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Let us look at them critically:

1. There’s no need for another People’s Vote as we already had one in June 2016.

That is a shameless evasion. When the vote took place in 2016 the electorate was told by the Leave campaign that the NHS would get the £350 million a week we (actually don’t) send to Brussels, that by the end of the decade millions of Turks would enjoy free movement and would be moving across Europe, and that we would remain in the single market. None of those things have happened or are going to happen.

And the deal reached now does not, in fact, take back control over our borders, laws and money – as the government keeps repeating metronomically. It leaves things largely as they are for 21 months and perhaps for much longer.

2. A People’s Vote would be deeply divisive.

Perhaps so. But Brexit has already divided us. Is anyone seriously suggesting that acceptance of Theresa May’s deal is not proving divisive and will not continue to be so? Many Brexiters are already plotting how to unstitch it after March 2019. And other alternatives – such as crashing out with no deal – could divide us more.

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3. Accepting the current deal would settle the Brexit issue once and for all, while holding a People’s Vote would open the door to a neverendum.

They must be joking. The prime minister’s deal programmes years ahead of tricky, contentious negotiations on a future relationship with the EU and does so without laying any solid foundations. Is it not more likely that, whatever the outcome, a People’s Vote really would settle the issue of our membership for the foreseeable future? Is any political party going to head back into the sort of experience we have been through over the last two years? And if they did, would anyone follow them?

4. There is no time to hold a People’s Vote before March 2019.

Indeed there is not. But Article 50 explicitly provides for an extension of the two-year time limit for negotiating withdrawal. If we were in the middle of a constitutional crisis over the terms of our withdrawal would the EU be likely to refuse some additional time to sort things out? Surely not.

5. There is a real risk that rejection of the deal will lead to the UK going over the cliff in March 2019 without any deal at all.

That risk exists purely and simply because the government insists that that is the only alternative to accepting the pretty miserable deal they have negotiated. Given the parliamentary arithmetic, the simplest way out to avoid no deal is a People’s Vote.

So, there you see the main arguments against holding a People’s Vote. Each one is less convincing than its predecessor. Each one leads back to the simple question “Why are we going through this agony anyway?” It might be a good idea to let the electorate have its say by answering that question now that a clearer picture of what is at stake has emerged.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

Tags: Categories: UK Politics

2 Responses to “5 remarkably unconvincing arguments against a People’s Vote”

  • A People’s Vote is far more likely to be a fairer fight than the last Referendum. If Leave won that vote then I would consider the matter settled. No longer would I complain that folk were misled as to what Brexit would look like, that Remain was badly led by a complacent prime minister trying not to antagonise his own party or that massive cheating by the other side* procured the result. Here lies the healing process. Should Remain win, the status quo ante prevails. How can that divide anyone? Hey?

    * this time, we will also cheat 😉