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7 reasons why it now makes sense to consult the people again

by Denis MacShane | 13.10.2019

When the People’s Vote campaign got going, the Labour Party leadership found plenty of reasons to oppose it. But bit by bit, shadow cabinet members are embracing the idea. What’s more, they are increasingly backing the plan to hold a referendum before an election.

The latest to confess a change of mind is Rebecca Long-Bailey. In a fluent interview on the Andrew Marr Show she said she was now warming to the idea. She follows John McDonnell in GQ last week. Even Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t categorically opposed to a referendum before an election on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday, deliberately avoiding the question.

Labour MPs understand that if they vote for Boris Johnson’s deal – assuming he gets one – it means going into an election having handed him the biggest possible victory as the man who delivered Brexit. Meanwhile, if the Prime Minister doesn’t get a deal and Labour agrees to an election, the party could get slaughtered because its Brexit policy in such a scenario would be convoluted.

But quite apart from narrow electoral calculation, here are seven reasons why we now need a People’s Vote.

1) MPs should never forget the David Davis dictum that “if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.” 

2) We are now in the fourth year of Brexit and it is normal to ask voters every four years or so if they are happy with the direction of travel of country or if they want to change minds.

3) We know all sorts of new facts that were simply not part of the emotional and populist debate on Europe in the years leading up to June 2016. For example, how difficult it will be to keep the Irish border open while quitting the EU. If the Brexit camp is so sure the entire nation is determined to amputate Britain from Europe, why are they so frightened of a referendum?

4) There are many more young voters who will be most affected by losing their rights to live, work and eventually retire in Europe.

5) A key proponent of a second referendum was Dominic Cummings. He told the Economist in 2016 there was a “strong democratic case for a second referendum on the final terms of Brexit, if the first vote is for Out”. 

6) It is quite normal in other countries to revote if new facts emerge. Both Denmark and Ireland initially voted to say “No” to EU Treaties but upon reflection decided to ask people again and changed their minds. Norway voted twice on joining Europe and twice voted No. So even if people decide they still want to quit when they’ve looked at the facts, that would be better than leaving without another democratic event.

7) Switzerland is the home to referendums with a commitment to direct democracy recognised all over the world. The Swiss had to vote five times in referendums on votes for women before it was agreed. It would be absurd to say that, having decided once that women shouldn’t have the vote, they should never have been allowed it.

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Edited by James Earley

Categories: UK Politics

4 Responses to “7 reasons why it now makes sense to consult the people again”

  • Yes, a second referendum after more than three years of Brexit debate. Agree a priori to require, as the Canadians do on questions of major importance that the second referendum results in a a more than simple majority, e.g., 55% or 60% to determine the result. And agree further either to keep voting until that higher margin is achieved.

  • I see the attraction of a new referendum but I’m hesitant in believing the result will be any different. May even be a bigger OUT vote. The polls are unreliable – as we’ve seen in recent years.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • There is one overarching reason for a second referendum: decent, honest, clear and sympathetic political effort. That is the main problem!