Expert View

Better to hold new Brexit vote than rush to revoke

by David Hannay | 20.05.2019

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

Both Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry are now arguing in favour of revoking the UK’s Article 50 notification without further ado. Their Change UK colleague Heidi Allen, interim leader of the new party, has applied for an emergency debate on the matter in Parliament. They argue that there is no chance of holding a referendum before October 31 and that the 27 other EU countries will not agree to a further extension of the cut-off date beyond that deadline.

Whatever one may think of the legitimacy of cancelling the outcome of the 2016 referendum without another public vote, the assumption about the irrevocable nature of the October deadline seems to be extraordinarily premature at this point of time – and very possibly moot even when that date comes closer.

After all the toings and froings that went on right down to the wire on March 29 and April 12, who can possibly predict six months in advance what decisions will be taken at the end of October?

For one thing, we cannot at this stage know what the circumstances will be when those decisions come to be taken. Will the processes of appointing new leadership teams for the EU institutions have gone reasonably smoothly, without the UK trying to upset them? Probably yes, is the best answer as of today. Will the UK have acted in the meantime as a wrecker in other EU decision making? Probably not. Will the UK by then have moved, or be moving towards, either a general election or, more likely, another referendum? Who can say, with the near certainty of a Conservative leadership election in the offing and the unknown consequences in terms of parliamentary arithmetic?

Given the impossibility of answering any of these questions now, can anything be usefully said about whether the EU will have more appetite in October for the UK leaving without a deal than they did in March or April? It is hard to see that appetite growing irresistibly, however fed up everyone in Brussels and the other EU capitals may be with the whole Brexit imbroglio. It is opinion in those capitals which will matter in October. The EU’s institutions will still be settling down after the European Parliament elections and will be in no shape to give a strong lead, in contrast to their role in Brexit negotiations up to now.

Is this just an argument in favour of more can kicking of the sort so loved by Theresa May? Certainly not. It is an argument for pressing on with the case for giving the electorate the final say on Brexit so that, if more time is needed in October, the prospect of such a decision being made in the near future is clear.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “Better to hold new Brexit vote than rush to revoke”

  • Agreed: it seems likely that even Macron won’t oppose a further extension if the electoral period for a new public vote is under way by 31st Oct.
    It may be that Change UK wanted to differentiate itself from Greens, Lib Dems, so as to seem even more firmly pro Remain than the others.
    And maybe it’s good that Revoke should be uppermost on someone’s table. There could come a time when Parliament found it easier to revoke than legislate for a new public vote. 1. So many have repeatedly said that a new public vote is contrary to democracy, and these people can hardly think it better than Revoke. 2. What’ll be on the ballot for a new public vote now that few Leavers can so much as imagine Leaving except that it’s Leaving-without-a-Deal? 3. Civility has come to be more and more lacking, and that can only get worse if we have Farage pitted against those who don’t lie.

  • It’s been difficult to recognise fact/fiction over the last few years….broken red lines, switched sides from one argument to another etc,etc…I’m sure we all remember them. Why is it more difficult to arrange a new (third), EU referendum than the unexpected or planned MEP vote this week? What’s the difference? Same locations, same staff, zero candidates. Of course, it might take a zillion years to agree the questions. What do I know… David….keep writing….would you like to be PM?

  • I quite agree with the above analysis. Having made the enormous mistake of delegating the decision to ” the people” it is only the ” people ” at this stage who can decide to cancel Brexit. It is possible that the circumstances will change in the future which might make it appropriate to revoke Article 50 but this is certainly not the case at the moment.

  • Revocation of Art. 50 should only be used ‘in extremis’ i.e. as an emergency measure of last resort, when literally no other means exists to prevent a chaotic and uncontrolled exit from the EU without a deal.

  • So all those who say it should be just cancelled because it’s the wrong decision or because it too difficult to carry through please think very carefully about what you are saying people have died and are still dying today around the world for the right to vote which can not and will not be dismissed so easily no matter how much you can try and justify it with what seems like a good reason becuses do it once no matter how justifiable it may be the second time will be alot easier and then soon it will asked why bother having a democracy anyway the people always get it wrong so we might as well just tell them whats happening and soon the government won’t even do that.