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Brexit camp’s referendum hypocrisy

by David Hannay | 27.05.2016

For many years those who are now leading the Leave campaign have been pressing for an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership, saying that “the people must have their say”. Their claim was that the EU had changed a lot since the 1975 referendum, which is true—but so have NATO and the UN, and no one is asking for an in/out referendum in those cases. The unannounced truth was that a referendum was the only way for the Leave side to achieve its heart’s desire, since there was no chance, and there still is none, of getting a majority for Brexit in parliament.

Well, now a referendum will take place on 23 June and its outcome will determine whether we remain in the EU. Fair enough, you might think. That should stop people banging on about Europe, which, despite the noise of the referendum campaign, is still far from being at the top of most people’s preoccupations.

If you did think that, you would be wrong, because the shadow of a “neverendum” is already hovering. Nigel Farage has talked of a second referendum if Remain wins by a relatively narrow margin; and he can be almost guaranteed to cry foul if the result does turn out that way. Meanwhile John Redwood is calling for the ejection of the Prime Minister even if he does win the referendum, no doubt hoping that he can be replaced by a hard-line Eurosceptic who would reopen the possibility of exit. The Leave campaign, the great champions of plebiscitary democracy, are thus adopting the motto which they hung round the neck of the EU of “never taking no for an answer from a referendum .”

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That is not all. In the event of a Remain victory, those Leave campaigners who continue in the Cabinet may emulate those Euroskeptics who plagued the Labour government after the referendum of 1975. Then, Tony Benn, Peter Shore and Michael Foot frustrated any attempt by the Prime Minister to play a constructive and leading role in the EU. The result was a serious loss of British influence in Europe, a split in the Labour Party, and the confinement of that party to opposition for 18 years. Who was it who said that history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce? Anyway, this is surely one more reason to hope for a substantial majority for Remain on 23 June.

Edited by Sebastian Mallaby

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One Response to “Brexit camp’s referendum hypocrisy”

  • Oh the nerve! Ask the Irish, the French and the Dutch what the EU insists on when the ‘plebiscites’ deliver a referendum
    Outcome that they don’t like….You’re scraping the barrel again, InFiction.