Checking will of the people is best way out of Brexit mess

by Ros Altmann | 01.06.2018

Parliament and the government have been working for nearly two years to implement the result of the EU referendum, respecting the 2016 decision. It has become increasingly clear, however, that the promises made by the Leave campaign cannot be delivered.

The British people were assured that leaving the EU would achieve significant extra sums to spend on priorities such as the NHS. Yet only last week the government was advised that it must raise huge amounts of new tax revenue to secure the survival of our cherished health services.

The people were told that agreeing new trade arrangements with the EU would be simple and that we could have the advantages of our existing European trade ties while also striking excellent new deals elsewhere. That’s not true. Indeed it looks likely we will lose trade ties we currently have.

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People were also told that there would be no changes to the Northern Ireland border. That assurance now rings hollow.

Meanwhile, scant mention was made of leaving the customs union and single market which are so crucial to the success of our industries.

Surely democracy demands that Parliament takes account of these new facts. Either parliamentarians themselves should decide whether the terms on which the UK is able to leave are in line with the expressed “will of the people” in 2016 or they should ask the people.

The referendum demanded respect, not blind obedience and, if it is not clear that the real-world version of Brexit can achieve the benefits that the British people were promised, surely the most democratic decision would be to check again before making any final and irreversible decisions.

How can people reject the idea of just checking whether what can be achieved is what the people do actually want? Especially as it has not been possible to deliver what they were told Brexit would mean.

Brexiters claim they own the ‘democracy’ and ‘respect for the will of the people’ arguments. But surely pursuing true democratic principles means making sure the will of the people is still respected if circumstances have changed, rather than forcing the country to accept something that may be radically different from what voters had in mind in 2016. That is not about voting for ever, but about giving the people a final say now we have some idea of what is involved!

Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Checking will of the people is best way out of Brexit mess”

  • All very well said. The Leave vote in the referendum was achieved by promising all things to all people, many mutually inconsistent, as is now fully apparent – freedom from Brussels legislation, minimal immigration (from anywhere or the EU27 only?), new trade deals for the UK with the rest of the world, and unfettered free trade with the EU27. No mention of any significance from the Leave campaign of: losing all the trade deals the EU already has with many third countries; the loss from London of the EU’s valuable Medicines Agency and Banking Authority, or of Euratom (why should there have been, as it is not even an EU institution and so was not up for debate?); the Irish border and the GFA; Gibraltar; the massive costs of replicating the EU chemicals and pharmaceuticals regimes, or of the years needed to do that, and of recruiting for and setting up new customs posts at all our points of contact with the EU27; the rights of UK citizens living and working elsewhere in the EU to continue doing so; and many other crucial issues too numerous to list here. Any tentative mention by a Remainer of any of these things was dismissed as the groundless vapourings of an old misery-guts trying to promote Project Fear.

    Had the referendum required votes to be cast for just one only of the various possible ways of Leaving, there is no way the only one that is undoubtedly possible – crashing out with no deal – à la Minford – would have won a majority over the Remain’s 48%. Nor, I suggest, would the option most likely to be offered have succeeded, namely staying in the Customs Union and the Single Market (or in an arrangement that amounts to essentially the same thing), as that has been dismissed by many, perhaps most, Leavers as the worst of all worlds, where the UK would forever be a rule taker but not a rule maker.

    It would be madness for the UK to leave the EU for a role that only a minority of the electorate wants, because of an almost entirely uninformed vote on 23rd June 2016. Given the massive change in circumstances since the referendum – not least Donald Trump showing that an easy favourable deal between the UK and the US is the fantasy it always was – we must ask the electorate to tell us whether they are still sure they want to leave the EU and accept the submissive role that will be the only alternative on offer.

  • We most certainly do need another referendum, with clear honest real information provided.
    But is that possible, without a gagging order of some sort, the media outlets owned by Murdoch, Harmsworth, Desmond the Barclays and others, will continue to misdirect the electorate with impunity.
    Arron Banks and his cronies, including farage, will feed the media with more lies, as they did before in 2016.
    As we have a corrupt government, who will pull any trick to stay in power, and take us out of the EU in March 2019, what are the chances of a clean honest referendum result? None, I would suggest.
    Unless the courts can be relied on to adjudicate honestly, and the electoral commission can, for once, do their job properly, with adequate powers, any new referendum will end up with a false result.
    As May and her cronies can control the electoral commissions powers, and they only deal with past misdemeanours, after the damage has been done.
    May/Davis/Rees-Mogg/Gove at al. and farage, will sit crowing with glee at the media trash put before the electorate, and a false result will be hers.
    This article from 2013 is very largely still true today, read and weep, our democracy is a sham, while these media barons continue to influence our futures.

  • I am grateful to Graham Greenwood for the article on press ownership in the UK. It is a major problem for the democratic system that the freedom of the press is abused in this way. It does indeed make one weep for our country when one sees the damage this abuse does of which Brexit is a flagrant example. So much for the “will of the people “. Is there no way in which this problem can be addressed?