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Analysis

Why FT’s Munchau is wrong on not giving voters final say

by Hugo Dixon | 26.01.2018

In his zealous conversion to Brexit and his campaign against giving UK voters the final say on whatever deal Theresa May manages to negotiate with the EU, FT columnist Wolfgang Munchau makes a series of implausible assumptions in his FT column this week.

First, he assumes the only way of giving voters the final say would be to have a general election. This is not so. Parliament could approve a referendum without a general election.

Second, he asserts that it would be impossible to come up with a good question in such a referendum. I see no problem with the one Munchau rejects: “Do you accept the withdrawal agreement or do you want to stay in the EU?” But if MPs really wanted to add a third option – quitting the EU with no deal – the question could include that as an alternative too.

Third, Munchau says it is wrong to assume that the UK could revoke the Article 50 process unilaterally. He is entitled to his own legal opinion, but he should at least be aware that John Kerr, the senior diplomat who helped write Article 50, disagrees – as do eminent QCs, who published a legal opinion on the issue this month.

Munchau also provides no shred of evidence for his contention that the EU would do away with Margaret Thatcher’s famous budget rebate as the price for staying. If we are free to revoke Article 50, the EU would have no legal basis to question the rebate.

In the past 10 days, Emmanuel Macron, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker have also said loud and clear that they would love the UK to stay in the EU. The public shouldn’t let Munchau persuade them otherwise.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Why FT’s Munchau is wrong on not giving voters final say”

  • well, to be honest, Munchau (like his colleague Payne) is very much a pompous twat.
    in his desire to bill himself as a contrarian, he’d not just debase himself to be in line with the right-wing london-centric press establishment, but he would also cobble all sort of anti-EU, anti-European, anti-left mumbo-jumbp and try to pass it as a reasoned argument.
    I’ve long since lost any interest in his ramblings. or given him any importance whatsoever.

  • Looking at the articles he’s been writing for Prospect Magazine over the years I’d class him as at best Euro-sceptic for the best part of the last decade, rather than a fairly recent convert to Brexit. Even in 2015 he was arguing the case for staying in the EU, if there was one, was not economic.

  • Yes, but a three-question referendum does not work. What if the result is something like 38-32-30, as it very well might be.
    Two further points.
    1) I think’s it far more likely that a new referendum would ask Norway or Canada, with WTO ruled out. This would take the first referendum result as a given and develop the chosen option further. This choice is, after all, the dominant question now.
    2) More important, so far as the original yes / no is concerned, is whether the EU would accept the UK back in the fold. Certain people are giving encouraging noises, but I suspect that this is because the EU is about to hand the UK a proper kicking, as in here’s the transition deal and it’s either Norway, Canada or WTO, take your poxy pick. Being nice to your opponent before, during and after a kicking is always good politics especially when said opponent is still going to be sitting 30 miles off your NW coast after it’s all over. I suspect the real EU attitude is:
    ‘Will Someone Please Rid Me Of These Bothersome Islanders’