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Analysis

May like King Canute as she says “no” to People’s Vote

by Hugo Dixon | 02.09.2018

The tide is coming in fast to sweep away the prime minister’s unpopular Chequers proposal. The right choice will then be to ask the people whether they still want to quit the EU.

Theresa May’s scheme calls for us to follow many EU rules without a vote on them – and without even getting full access to its market for services, which account for 80% of our economy. No wonder it is being attacked on all sides.

The latest to put the boot in is David Davis, who was Brexit secretary until July’s Chequers summit. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show he would vote against any plan based on the Chequers proposal, which he described as “almost worse than being in” the EU because it would “dictate our future rules without us having a say”.

Similar thinking led Boris Johnson to quit the Cabinet and call on the country to “chuck Chequers”. It is also why Lynton Crosby, the Australian who masterminded May’s election campaign last year, is backing a plot by hard Brexiters to sink Chequers and potentially put Johnson in as prime minister instead of May, according to the Sunday Times.

Patriotic pro-Europeans don’t like Chequers either. I’ve described it as a “castration Brexit” because it means the exact opposite of taking back control.

What’s more, the EU won’t accept the proposal as drafted – as Michel Barner, its chief negotiator, made clear in an interview with a German newspaper at the weekend. The prime minister will have to make more concessions to get a deal.

May wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: “There will be no compromises on Chequers that are not in our national interest“. The last five words are the give-away. She knows she’ll have to make yet more climbdowns; she just plans to pretend they are in the national interest, when they won’t be. Davis rightly says the phrase is an “incredible open sesame” to yet more concessions.

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Moral case for a People’s Vote

The prime minister has also set herself firmly against holding a People’s Vote at the end of the Brexit talks. She wrote that it would be a “gross betrayal of our democracy”.

Nobody, though, should bet on her words. This is, after all, the same prime minister who kept saying she wouldn’t hold a general election – only to eat her words.

What’s more, our Parliament is sovereign. It will be MPs not May who will ultimately decide if the people should be consulted. And if there’s a stalemate at the end of the negotiations – either because she can’t get a deal or because Parliament doesn’t back it – the logical conclusion will be to ask them what they want.

In any case, the prime minister’s arguments against a People’s Vote are weak. In a democracy, people are free to change their minds. One person, one vote, one time is not democracy; it’s often the way dictators, such as Adolf Hitler and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, hang onto power.

This is not to say the people should vote again and again on the same issue. The moral case for a People’s Vote is, rather, that two years ago we had a choice between the reality of “in” and Johnson’s cake-and-eat-it fantasy of “out”. At the end of the talks, the people can choose between the reality of “in” and the miserable reality of “out”.

More and more people accept this argument. And if the prime minister can’t persuade either MPs or the people, what she says today will be irrelevant. Like King Canute, she can’t stop the tide.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “May like King Canute as she says “no” to People’s Vote”

  • Hugo, as a fan of your site, can I urge you to correct this calumny against Canute. He knew full well that he could not stop the tide but staged the whole thing as a reproof to the lickspittle flatterers in his court who kept going on about how powerful he was. The lesson was: we are human and feeble when faced with the awesome power of Nature (or God, as he would have put it). To lump such a wise ruler in with May and her gang is to do him a disservice.

  • Why a peoples vote on Brexit?

    Most that voted to leave were duped by the NHS statement bus, and other lies about immigration. Any people’s vote should be based on the validity of the claims that were proven otherwise. Davis, Farage, Boris, etal, have all ran away because they have realised that the fight they started is nothing but detrimental to our Nation. They have realised, inadvertantely, that they could be the ones responsible for the destruction of our Soverign State.