We now need the honest debate we didn’t get in 2016

by Hugo Dixon | 17.12.2018

A People’s Vote is the most democratic way out of the Brexit quagmire. It is because Brexiters are afraid that the people will give the thumbs down to their project, now that they can see how rotten it is, that we have an unholy alliance between the prime minister and Boris Johnson against a new vote.

Theresa May will today tell MPs that a People’s Vote would “break faith” with the public, do “irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics” and “further divide our country at the very moment we should be working to unite it.”

Johnson, in his Telegraph column, says such a vote would “provoke instant, deep and ineradicable feelings of betrayal.” He says the 2016 referendum was “toxifying” and “divided the country”.

What cheek. The 2016 campaign was so toxic and divisive largely because the Leave campaign, which Johnson fronted, stoked xenophobia and peddled fantasies. If voters feel betrayed, it is because Parliament cannot deliver a Brexit that matches up to those fantasies.

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When the prime minister talks about breaking faith with the people and damaging the integrity of politics, doesn’t she realise that the breach of faith and lack of integrity started in 2016? And isn’t she aware that, despite her promise to be “straight” with the public, she has failed to fess up to the dismal choices the country now faces?

Even now, May is refusing to bring her miserable deal to Parliament – leading to fears that she wants to “run down the clock”, leaving MPs with no alternative to her deal apart from crashing out. If that really is her plan, faith in politics will indeed be terribly damaged.

What we now need is what we should have had all along: an honest debate. It needs to start in Parliament with a vote  ideally this week on the prime minister’s deal.

If MPs say no, the government must explore urgently whether there are any other viable Brexit options that can command a majority. It seems most unlikely that there are any, but it should check.

When all the alternatives have been explored and found wanting, the case for a People’s Vote will be overwhelming. Parliament will be deadlocked – and that will be no accident. MPs won’t be able to reach agreement because they can’t deliver on the fantasies of 2016.

In a People’s Vote, by contrast, the public will have the chance to give their considered view on the reality of Brexit. Voting on fantasies is demagogy. Voting on realities is true democracy. If the campaign is also conducted with honesty and respect on all sides, it could play a big part in bringing our country together.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

2 Responses to “We now need the honest debate we didn’t get in 2016”

  • Respecting/honouring/keeping faith with the referendum result ought to mean putting right those wrongs which led to this result. Those wrongs include low wages and poverty generally, unaffordable house prices and rents and savage cuts in public services. These problems have nothing to do with membership of the EU and leaving the EU won’t fix them.

  • The PM suggests that a second vote would be undemocratic, but wasn’t it her who called a general election on 2017, just 2 years after the 2015 one. If she thought it was in her interests, another Referendum would be very much on her agenda. Votes in quick succession, whether elections, or indeed Referendums, are called because a Government has reached an impasse. It is a logical way forward when a government is unable to implement its programme.