Over 4 million people have signed a petition calling for a 2nd EU referendum. This call has been rejected by the government, although it may yet be debated in Parliament.
Many Leavers are vocally critical of this. But could it actually be those in favour of Brexit who would benefit from a second referendum?
The Referendum We Had Was Democratic
Before we consider a second referendum, it must be acknowledged that the existing referendum was more democratic than pretty much anything that went before it:
- Each vote counted equally.
- There was a greater turnout in terms of voter numbers than ever before.
- Large numbers of people specifically registered to vote.
But was it democratic enough?
Who Is Calling For a 2nd Referendum?
Nigel Farage was apparently the first person to suggest this. Or to be more accurate before the referendum he suggested a 48/52% split should not end the matter.
Now you would expect any person of integrity who seriously believes this as a point of principle to be vigorously campaigning for it, regardless of which way the result went. But Mr. Farage remains “surprisingly” quiet on the issue.
It seems likely that most, if not all, of the 4.1 signatures on the petition are from those who voted to remain in the EU.
Whilst this is a substantial figure, it would only become really significant if it exceeded the number of people who voted to leave the EU … and it is a long way from that.
Why Have a Second Referendum?
There are several arguments in favour of a 2nd referendum:
- Unsafe Margin: This is one of the very few issues on which I agree with Mr. Farage. A 3.8% margin seems a very tenuous figure on which to make such a momentous decision. The government is on very dubious ground claiming it has a “clear” mandate based on those statistics.
- 16/17-Year-Olds Denied Democracy: Whether you believe a Brexit promises a golden age or heralds disaster, it cannot be denied that the youngest in society will on average live the longest with the consequences of this decision. It seems unfair to deny them the democratic right to vote.
- Voter Apathy: The 28% who did not bother voting probably did so because, like everyone else, they assumed Remain would win and their vote would not matter. They may just have woken up to the importance of voting and it would seem reasonable to give them a chance to vote now they understand the importance.
- Misinformation: Remainers have accused the Vote Leave campaign of fooling the public with inaccurate information such as the now debunked £350m figure and potentially false promises on immigration. Leavers sneer at this, suggesting that virtually nobody has changed their mind. But I know a couple of people in this position, so do several friends. Perhaps I live in some unique enclave that does not represent the rest of the country. But a second referendum would put this to the test.
- Unhelpful Influences: A number of parties, e.g. the Bank of England, tried to help the Remain campaign but unfortunately may have had the opposite effect. The worst case of this was Barak Obama’s misguided intervention. I have heard at least 3 different accounts were people switched from Remain to Leave because of this. Whilst it is hardly a rational basis for making a pivotal decision that will shape the country’s future, the emotional reasons for people making this switch is understandable. Nobody likes outsiders interfering and certainly not threatening them.
How Could a 2nd Referendum Help the Leave Side?
Many Remainers seem to believe that a second referendum would result in a swing back to Remain, as people fooled by Vote Leave rhetoric wake up to the truth or realise that their vote actually counts. Of course that could turn out to be the case.
But that is quite an assumption. Imagine that a second referendum returned the same 52/48% result in favour of Leave. Whilst the margin would still be just as narrow, it would confirm the original referendum accurately reflected the will of the British people.
At the moment we have a very divided country due to the concerns on the Remain side about the motivating factors behind the result.
But a repeat of that result would mean that Remainers would no longer credibly be able to claim that people had voted Leave by mistake, due to believing propaganda or as a protest vote. This could help to heal some of the division.
But it could be even better than that for the Brexit side. Some people who were previously unsure of whether it is wise to Brexit may now see the stock markets have recovered after their initial wobble & be encouraged by the queue of countries waiting to form trade agreements with us. So a second referendum could deliver a more decisive vote for the EU, e.g. a 60% majority in favour of leaving.
What Are Those Who Want Brexit Frightened Of?
So, the question is: what are the Leavers frightened of? If you truly believe that more than half the country is in favour of leaving the EU, then put it to the test.
Have a second referendum and when it returns another victory for Vote Leave, this will prove you are right and silence all but the most extreme end of the Remain camp.
But whether or not there is another referendum it is time for you to stop calling Remainers “anti-democratic” who:
- Exercise their democratic right to hold a protest to demonstrate their deeply held concerns about the potential implications of the Brexit.
- Exercise a tool of democracy by signing a petition to ask the government to consider holding a 2nd referendum – which is not an unprecedented event.
- Exercise their democratic right to freedom of speech, even if their opinion is not one you agree with.
- Want a second referendum because they believe that democracy should be thorough.
- Want 16/17 year olds to have a right to democracy.
Calling Remainers “anti-democratic” because they exercise their democratic right to demonstrate, sign a petition or voice their opinion is just as inaccurate, offensive and intellectually lazy as calling people “racists” because they voted Leave or want a sensible discussion about immigration.
People Had Good Reasons to Vote Leave
It is insulting to Leavers to suggest they are either racist or too stupid to understand the arguments. Many who voted Leave did so out of firmly held concerns and convictions such as:
- Uncontrolled Immigration: It was clear from TV interviews with Leavers that they recognised and welcomed the contribution immigrants have made and continue to make to our society but they wanted a sensible discussion about immigration.
- Loss of Democracy: Concerns about the loss of democracy to the EU parliament. After all, we entered a trade agreement in 1973 not a political union.
- Globalisation: As a protest against globalisation and the feeling that big business is getting away with too much whilst the ordinary person pays the price.
- Austerity/Poverty: Even though these problems mainly stem from the failure of successive UK governments rather than the EU, it is entirely understandable that in areas where people struggle to find work or make ends meet they may simply have voted for a change from the status quo in the hope of a brighter future.
People Had Good Reasons to Vote Remain
Remainers recognise the same problems with the EU as the Leavers do. Most people – regardless of how they voted – are unhappy with how much power has shifted to Brussels, the excessive bureaucracy or how much of a gravy train it has become.
Voting to Remain does not mean people were too stupid to understand the problems but instead felt that leaving was not the right way of solving the problem.
- Easier to Fix From Inside: In any organisation it is easier to change things from the inside than outside. Imagine the Brexit had returned the 52/48% split for Remain. This would have sent a shockwave through the EU that they had almost lost us. That combined with the fact we are far from the only member state expressing dissatisfaction with the loss of sovereignty may well have led to change. On the morning of June 24, Marine Le Pen of the French Front Nationale already called for a Frexit and Geert Wilders of the Dutch PVV (Freedom Party) called for a Nexit.
- Economy: We benefit greatly from trade with the EU. Whilst it is far from impossible to forge another path, we have just had several years of economic troubles and austerity. Just as our economy was starting to pick up again, many may not have wanted to risk further instability and austerity.
- Globalisation: Many problems of globalisation – including the failure to get enough tax revenues from global companies – need cross-border solutions and it is easier to address this as part of the EU than on our own.
- Strength in Collaboration: The world is changing with new major economies rising whilst European countries struggle economically. At the same time there are concerns about political instability in a number of countries and we are seeing an increasingly aggressive stance from Russia. A united Europe has a better chance of prospering and standing up to those influences than a divided one does.
Counting the Cost
One of the things that nobody seems to be discussing yet is what the process of leaving the EU will cost. There are 43 years worth of rules, regulations and documentation to go through to determine what we want to keep or reject.
That’s going cost billions and will be great news for employment of civil servants, lawyers, administrators, translators, accountants, etc. Not necessarily such good news for other sectors or regions outside of London though.
Golden Future or End of the World?
Long term I am quite certain that Britain will do well outside of the EU just as I am certain we would have done well had we chosen to stay.
Much will depend on whether Theresa May negotiates access to the single market at the cost of free movement – in which case Leavers will feel betrayed – or takes a hard line on immigration at the expense of trading tariffs that may push up prices.
Politically it sends a dangerous signal to the remaining member states if the EU gives us access to the single market without the need for free movement of EU citizens. They would be saying loud and clear that there are only benefits and no sanctions for leaving the club. That could spell the end of the entire EU … which may of course have eventually happened even had we voted to Remain.
Of course we’re a big economy and net contributor to the EU, so we may just get to have our cake and eat it. But it may be less cake and more fudge where we end up with an agreement that looks in all but name like access to the free market with a more limited version of free movement.
The Medium Term
But in the short to medium term – perhaps 5 to 15 years – I think we may be in for a bumpy ride. Some things are bound to improve; other things will get worse.
- Stock Markets: Stock markets always wobble whenever there is uncertainly and it is not surprising that a major decision like the Brexit made them run to the toilet. They do bounce back – and for now already have – or they find a new level. But a bouncy market it does not make for stable investments.
- Sterling: A weak sterling can help exporters – at least until any tariffs may kick in – and helps tourism as it becomes cheaper for people to visit our country. But it’s not great news for anyone planning their summer holiday.
- Housing Market: It has been suggested house prices may either fall or not rise so quickly. As we have unaffordably high house prices due to policy failure by successive governments, this may not be a bad thing.
- Pensions: The return on your pension pot has fallen since the Brexit vote and this trend looks set to continue. This is not good news for anyone coming up to retirement.
- Lack of Investment: Companies that are either already in the UK or were thinking of coming here are holding tight at present. Just like the stock markets, companies like stability and may not be willing to invest if they think that investment is at risk. The next few years will probably see some companies withdraw from the UK. But others may well invest here, seeing new opportunities during the instability or in an EU-free Britain.
- New Trade Agreements: There are countries lining up to make trade agreements with us now that we have signalled our exit from the EU, so this could provide a welcome boost to our economy.
- Changing Job Market: Depending on exactly what the rules are regarding EU citizens working in the UK, the job market is likely to change.
- Some jobs will go due to changing economic pressures or as some companies relocate away from Britain … but it’s not all a negative picture.
- Those working in skilled professions such builders, electricians, plumbers and carpenters may find that they are no longer undercut by EU counterparts driving down wages. The flipside is that home improvements may cost more and good luck those already struggling to find a tradesman in London.
- Job vacancies could well arise in hotels, if reception, waiting and kitchen jobs can no longer be filled by EU citizens. At the same time the hotel trade may do very well as people unable to afford a holiday abroad decide to staycation or those who were living on the Costa del Sol return to the UK, if it is no longer economically or politically viable to stay there.
- The care sector is already crying out for staff with some established care homes withdrawing from providing places for councils, as the latter see their budgets slashed and cannot pay enough. So there will be plenty of scope for new cheaper care homes to be set up with staff on minimum wage.
- If EU citizens cannot come to the UK to carry out seasonal jobs such as fruit harvesting, this may provide a welcome opportunity for those struggling to find work to fill the gap – either locally or migrating to another part of the country for the summer.
Lots of things may change – but the one thing I am certain of is that it will be a mixed picture – not all of it good and not all of it bad.
One thing that will not help our country is if we tear ourselves apart with bickering and inflammatory accusations.
It is clear that there are strong arguments on both sides of the debate and – regardless of how people voted – many people did so in an informed, intelligent manner from a point of deeply held conviction.
It is time to stop using childish, pejorative terms such as “Remainiac” or “Bridiot”. Our politicians may set us a bad example with jeering, booing and personal attacks in the House of Commons but we can set them a better example of reasoned discussion rather than insults and divisive rhetoric.
The Leave side needs to stop calling Remainers “anti-democratic” and allow them to go through the democratic routes of voicing their opinion, signing petitions, demonstrating and, if necessary, bringing legal challenges to the Brexit. This is due process and part of a democratic society.
The Remain side needs recognise that – whilst far from perfect – the referendum was a more democratic process than almost any in our history and the results stand. If we do not get a second referendum – and it seems unlikely – then we will have to accept that result and help work towards the best version of Britain we can achieve.