Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The case for a second referendum

The EU referendum on 23rd June has thrown the UK into a state of political chaos. We are a rudderless ship on stormy waters drifting towards a sandbank. We have 3 or 4 months under a lame duck Prime Minister, followed by, God help us, the possibility of PM Boris Johnson.
Meanwhile Labour is having a spasm.
Hate crimes are happening.
World leaders and politicians are aghast apart from Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, Gert Wilders and other European neo-fascists.
The markets are reeling, sterling has fallen, Standard & Poor have stripped us of AAA rating and trading was stopped on RBS and Barclays yesterday.

If some idiot goes ahead and invokes Article 50 that sets in train our withdrawal form the EU, we open up the following problems:
  1. Scotland
  2. Ireland
  3. Gibraltar
  4. Calais
  5. Trade with the EU
  6. Issue new Passports to everyone who needs one
  7. The situation for Brits abroad
  8. The position of EU citizens in Britain
  9. A huge raft of legislation changes
  10. Unwelcome changes in the EU itself, including the possibility of a general economic and political collapse.
  11. Other things we are not expecting

Of course, it may all be all right. Boris, Gove and Nigel may come up with a plan and exert inspiring leadership, the other EU countries may behave like perfect gentlemen and ladies, it won't matter that our imports are more expensive and our exports will be subject to protracted negotiations, and all this will have no effect on our balance of trade, and we may develop a new export line in flying pigs.

On the other hand, it may not be all right. It is likely that Boris, Govey and Nigel were wrong, the nine authoritative economic bodies were right, and that Brexit is going to hurt our economy to the point of bringing on another, self-inflicted, recession. 

In view of the seriousness of the consequences of leaving the EU, it would be wise to consider whether we should have a second referendum.

This is the case for the second referendum:

  1. The referendum is not legally binding, only advisory. Nobody is obliged to act on bad advice based on emotion and false information.
  2. It is not correct to say that the democratic will of the people is to Leave. It is very clearly the case that the nation is in two minds over the EU. It is true that Leave was first past the post, and has a 4% majority consisting of 1.3 million votes. which was slightly more than the Green Party's vote of 1.2 million in the 2015 general election. The Green vote produced 1 MP. Is it really right and proper that a similar number of people should be able to plunge our country into chaos?

    Legislation demands that a minimum of 40% of the eligible electorate must vote for a public sector strike for it to be legal. The Leave vote amounted to 37% of the eligible electorate.
    The problem here is that the European Referendum Act 2015 was designed with a simple majority, where 50%+1 vote can win. This is clearly an absurd rule. It is usual  in the case of constitutional change that a supermajority, where a clear and significant majority is required (60/40, 66/33 for example), is used. We need to know who opted for a simple majority and why.

    UKIP cannot complain about the second referendum because Farage said in May that a 48/52 result would be "unfinished business".
  3. The newspaper coverage was not balanced. One study showed that for every single newspaper article advocating Remain, there were no less than four advocating Leave. This is a distortion of the democratic process.
  4. There are many reports of people regretting their Leave vote, once they realised what it meant. The Mail and the Sun have both explained what Leave meant (after the vote), and their reader comments make interesting reading. Even Kelvin MackKenzie, the abrasive Sun columnist, regrets his vote.
    More than 1.1 million are estimated to wish to change their vote.
  5. Many voters feel that they were misinformed by the newspapers before they voted.
  6. A common complaint of those who regretted their Leave vote was that they were misinformed.
    There were three main lies told by the leave campaign:
    5.1 The £350 million per week for the NHS promise which was denied within hours of the result.
    5.2 The promise that Brexit would cut immigration was denied by Dan Hannan MEP, a prominent Leave campaigner, again within hours of the result.
    5.3 Imminent Turkish accession to the EU was claimed by Leave

    In addition to these three, David Cameron claimed 6 lies by Leave:
    5.4 That the UK is liable for future eurozone bailouts. Cameron says his EU renegotiation means Britain is categorically not liable.
    5.5 That Britain’s EU rebate is at risk. Cameron says the British prime minister has a veto on changes to the rebate.
    5.6 That Britain has given up its ability to veto EU treaties. The prime minister says there is nothing in the EU renegotiation that relinquishes the UK’s veto.
    5.7 That Britain cannot stop overall EU spending from going up. Cameron says the EU budget is set in stone until 2020 and can only be changed with the consent of all countries.
    5.8 That the UK is powerless to stop itself becoming part of an EU army. He says Britain has a “rock solid veto” on EU foreign and defence policy.
    5.9 That leaving the EU would save Britain £8bn. He says this claim was debunked on Monday by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said a Brexit would mean spending less on pubic services, or taxing more, or borrowing more.

    There are likely to be other lies that could be identified, but these 9 will be enough to make a case that the voters were misled.
  7. There is a precedent for a second referendum: Ireland held a referendum in 2008 on the EU Lisbon Treaty. It was rejected 53/47 (turnout 53%). The Irish Government asked for the reason for the rejection. A common reason given was inadequate information. Negotiations followed, and a second referendum accepted Lisbon 67/33 (turnout 59%)

    In fact the present referendum can itself be seen as a second referendum, since we were asked whether we should leave the EC in 1975. 67% decided to remain.
In conclusion, there is a good case to be made for a second referendum. It could be scheduled as soon as the practical ballot arrangements can be made. Changes should be made, so that a supermajority should be set that must be passed before we leave. All claims made by campaigners should be examined and verified. Newspapers must simply make equal amounts of space available to the campaigns, and broadcasters likewise must allow equal time for campaigns to make their pitches. 

A second referendum is possible. In the meantime if you haven't signed the petition calling for a second referendum, now is the time to do it. It is an imperfect petition, and although it has been hacked, the spurious signatures have been removed, and it remains a useful focus for bringing pressure for a second referendum. Also write to your MP asking for this.

The show ain't over until some fat idiot presses the Article 50 button. 


Anonymous said...

There is a question regarding the potential effective veto by the Scottish Parliament over UK law change in relation to Brexit because of the requirement for a motion of legislative consent in the Scottish Parliament. Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that with regard to Brexit because of the clear view of the Scottish people in support of remaining in the EU this legislative consent would not be given. It is I think possible for a Westminster government to choose to ignores this but this would surely be contrary to the principle of devolved government within the UK and the vow in support of this made by all parties at the time of the Scottish referendum.

This looks to be the only democratic check on the absurd way in which the referendum
was set up. But the potential of its application needs to be established

Richard Lawson said...

Thanks for that helpful addition.

Anonymous said...

Further to this it looks like the SNP will use the present situation to to try to get immediately to a further Scottish Independence referendum and thus not focus on the constitutional questions raised in my earlier comment. But I think that the Westminster Parliament should be challenged on this issue to make it clear that by ignoring these issues arising from the EU referendum in relation to the democracatic principles of devolution, the UK government is effectively choosing itself to directly bring about dissolution of the United Kingdom