Personally, I am a supporter of the people, rather than the politicians, having the final say on the Brexit deal. However, I feel as though the way the debate has been framed around this issue has not been particularly useful – even by many of those politicians and public figures I support. The use of the term “second referendum” to describe the policy, proposed by both the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, seems to suggest that it is a re-run of the previous referendum – which isn’t the case. It is clearly a given that the Brexit negotiations need to happen, it is then an entirely different referendum on the final deal that is what is being proposed.
Having spoken to people at the doorstep in the run up to the General Election, I met one man who was going to vote for the Liberal Democrats – despite having voted leave in the referendum; he like many others voted for the UK to leave the EU, but didn’t want us to leave the single market; even someone as strongly in favour of Brexit as Nigel Farage during his campaign in the lead up to the referendum, said that we could have a deal similar to Norway’s – who notably have full access to the single market.
“Wouldn’t it be terrible if we were really like Norway and Switzerland? Really? They’re rich. They’re happy. They’re self governing.” – Nigel Farage
I am sure that others did vote leave, as they wanted an extremely hard Brexit, but it is these exact differences in reasons amongst the leave vote which mean that we need to make sure that people are content with the deal put in front of them. A referendum on the final deal does not just have to be something supported by those – like myself – who felt strongly in favour of a more prosperous, economically stable and progressive country inside the EU, but rather those who voted leave as well and don’t want to let a small group of politicians dictate to them the terms of Brexit, without being held properly accountable.
The opponents of letting the people decide on the final deal seem incredibly muddled in their reasoning. Normally, the argument goes something like:
“In the end, the vote was clear” – Michael Gove
Putting aside all of the initial problems with this statement, considering the lies that were promoted by many leave supporting politicians (notably the £350 million a week to the NHS), it fails by its own terms. It is clear that this is saying we should respect the decision that the population want – yet these same politicians now don’t want to allow the people to have what they want when it comes to the acceptance of the deal. I feel as though it is also important to note here that when people voted for the UK to leave the EU, by a slim majority, it was for a departure not a destination, hence where people wanted to arrive is not always completely “clear”.
Other politicians put different attacks at the proposal, such as the conservative candidate in Norwich South, Lana Hempsall, who claimed, during a hustings, you would need a “sliding scale of disagreement” on how far you support or do not support the deal, as you may support some of the terms and not support others, therefore it would be “unworkable”. This argument seems even more ridiculous than the first, as with any decision you ever make you have to come – considering the positives and the negatives – to a decision. Let’s say there was 100 terms. If you agree with 70 of them and disagree with 30 you would probably vote in favour of adopting the deal. Equally, if you supported 30 of the terms and disliked 70, you would presumably vote not to adopt the deal. When the vote was held on June 23rd 2016 we had a deal with Europe and we were voting on whether we kept it – we didn’t have a sliding scale then, despite the fact that people were voting on many different terms.
For me, it seems clear. People voted in favour of Brexit for many different reasons – if they feel as though the deal does not satisfy what they wanted, they surely have the right to vote against it? And if everyone who voted leave voted for a hard Brexit outside of the single market and customs union, then why do the government politicians seem so scared about letting the people vote on the final deal? Surely if they all voted for one type of divorce settlement then the deal would get passed anyway? The fact that many leading Brexiters don’t want the people to have the final say is evidence enough to suggest that they know people did not all vote for the same kind of Brexit. This is about keeping those negotiating on behalf of the UK accountable to the desires of the people and mitigating the harms that Brexit may (or realistically will) cause.
Now that the Conservatives have been told by the population that they need to form a minority government, I hope that they will come to the realisation that it is not just for them to decide the final settlement – they no longer (if they ever did) have that mandate. It should be decided by the people, not the politicians.