Over the course of the last twelve months, the campaign for a public vote on the final Brexit deal has snowballed from a fringe collection of backbench MPs to one of the largest political movements in a generation, with 700,000 marching through London on 20 October.
MPs from all sides of the Commons continue to pledge their support, whilst modelling of the parliamentary arithmetic suggests there would be a clear majority for a People’s Vote with the support of the Labour front bench.
As a representative of ‘Our Future, Our Choice’, I have witnessed first-hand the passion and energy behind this campaign: its mobilisation of young people in particular has been inspiring.
However, it is an inescapable fact that a large number of voters could imagine nothing worse than another referendum, and many more simply do not think it would be right to ask people to vote again on a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.
So instead of regurgitating the same economic arguments against Brexit, I will attempt to debunk some of the myths surrounding the People’s Vote campaign, in the interests of providing clarity to our goals and enabling as reasoned a discussion as possible.
First, by far the most common rebuttal of the campaign is that it would be a betrayal of the British public to ask them to vote again and, however it is branded, the People’s Vote campaign is inescapably asking for a re-run of the 2016 referendum.
This would be true if the question we were proposing to ask the electorate was ‘Remain vs. Leave’, again; with no clear definition of what ‘leave’ meant and with ‘remain’ symbolising a continuation of the status quo. But we are two and a half years on from the vote in 2016 and the circumstances have changed immeasurably.
At the very least, Theresa May’s deal (assuming it exists) will be a tangible proposal that outlines the terms of our divorce with the EU. I’m not sure anyone, myself included, could have anticipated how badly these negotiations would go and it is an insult to the British public to assume that a majority voted to make themselves poorer.
Indeed, even if people chose to accept the deal and the Remain option loses (again), this would still be preferable to ploughing on without consultation. At least the country would have had the opportunity to realise what Brexit actually meant.
Of course, it would be naïve to suggest that a public vote on the final deal would be one conducted purely on the economic merits of Chequers-lite. However, if the campaign is even 10% more facts-based than the first and if both sides abide by electoral law, at least some illusion of democracy might be restored.
Consider this in the context of an election. Suppose two years on from assuming office, a PM were to turn around to the country and say: ‘sorry, everything in our manifesto was a lie, but it’s irrelevant as you already voted for us’.
Meanwhile it transpired they had broken electoral law on multiple occasions, overspent by 10% and the co-founder of the campaign had been referred to the National Crime Agency by the Electoral Commission.
No one on the current opposition front benches would have any hesitation in unreservedly calling for an election. This would be the only democratic response.
The second argument against the campaign is that another referendum could lead to social disorder. The thought is that regardless of the scale of the deceit and lawbreaking of the Leave campaign, many would still feel some sort of betrayal had occurred, and this could have far worse consequences than leaving.
This argument rests on two fundamentally flawed premises:
First, that the threat of disorder should ever justify compromising a democracy. It would be inconceivable that we might refuse to hold an election if it was feared that some people may not like the result. Referendums should be no different.
Second, that people will be somehow satisfied with a Brexit that costs thousands of jobs, leads to the destruction of public services and a further decade of austerity. Several studies have already shown that it is the regions with the strongest majority for Leave who will feel the impact of Brexit hardest.
If asking these people to vote again is likely to cause a backlash, imagine the reaction in 5-10 years’ time, when it becomes evident that an entire political class willingly led their communities to further economic destruction.
The final argument is that People’s Vote advocates are hypocrites, as they would no doubt compel Brexiteers to ‘accept the result’ had the vote in 2016 gone 52-48 the other way. Again, this is probably true, save for the fact it once again completely ignores everything that has happened since.
Just imagine if Remain had won in 2016, but two years on; a criminal investigation had been opened into the Remain campaign, the BMA had declared that our continuing membership of the EU presented a serious threat to public health and more than 100 remain constituencies now backed leaving the EU.
Brexiteers would have every right to ask that we revisit the issue in light of new information.
There is an assumption underlying much of the opposition to a People’s Vote, particularly from the left, that campaigning to stop Brexit is somehow an acceptance of the status quo. This could not be further from the truth.
I have not met a single campaigner who doesn’t want a radical new settlement for Britain and who doesn’t want to reform the EU from the inside. At the heart of this endeavour is an acknowledgement that Brexit voters were right to vote for change and that any reversal of Brexit must be used as a trigger for a fairer, more equal Britain.
But leaving the EU in a manner that nobody voted for, on a 4% margin following an illegal campaign achieves nothing – and it has far worse ramifications for our country than simply giving people the final say… this time based on reality.
By Nathaniel Shaughnessy, Our Future, Our Choice.