DOMINIC SANDBROOK: Why I, an avowed Remainer, believe a second referendum would poison politics for a generation
This is a huge decision for our country, perhaps the biggest we will make in our lifetimes. And it will be the final decision… When the British people speak, their voice will be respected — not ignored.
If we vote to leave, then we will leave. There will not be another renegotiation and another referendum.’
The date was November 10, 2015, and those were the words of David Cameron, setting out his plans for the EU referendum he had promised in his election manifesto a few months earlier. You can hardly say he wasn’t clear.
During the campaign that followed, both sides stuck to the same script. This was the moment of decision, a one-off showdown that would never be repeated.
The date was November 10, 2015, and those were the words of David Cameron, setting out his plans for the EU referendum he had promised in his election manifesto a few months earlier
As the official leaflets sent to every home put it, ‘the Government will implement what you decide’.
Three years on, however, those promises are beginning to look increasingly fragile.
In recent months a hysterical campaign for a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ has been gathering strength, with heavy promotion from the BBC, the Guardian and much of the pseudo-intellectual liberal elite.
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Until recently it was easy to write them off as a coalition of sore losers, united only by their obsession with the EU and their haughty disregard for the 17.4 million who had the impudence to vote Leave.
But now, it seems, their campaign is closer to fruition than ever.
Thanks to the deadlock in Parliament, where Theresa May’s hard-won deal with the EU seems hopelessly becalmed, a new referendum is becoming a much stronger possibility.
Thanks to the deadlock in Parliament, where Theresa May’s hard-won deal with the EU seems hopelessly becalmed, a new referendum is becoming a much stronger possibility
Even some of Mrs May’s Cabinet have apparently come around to the idea.
The Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, for example, pointedly said on Sunday that a second referendum should ‘not be off the table’, which flatly contradicts the Prime Minister’s line over the past two years.
Yet in purely logistical terms, a second referendum would be a nightmare. There is perilously little time to get the legislation through before Britain leaves the EU on March 29.
And what would be the question? Mrs May’s deal or no deal? Mrs May’s deal or Remain? Or some combination of all three, with two rounds of voting?
As political scientists have shown, the outcome could depend entirely on the method chosen.
For example, if Leave votes were split between two different Brexit options, then Remain could waltz through the middle without winning a majority, which would be manifestly wrong.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd (pictured) , for example, pointedly said on Sunday that a second referendum should ‘not be off the table’, which flatly contradicts the Prime Minister’s line over the past two years
More importantly, though, a second referendum would be morally wrong — and I say that as somebody who voted Remain.
Campaigners for a ‘People’s Vote’ (who voted in the last one — aliens?) pretend that it represents the democratic way forward. But this strikes me as nonsense.
If two referendums are more democratic than one, why stop with two? Why not three, four or five? Why not have a referendum every week?
I know plenty of fervent People’s Vote enthusiasts. Every one of them voted Remain. Far from being fans of referendums in general, they were appalled by David Cameron’s decision to let the common people decide their own future.
When they talk piously about wanting the ‘final say on the deal’ or wanting ‘more democracy’, they are being dishonest.
They do not want more democracy; they want less of it. And if they did get their way and Britain stayed in the EU, you can be sure they would never support another referendum.
Given that I supported Remain, some readers may wonder why I don’t agree with them. The answer is that I am a democrat. The nature of democracy means that you don’t confuse your own personal prejudices with divine wisdom, and you try to accept defeat with good grace.
Unfortunately, the likes of Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, and Alastair Campbell don’t see things that way. United in hysterical outrage, they are the spoiled brats of the political world, who simply cannot cope with losing.
Unfortunately, the likes of Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, and Alastair Campbell don’t see things that way. United in hysterical outrage, they are the spoiled brats of the political world, who simply cannot cope with losing
For the past two years, Mr Blair and Mr Clegg, in particular, have rarely been far from Brussels, pouring poison into the ears of the EU elite, urging them not to make concessions to Britain, and promising that they would get a second referendum eventually.
I hesitate to use the word ‘treachery’, but there comes a point when no other word will do.
A genuine patriot would put his personal convictions to one side and work in the interests of the democratic majority. But when it comes to the crunch, does anyone really believe Mr Blair and Mr Clegg would side with Britain?
The People’s Vote website claims that ‘new facts have come to light about the costs and complexity of Brexit that no one could have known at the time of the referendum’. This is a lie, pure and simple.
There are no new facts. The Remain campaign made precisely the same argument in 2016, and millions chose to dismiss it. Why insult them by forcing them to vote again?
As for the argument a second plebiscite would heal the divisions of the past two years, this is dangerous nonsense.
A second referendum campaign would almost certainly be even more angry and impassioned than the first.
As Mrs May has pointed out, the air would be thick with accusations of betrayal, with 17.4 million people feeling that their democratically expressed instruction had been ignored.
Who would benefit from a ‘People’s Vote’? Jeremy Corbyn might, depending on his position during the campaign
Imagine the reaction in towns and cities far from Westminster. Imagine how people would feel in Stoke-on-Trent, where 69 per cent voted Leave; or Wakefield, where 66 per cent voted Leave; or Hull, where 68 per cent voted Leave.
The second referendum advocates, smug in their university-town bubbles, never bother to imagine what these people would think. They don’t live in these towns, and if they think about their inhabitants at all, it is to sneer at them as knuckle-dragging racists.
But here is how it would look from Wakefield. It would look as though a spoiled political and intellectual elite, cut off by its own privilege from the views of ordinary people, had conspired to betray democracy and steal the Brexit vote.
And you can be sure of one thing: the millions of Tory supporters who voted Leave would abandon the party in droves. It could be out of power for many years to come the next time a general election came round.
So would even more poisonous groups and characters on the far-Right, such as the English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, who was much to the fore in a ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march last week
Who would benefit from a ‘People’s Vote’? Jeremy Corbyn might, depending on his position during the campaign. (So far he seems to have been reluctant to offer any cogent opinion at all, either because he wants to disguise his true position on Brexit for narrow partisan gain, or because he is simply not bright enough to grasp the issues at hand.)
Ukip certainly would. So would even more poisonous groups and characters on the far-Right, such as the English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, who was much to the fore in a ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march last week.
Is that really what the ultra-Remainers want? Are they so indifferent to the health of our political commonwealth? Do they really think their own prejudices are worth more than the principle of democracy?
If our politicians want a way through the impasse, there is an obvious answer. The EU should make concessions on the much-discussed Irish backstop, and then our MPs should get behind Mrs May’s hard-won deal — a compromise which, although not perfect, is the best chance of honouring the Brexit vote without destroying our economy.
By contrast, a second referendum would be a victory for hysteria over pragmatism. It would poison our politics for a generation, driving a wedge between ordinary voters and an entitled elite.
And, if you doubt it, just ask yourself one question. If, after all the promises, there really is a second referendum, why would anybody ever trust our politicians again?
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