David Miliband’s proposed second referendum would undermine the will of the people, says Ben Somervell.
Former Foreign Secretary and former Labour leadership candidate, David Miliband, stated this week that he supports a second EU referendum and that he is trying to persuade MPs to fight for such a vote. Such a proposal is deeply flawed and does not wash with voters. This was shown in the fact that the Liberal Democrats’ (the only party to propose such a vote) vote share fell from 7.9 per cent in the 2015 General Election to just 7.4 per cent in the 2017 General Election. The party failed even to garner the support of the 22 per cent of voters who still think, despite the Brexit vote, that we should remain members of the EU and their tally of just 12 parliamentary seats (only 1.8 per cent of seats) is well short of their 2010 peak of 57 seats. I thought that this poor election result would easily kill off all talk of a second referendum, but obviously not.
Miliband is proposing the same type of referendum that the Liberal Democrats proposed at the General Election whereby we could vote to accept the Government’s Brexit deal or to reject the deal and remain an EU member. There are a number of flaws with this type of vote. Firstly, what happens if there is no Brexit deal and thus nothing to accept or reject? Secondly, such a vote entirely relies on the presumption that it would be legally possible to revoke Article 50. Politicians and lawyers are divided on this issue and the UK Supreme Court and Liz Truss (when she was Justice Secretary) have both said that Article 50 could not be revoked. Even if it were legally possible, it would require the consent of the UK Government and also the unanimous consent of all of the Governments of all of the 27 remaining EU member states. Thirdly, if the British public were to be given a chance to vote for the UK to remain an EU member, there would be no incentive whatsoever for the EU to give us a deal and certainly no incentive for the EU to give us a good free trade agreement (as Conservative Peer Lord Hamilton has pointed out) which is what both voters and the Government want.
I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with a referendum, in about a decade’s time, after we have officially left the EU on whether or not we should re-join the so-called “single market” via the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) even though I would vote “No” in such a referendum. What especially concerns me about Miliband’s proposal is the fact that one of the two options on the ballot paper would be an option to remain members of the EU, thus allowing the possibility of undoing the original referendum result only two years after its announcement.
Offering a second referendum when the first vote apparently gave the “wrong” answer and went against the elite establishment is the sort of thing a dictatorship pretending to be a democracy would do. The establishment would be saying “You’ll have to keep on voting until you produce the only true and wise answer”. Just imagine what undemocratic measures the remoaners in the elite establishment might use to try to ignore or override a second leave vote. Maybe they’d try to blow up the ballot boxes and then fabricate the referendum result as Giuseppe Garibaldi did! Ignoring referenda is the preserve of the undemocratic and corporatist EU and, now that we’ve voted to exit the club, we should leave behind such elitist ways. The EU ignored France’s vote against the EU’s new Constitution (2005), the Netherlands’ vote against the EU’s new Constitution (2005) and Greece’s vote against the Euro bailout (2015). When Denmark voted against the Maastricht Treaty (1992), they were made to vote again. The same happened when the Republic of Ireland voted against the EU’s Nice Treaty (2001) and when they voted against the Lisbon Treaty (2008).
The House of Commons voted to have this referendum in the first place by a margin of six to one (544 votes (83.6 per cent of MPs) to just 53 votes, (8.2 per cent)). Even Tim Farron, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tom Brake MP, the current Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson, and Alastair Carmichael MP, the Liberal Democrats’ Chief Whip and spokesperson for Home Affairs, voted to hold this referendum. Parliament confirmed the result of the referendum when it voted to invoke Article 50 by 498 votes (76.6 per cent of MPs) to 114 votes (17.5 per cent) – one of the largest parliamentary majorities in recent years. When Parliament itself votes for a referendum and the people vote to produce an unexpected or unwanted result, Parliament cannot just say “Oh sorry, that was a false start – we’ll have a re-run”. What happens if the second referendum also produces a leave vote? Would it be best of five? The fact is that we *did* know what we were voting for – it was a simple, clear, single, binary choice with an impartial, unbiased question. We voted to leave the EU and to take full, permanent, independent and democratic control of our trade, our laws, our money, our regulations and our borders.
Then there are those who say yes it was clearly a vote to leave the EU but it wasn’t necessarily also a vote to leave the single market. According to the EU’s own treaties, there is no such thing as the “single market” – there is only the “internal market” which just shows that it really is an inherent and intrinsic part of the EU and that, if you leave the EU but don’t also leave its internal market, you haven’t really left the EU. I thus prefer to use the term “internal market” and will only use the term “single market” when quoting others. On television in the referendum campaign the remain campaigners Ruth Davidson, Hillary Benn, Nick Clegg, Sajid Javid, Angela Eagle, Rachel Reeves, George Osborne, Lord Mandelson and David Cameron and the leave campaigners Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom, Lord (Nigel) Lawson, Lord (Norman) Lamont, Lord (David) Owen and Nigel Farage and many others made it clear that a vote to leave would mean leaving the EU’s internal market. On YouTube, Channel Brexit has uploaded an excellent 6-minute video of leading remain campaigners and leave campaigners all clearly stating during the referendum campaign that, in the event of a vote to the leave the EU, we would have to leave both the EU and its internal market and that, in the words of remain campaigner Sajid Javid MP, “The Leave campaign have admitted: they would take us out of the single market”. David Cameron mentioned the fact that we would have to leave both the EU and its internal market in the event of a Brexit vote 27 times in his Sky News interview and question session alone. He even said “I keep going on about the single market but it is so important” and that “one of the most important moments of this campaign was when the out campaign said they wanted to leave the single market”.
The then Prime Minister (David Cameron) said on the Andrew Marr Show that the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble had made it clear that upon a vote to leave the EU, the UK would have to leave both the EU and its internal market. Schaeuble also said “If the majority in Britain opt for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out”. Since the referendum, the President of the European Council has made the same point. He said there is no hard or soft Brexit – either you leave both the EU and its internal market or you don’t leave the EU at all. Jacob Rees-Mogg has pointed out that “within the campaign it was stated very clearly that once we left we would need to negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union. There would have been no need to do that if we remained in the single market”. The House of Commons and the House of Lords both effectively approved a clean Brexit (an exit from the EU, its internal market and its customs union) when they voted in March of this year to invoke Article 50 two months after the Government had laid out its Brexit plans which included leaving the EU, its internal market and its customs union. Only 101 MPs (15.5 per cent of all MPs) voted for Chuka Umunna’s amendment to the Queen’s Speech which would have asked the Government to try and keep up in the “single market”. Less MPs went through the “Aye” [voting] lobby on Umunna’s pro- “single market” than went through the “No” lobby on the Article 50 vote. That is quite an achievement for Umunna!
The 2016 referendum result is the strongest mandate any UK Government has ever been given. More people voted to leave the EU than have ever voted for anything in the entire history of the United Kingdom. That’s more votes than any party or campaign has ever attained. 17,410,742 people voted to leave the EU – that’s a majority of 1.27 million votes and 9 of the UK’s 12 main geographical regions voted to leave the EU. 401 constituencies voted to leave the EU and 70 per cent of Labour-held constituencies voted to leave the EU. The turnout of 75 per cent was particularly high – the last election with a turnout as high was in 1997. The 2016 referendum turnout was 7.59 per cent higher than the turnout in the 1975 “Common Market” (European Economic Community, EEC) referendum.
We have never had a second referendum or a second election before as it would clearly undermine the will of the people. It would imply that their original verdict was insufficient and that they must keep on voting until they produce the Establishment’s desired result.
Both MPs and particularly UK voters are clearly uniting on Brexit. A YouGov poll from May showed that 68 per cent of voters want the Government to get on with Brexit and that only 22 per cent still think we should stay in the EU (down from 48 per cent in the referendum). Voters are also uniting on the Government’s vision of Brexit – 68 per cent of voters now say that they would opt for a so-called “hard Brexit” (an exit from the EU and its internal market) over a “soft Brexit”.
The only supporters of a second referendum are political opportunists without principles or values who want to stay relevant after losing the referendum. Sir Richard Branson supports such a second vote despite calling the idea of an EU referendum “ridiculous” in 2013 when David Cameron first proposed the vote. Clearly, in his view, the first vote wasn’t quite “ridiculous” enough so we must have another “ridiculous” vote to settle the matter. It seems to me that what Sir Richard really ought to be arguing for is for Parliament to undemocratically vote to revoke Article 50 and thus overrule the will of the British people.
Thank goodness David Miliband is no longer an MP.