Why the British electorate need a referendum on how the relation with the EU will pan out
Between the 18th and 20th century, the United Kingdom acquired territories making it an empire in which there was daylight somewhere over it (hence the saying the empire on which the sun never sets). After WW2, the sun began setting when the attitudes towards colonisation began changing and the reaction and demands of the territories made the cost of maintaining the empire prohibitive, more so when Britain was considerably a poorer country and less of a world leader exiting the war.
Fast forward to the Conservative party led by David Cameroon. In an effort to win another term for his party, he tied the general election result to an EU referendum. The British voter was presented with an ultra simplistic option: Leave the EU or Remain within the EU. While Mr Cameroon was on the Remain side, the outcome of the referendum that was held in June 2016, gave the Leave campaign a majority. Mr Cameroon quit as party leader immediately after the referendum result was announced.
Theresa May became the next Conservative party leader and Prime Minister. She started negotiations with the EU to have a negotiated exit. The agreement her government negotiated was rejected by British parliament every time it was presented. The Leave camp had split into two factions: those who wanted an all out hard break with the EU (Hard Brexit) and those who wanted a negotiated break in which some of the agreements / concessions that currently exist remaining in force (Soft Brexit). Ms May threw in the towel in July 2019 indicating that she was no longer in a position to move the issue forward.
Boris Johnson is the current Conservative party leader and Prime Minister. His agenda is to leave the EU on the 31st of October 2019 with or without a negotiated deal. The split between the Hard and Soft Brexiteers added to the Remain camp will mean that Mr Johnson will see a replay of the parliamentary blocks experienced by Ms May.
Today the country that was once an empire risks losing the Great of Great Britain and the United of United Kingdom. The only way to safeguard against this happening is to have a decisive referendum on what are the options the electorate has in front of it. This referendum will be binding ensuring that parliament will not have the option to vote against it [ideally parliament should agree, before the referendum, to vote unanimously in favour of the choice as this would help unite the country].
The three possible scenarios are:
- Stay within the EU (Remain);
- Go with the EU negotiated exit agreement (Leave: Soft Brexit);
- Leave without any form of agreement (Leave: Hard Brexit).
The need for this decisive referendum is because the David Cameroon referendum was overly simplistic besides being severely flawed on facts. For something that is so critical to the future of the country and its citizens, there were simply too many unknowns. The fact that the original two choices have now become three highlights this issue.
Politicians should unite and agree on the fact that the UK was the first member in the history of the EU that wanted to leave and as a result was going to experience bookshelves worth of unread and untested legislation, written years before by legal technocrats. People from both the Remain and Leave camp fabricated how things would play out because there wasn’t a precedent to consult. The Leave campaign gave the wrong impression that the EU would agree to all the demands of the UK, failing to take into account the fact that the EU had the negotiating strength to reject UK requests and make/force its own propositions to the UK.
Some went so far as to fabricate facts or distort numbers. Suffice to say that current British Prime minister Boris Johnson made the claim that leaving will save the country £350 million per week (https://fullfact.org/europe/our-eu-membership-fee-55-million/) when this is not true. The Remain camp had their own doomsday predictions, half-truths and inaccuracies but since they did not win the referendum focus on their claims did not get the same attention as the Leave group. After the fact it also transpired that the Russian government was involved in influencing the vote in favour of the Leave camp. Russia would prefer to deal with individual nations rather than have to negotiate with a unified block of countries as it is stronger and much more powerful compared to countries in isolation.
This means that people voted on lack of information, outright lies, assumptions and the influence of foreign nations. In a democracy, a decision needs to be taken from a position of information. And deciding to leave the EU is a massive decision that will impact the well-being and livelihoods of the UK for many generations to come.
The purpose of politics is to better the citizens of a country. Opposing and contrasting views will always exist because politicians represent and are influenced by different constituents, ideologies and party affiliations that dictate their version of the best way to move the country forward. Those with an agenda photoshop their side to make it look more attractive while at the same time using downgrading techniques on their opponent’s counter proposals.
One aspect politicians have to deal with is the future. Most legislation comes into being because of a past shortcomings and is intended to prohibit and discourage (or allow and encourage) future behaviours. Predicting the future is outright impossible because the future is, by its very nature speculative.
In view of this, the British government should present the British voter with the facts related to each of the three choices. This could be achieved by having independent committees tasked to produce a summary for each scenario. Every statement made by the committee should be fact-checked. The government should embark on a massive campaign to explain to the public the various options and encourage the highest participation in the referendum. It should monitor and be in the ready to mitigate against all acts of foreign interference and must be vigilant for any sabotaging activity.
Referendum wording should be such that there is absolutely no possibility to misinterpret between the three choices. The campaign should help sell to the public the idea that their vote really counts. It must also educate the public on how to participate in the voting process. It should be made simple, fast and straightforward.
The various campaigns should be allowed to extrapolate the future from the available information, but any statement that can be fact-checked must be, as this will help voters make informed choices. The electorate would need to be educated on how to check referendum-related statements.
The purpose of the referendum is to implement the law of large numbers wherein an educated electorate, informed and able to distinguish between fiction and fact can choose the best path for their country. It will not be cheap or easy but this decision is one in which everyone needs to be a winner in the long term.
Who knows, in the process the UK can lead the world into a new chapter of how a democratic process should work in the 21st century.