If the likes of Boris Johnson are to have their way, post-Brexit Britain could be an absolute misery: jobs will be lost, xenophobia will rise, and we could have our commercial regulations set by Donald Trump as part of a so called ‘free trade’ deal with the USA.
Following the 2016 referendum result on UK European Union membership, I thought the best thing to do was to grit my teeth, accept the result, and push for the softest Brexit possible. However, now, after having seen the Brexit shambles unfold before my eyes, I now believe that it is time the people got their say on the European question once again. Whilst some might say this position is ‘against the will of the people’, I take the opposite view. In fact, I believe that a people’s vote is a democratic necessity. Here are my two reasons why:
Firstly, like consumers have the right to return goods that do not work as advertised, voters should similarly have the right to end the Brexit process. During the 2016 referendum campaign, the leave campaign promised that voting leave would mean that leaving the EU would be good for the economy and mean £350 million a week more for the NHS. Since the result, these assertions have been flat out proved to be false: the economy has taken a hit since the vote and Nigel Farage, a leading leaver, has now openly admitted that Brexit would probably not result in the NHS getting more money.
If I were a consumer who had bought a beef lasagne for dinner, only to find out the meat actually came from a horse, I would, quite rightly, have the right to send the lasagne back and get a refund. In this context, given the lies of the Leave campaign, it is only reasonable that as UK citizens, we should have the ‘right to return’ Brexit.
Secondly, like the public can vote out governments who have failed to deliver, they should equally be able to overturn referendums that have failed to deliver. In the UK we have general elections every five years in which the public have the opportunity either give our reaffirmed consent to the government or to vote for an alternative political agenda. These elections give the general public the right to change their mind having seen the outcome of what they voted for. For example, in 2015, the electorate turned away from the Liberal Democrats in their droves after having seen them support the austerity agenda and fail to keep their promise to oppose any rise in tuition fees. In this context, in my mind, if it right that the electorate is able to punish parties at election times if they have failed to deliver, it seems only reasonable that the electorate should have the right to overturn Brexit given that it is now obvious that it cannot deliver what it’s leading campaigners promised.
Thirdly, as any Brexit deal the government negotiate will have to be ratified somewhere, surely it would be more democratic for the people to have their say via a referendum than for the cabinet, or even parliament, to simply give the deal the nod. The final Brexit deal will result in one of the biggest changes to the British political system in history. Whilst the result of the 2016 referendum gave consent to the UK government to leave the European Union, it did not give any specifics about how that should be done. Whilst those on the right may argue that leaving the European Union means leaving the single market (which Norway shows to be factually incorrect), there was nothing explicit mentioned in the referendum question that could mandate a specific form of Brexit.
To me, given the huge range of outcomes possible, the ratification of the final deal is a decision too big for the cabinet to do on its own. Whilst giving parliament a say on the final deal would be one step better, it would only have the power to send the government back to negotiate with the European Union (rather than to end the Brexit process) and hence relies on the preposition that a ‘good deal’ can feasibly be negotiated. As such a preposition cannot be taken for granted, any vote to ratify the government’s Brexit deal needs the option to return to the European Union. As it is the electorate who started the Brexit process, it is only them who have the legitimacy to end it.
A people’s vote is can only happen if the people demand it. People in power are only there because the electorate gives its consent. Similarly, Brexit will only go through for as long as the people see it as legitimate for it to do so. If increasing amounts of the electorate begin to think Brexit is a bad idea, the Brexit agenda will begin to crumble. The government (and opposition parties) will then have a choice to make: to give or offer a people’s vote, or face a hit at the next election.