Our democracy has failed us on Brexit — a simple majority vote just north of 50% does not justify such a fundamental change
Most modern states have written constitutions which require a super majority of at least 60% to make constitutional changes like Brexit for good reason: these transformative decisions must clearly reflect the will of the people and their political representatives
The UK voted yesterday to leave the EU by 51.9% to 48.1%, a margin of victory which wouldn’t be acceptable in other developed democracies. To put the losing 48.1% into perspective, it’s closer to 50:50 than the odds of playing red or black on roulette. It’s basically a call between heads or tails.
To make a decision on the scale of Brexit, which will probably never be reversed, a government needs the clear support of its people to make that change — not the 1.3 million people who decided this vote at a moment in time. A vote this close is not a mandate for irreversible change. It says we, the UK, haven’t decided if we should be in or out yet.
The Leave campaign will say this is sour grapes. It is. But it’s also about something bigger — bigger even than the UK’s membership of the EU. It is about the constitution and democracy we have in the UK, and whether it’s fit for purpose.
Modern democracies, from the US to South Africa, have written constitutions which explicitly contain checks and balances to protect the people from their governments making seismic changes without their clear consent. It’s why despotic African leaders like Mugabe fight to change their constitutions to serve longer terms.
Super majorities are typically required to make constitutional changes because these decisions should stand for time immemorial. In this case, the change will be permanent — Brexit will affect every British person who will ever be born — which is why the support of the people must be unequivocal. Democracy has failed us.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have every right to feel aggrieved. Democracy has failed them even more. They voted to stay in but were pulled out by England. Their will was ignored, like the youth of this country. 75% of people aged 18–24 voted to stay in but they were over shadowed by the over 65s.
Leaving the EU would not be the people’s decision. It would serve one demographic — old people in England — at the expense of the rest of the UK, including the very people who will inherit this country… or what’s left of it. And all done on a coin toss.
If you still think Brexit is what the people really want, please imagine the referendum is re-run in six months’ time. Do you think it’s plausible that the vote could swing back to Remain? If so, it means the UK people haven’t decided what they want to do with Europe yet. It means they don’t truly support the decision to leave the EU. It means this vote is insufficient justification. It means this referendum should not be binding.
The question is. What can we do about it?