The Gryphon asks: Should Britain hold a second referendum on its membership in the EU?
Yes – Sam Robinson:
There are two excellent reasons for a second referendum on the EU. First, a margin of victory of two percent can hardly be called resounding, especially when you consider the second point: the campaigning was atrocious (not only on the Leave side but most glaringly so), and no-one has a clue what’s going on.
Let’s dive into it. Leave’s victory was slim – a two percent majority with two of the four countries of the UK voting Remain – and on its own that’s an argument for a second referendum. In some places, it’s not enough that one side has at least one more vote. For example in Australia, constitutional changes by referenda require that at least four of the six states vote the same way. The EU itself uses a supermajority of 55% to recognise policy changes. The point is this ensures the population is firmly set on change of a huge magnitude – and if the result of our vote shows anything, it’s that the UK as a whole was not firm in its decision.
When we put this in context the case for a second referendum becomes even stronger. Consider that Leave used discredited lies in their campaign, wilfully misinforming people. Consider that they never did agree on what Brexit would be. Finally, consider the wave of people who surfaced the day after the vote saying they’d vote differently if given the choice again. The Remain campaign were certainly no angels, but given that Leave didn’t even attempt to tell people the truth about the NHS, or put any effort into devising a plan, suddenly that two percent mandate looks rather shaky.
One post I saw about Brexit came from InFacts, and sums up the absurdity of upholding a result nobody can even define with a well-placed analogy:
“Brexit means Brexit” – is wearing thin. [It’s] like saying ‘breakfast means breakfast’. But some people want bacon and eggs for breakfast; others toast and jam; yet others muesli and yoghurt…”
How can we vote for a momentous change in foreign policy that hasn’t even been articulated yet? Referenda necessarily simplify questions into binary options, but you should have some idea of what each option represents. This wasn’t the case in the referendum, where Brexit was so vaguely defined as to be vacuous.
To sum up: we have May as PM, which no-one asked for, enacting policies like reintroducing grammar schools, which no-one asked for, conducting negotiations to some undefined endpoint, which again no-one has yet asked for. Some victory for democracy.
To be truly democratic, we need to ask awkward questions, like “are we staying in the single market?”, “will immigration levels be cut and how?” and, most importantly, “what precisely is Brexit?”. This is why we need a second referendum – not having one is giving the government a carte blanche to do whatever it wants, and for us as the electorate not asking for an explanation of what we’re voting for is a dereliction of duty.
No – Helen Brealey:
First and foremost, I voted to Remain on 23rd June, and fully support the EU, but don’t think that the debate surrounding the UK’s membership of the EU should have been put in the hands of the public in the first place. Being a Modern Languages student, I was left disappointed with the outcome, as were a large proportion of my Facebook friends based on the response in the days after the referendum result. But I was equally disappointed by the overwhelming voicing of ‘we didn’t get the result that we wanted, so we should get to vote again.’
The Leave campaign received the tiniest majority, but a majority nonetheless, and to hold a second referendum would be to diminish the idea of democracy whilst angering those who voted to Leave. At every referendum there is the argument of whether voter turn-out is high enough, and whilst there’s room for improvement on the 72.2% turn-out of eligible voters, it’s a vast increase compared to many recent (British) elections, and a turn-out which The Telegraph deemed ‘huge’.
The deadline to register to vote was extended, and no one can argue that voters were not given sufficient time to research what being part of the European Union means, or rather meant, for the United Kingdom. It is also worth mentioning that just as you have the right to a vote, and I believe wholeheartedly that everyone with that right should use it, you also have the right not to vote. I know a number of people who, for reasons personal to themselves, chose to abstain from voting in the referendum. In this sense, the referendum appeared to be more of a protest vote on behalf of those who are usually denied a voice in politics.
With few party loyalties coming into play, and misleading campaigns from both sides, the referendum was perhaps doomed either way.
The question is how much a second referendum would actually achieve given that the damage has already been done in my eyes. From politicians stepping down to various countries withdrawing from trade deals with the UK, another referendum would be an embarrassing admittance of defeat before we have even tried to resolve the issues that the referendum has highlighted, not to mention the fact that a second referendum would lead to more confusion and delays in negotiations. Having received worldwide attention, do people really think that we can return to the EU following an overturned result, were we to hold a second referendum, and just carry on as if nothing has happened?
A second referendum would only be possible with clearly explained and precise terms and conditions, and a clear and honest campaign from both sides. I don’t believe either will happen.
We’ve wasted enough money and time, and many voters already don’t know what or who to believe. Quite frankly, the only referendum we should be rallying behind is one to decide how we leave, and ensure the best possible outcome for the UK.
Image: The Independent