Should The UK Hold A Vote On The Terms of Brexit?

Would a vote on the terms of Brexit be a fair way to decide the nature of the UK’s exit from the EU or would it be a subversion of democracy?

Exactly one year to the day, The Daily Mail printed its infamous “CRUSH THE SABOTEURS” front page, aimed at those opposing Theresa May’s vision for Brexit. And, exactly one year on, the nature of the UK’s severance from the European Union remains a highly divisive issue.

In the June 2016 referendum, 52% percent voted to leave and 48% to remain. Now we’re on the way out of Europe. But for some, it’s not as clean cut. The process of leaving the European Union is intensely complex and multifaceted and can be approached in a seemingly infinite number of ways. This is why some people believe there should be a vote on the terms of the final deal.

That’s the view of Labour MP Chuka Umunna who this week launched The People’s Vote, a cross-party campaign committed to holding a vote on the final Brexit deal. Would a second vote undermine democracy or uphold it?

Politicians Caroline Lucas, left, Layla Moran, Chuka Umunna, and Anna Soubry are joined onstage by comedian Andy Parsons, right, during the People’s Vote campaign launch on Brexit at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town. Photo by Jonathan Brady

The people’s desicion

While the UK voted to leave the EU, it did not vote on how. In the months after the referendum, terms like ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ emerged, describing varying levels of Brexit severity, but now, ‘Brexit’ has truly entered the realm of inscrutability.

Does it mean a withdrawal from the single market? A withdrawal from the customs union? Both of these things? Neither? Can we keep any element of our current partnership with the EU or do we have to hand it all back?

Fronted by businessmen, MPs and celebrities, The People’s Vote operates under the premise that the public should have a say on these issues, as currently, ‘Brexit’ could mean any number of vastly different eventualities.

Actor and former USS Enterprise captain Sir Patrick Stewart is a vocal supporter of the campaign. In a piece for The Independent this week, he wrote: “I want a ‘people’s vote’ referendum on Brexit because we were lied to during the last campaign”.

“The cold reality is that Brexit is hurting our economy, our public services and the life chances of future generations”.

“I want to urge that we think again and insist that the decision about whether to accept the Brexit deal is a matter for the people. To my mind the only way to resolve the huge challenge we now face as a country is through a people’s vote”.

Then there’s the revelation that Vote Leave, the organisation campaigning for Britain’s exit from the EU, “broke spending limits on an industrial scale” as several whistleblowers have now attested. Paired with the accusation that Vote Leave was buoyed by Cambridge Analytica and its use of “stolen” Facebook data to target voters, feelings of injustice in the remain camp appear to be growing.

Brexit protesters take to the streets in London. Photo by Ilovetheeu

Subverting Democracy?

A particularly prominent strand of commentary underneath Sir Patrick Stewart’s Independent article runs something like this: “We had a referendum and voted to leave, accept it Mr Stewart it’s called Democracy.” There’s an innate feeling of injustice among people who feel that the majority has spoken and any tampering with what the majority wants is undemocratic.

Fraser Myers, writing for the libertarian online magazine, ‘Spiked’, calls the campaign “a parody of democracy.”

“In its unpopular mission to overturn the democratic will, the People’s Vote is no more of ‘the people’ than the People’s Republic of China. These Remainers make no secret of their endgame to reverse the democratic decision of 17.4million Brexit voters, who would be well within their rights to tell these anti-democrats where to boldly go.”

Pro-Brexit Conservative MP Nadine Dorries also argues there is little appetite for a second referendum. She appeared alongside Mr Umunna on ITV’s Peston on Sunday saying that, “A second referendum, Chukka, which is what you’re really campaigning for, is never going to happen. The public don’t want it.”

The People’s Vote is at pains to disassociate itself from ‘a second referendum’. What they want is simply a vote on the terms, rather than the fact. But In the early days of their campaign, this distinction is already causing them issues.

They will feel emboldened however after the house of Lords proposed an amendment to the government’s Brexit bill that the final deal should go to a parliamentary vote. “The bill will now go back to MPs who will decide next week whether they accept the proposed changes” writes Francesca Gillet for the Evening Standard.

Prime minister Theresa May is however expected not to move forward with a vote in the commons as her minority government would likely lose out to the large numbers of anti-Brexit MPs, on all sides of the house. May isn’t exactly looking to “CRUSH THE SABOTEURS” by this decision, but her vision of a ‘hard Brexit’ is still looking like the most likely outcome.

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