Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Echo's Answer

How's that campaign for another EU referendum going?  Not that any one asked me but I'd say it's going pretty well. The people behind it are doing a great job.  It's gaining real traction among Labour's membership, MPs and the general public.  It's certainly no longer a taboo. It is, however, something that leaves me in two minds. Let's find out what's bugging me, even though nobody asked.

The Peoples' Vote campaign are keen to point out that they are not suggesting a rerun of the 2016 referendum. Leavers, of course, have a valid argument when they say that a rematch is hardly democratic.  This time the referendum will be on the final settlement negotiated by the UK and the EU.  The Peoples' Vote campaign proposes that the choice ought to be between the final deal and Remain.  It sounds sensible at first but when I found out that people like John Redwood suggested this back in 2012 something started to gnaw away at my brain. What's wrong with this suggestion?  Quite a lot, as it turns out. We're going to learn that John Redwood is a certified idiot.

What is the point of having a referendum?  In a representative democracy the point of having a referendum is to let the people decide what parliament cannot.  Scottish independence is a good example.  Westminster does not have a mandate to make decisions about the future of Scotland because it represents the whole of the UK rather than a single component country.  The same is true of the recent referendum about appointing English city mayors. What else might parliament not be mandated to decide?  I suppose we might look at fundamental constitutional questions like how the public vote for MPs. The question now is whether Westminster should be throwing the final deal to the demos.  To answer that we need to look at the final deal.

What exactly is this final deal that everyone bangs on about?  Well, to be honest, there isn't very much to it.  In fact, its main function is to provide for a continuity of the UK's commitments.  The Withdrawal Agreement makes provisions for citizens' rights, it details the ongoing financial commitments the UK made to the EU budget and it lays out a set of minimum requirements to uphold the Good Friday Agreement and the all-Ireland economy.  Any real contention is limited to the standstill arrangement that will hold the UK in the EU's orbit until December, 2020.  There is nothing new here, certainly nothing that falls outside the reponsibility of Westminster. The final deal is symbolically important but the details ought to be meat and two veg for MPs.  If Westminster feels unable to make a decision about the contents of the final deal then it should throw open every decision to a public vote. 

The problem with the final deal is that it isn't the final deal.  The final deal will only emerge in about 5-10 years time, long after the UK has departed the EU. It will be insanely complex and will cover almost every area of our lives.  To be honest, I don't think there ever will come a point in time when we stare at a document and label it "the final deal". Even if that did happen, I'm not certain that asking the people for their comment is a particularly good idea. If Brexit taught us one thing it's that a sizeable chunk of the UK has no idea how their own country functions and no interest whatsoever in the rest of the world.

Let's imagine that enough MPs agreed that another EU referendum would be a good idea?  What would they do?  Well, they would push primary legislation through Westminster to hold a referendum. But what sort of referendum? Hmm. This is where it gets tricky.  As an example, there's been a lot of legitimate complaint that the franchise was too limited last time.  It failed to give the vote to UK citizens abroad and to EU citizens in the UK. There's an obvious inconsistency in that the franchise was based on neither residence nor citizenship but a weird mix of the two. This needs resolved, even though the people who messed it up last time  remain in charge of the process.

Let's try hard to imagine that the buffoons in Westminster get their shizzle together and solve the franchise question. What next?  They'll need to choose a date. It will need to be a date before the UK departs the EU.  Nobody thinks this is possible on the current timetable. Parliament will need to pass a vote forcing the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the A50 process.  In case anyone hasn't noticed, parliament is not able to make this kind of bold decision any more because it feels compelled to serve the "will of the people".

How's your imagination quotient getting alone? Please try hard, summon up your reserves.  Let's suppose that our brave MPS sort out the time limitations and the government successfully negotiates an A50 extension with the EU. I don't know about you but I'm flagging now. Onwards, let's carry on! The next job will be to legally provide for a fair and democratic referendum that avoids the cavalcade of lies and corruption that we saw last time. To do that they will need to recognise the problems of 2016. Leave MPs will need to admit to themselves that they are prone to telling lies, that they cheat, that Leave campaigners channeled Russian money to distort a democratic event, that the data privacy of UK citizens was compromised, that racism and xenophobia were dominant campaign instruments. The poor poppets are going to be emotionally exhausted with all that self-awareness going on.  Even if they recognise all of that they will need to proceed to rigorously legislate against a repeat. Crucially, that means that the outcome needs to be legally contingent on the democratic standards that lead to it.

There's a bit more work to do with the outcome of the referendum.  Will it be advisory or will it be binding?  If the referendum is advisory and Remain wins we'll just end up exactly where we are today:  the poor loves in Westminster will be in a right tizzy about what to do. As a consequence, the referendum will have to be binding, subject to legal challenges on campaign standards. What are the chances of that happening?  Hmm, close to zero.  We're going to end up with another advisory referendum followed by months and years of cowardly indecision.

Despite everything I just wrote, I support a second referendum.  I need to be honest with myself and recognise that it will be a rematch, that it will be every bit as dirty as the first. We will retread exactly the same arguments as last time because the arguments for leaving and remaining are the same today as they were in June, 2016.  It will be a dirty referendum filled with lies and racism and corrupt money because parliament is unlikely to do anything to prevent it and is anyway so completely useless that any attempt it does make will just make matters worse.  Leave will reckon they can win second time round.  After all, they overturned a bigger majority last time than the meagre few percent loss they are faced with today.  They will set out to win it using every dirty trick they can muster.

I'm not selling this second referendum very well.  It sounds perfectly awful, doesn't it? Why do I support this charade?   Well, I support it because I worry about my elderly parents in Scotland and what the calamity of Brexit means for their well-being.  I support it because I no longer care about the democratic voice of Leavers too ignorant to understand numbers and words, too obsessed with white English identity to make a rational decision.  I support it because it simplifies the question of Scottish independence. I support it because Brexit is a calamity implemented by a government intent on calamity. I support it because Parliament has abandoned reason. I support it because it can be won. I support a second referendum because there is nothing to lose. 

Over and out,


PS I can also support it because the probability of having to deal with the moral conundrums of a 2nd referendum remains vanishingly small.

PPS The distance of the "final deal" is surely the source of the First Minister's prevarication on holding an independence referendum.  Maybe this should be a separate post.  


  1. 'Crucially, that means that the outcome needs to be legally contingent on the democratic standards that lead to it.'

    That seems to be the crux of the matter.

    I suspect that a more mature democracy would have a way of regulating the veracity of information from opposing sides in referenda.

    Or, if not regulating, at least have some sort of method of retribution for those who lied so fulsomely to get what THEY wanted for whatever reason that was.

    It seems to me that we had a 'rubbish in, rubbish out' style referendum.

    Besides all the lies (and indeed the corrupt money channelled through NI), the choice of the future relationship between the UK and EU was never binary.

    Mrs May is fond of telling us what the British people voted for, but the fact is that neither she, nor anyone else, has the foggiest idea what they voted for.

    I distinctly remember, for example, Mr Hannan telling us that no one had even suggested leaving the single market.


    And Farage told us that we shouldn't worry. Norway and Iceland were doing fine outside the EU.

    Maybe people voted for £350 million a week for the local hospital... Maybe they voted to get rid of people speaking Polish in their supermarket. Maybe they were, in fact, frightened of the idea that half of Turkey was going to descend on Much Binding in the Marsh. Who knows?

    Cameron, who set up the referendum in the first place, was either incredibly complacent in his belief that he, as usual for Eton/Oxford boys, would win, or he was incredibly ignorant of the possibilities of leaving.

    Surely it wouldn't have been beyond the wit of the Brits to come up with a referendum which involved choices... stay, EEA, EFTA, complete withdrawal...sort of thing

    I suppose there would have been people who wouldn't have bothered to read an officially/legally approved information sheet outlining what each option would have meant in terms that Joe Public would understand, relating to estimated GDP change, communications, labour shortages, price increases, etc etc, along, of course with the freedoms that come from being less involved with, or completely detached from the EU. A brief analysis for each of the possibilities. But at least some would have.

    But it's too late for any of that.

    A second referendum on the final deal, or what passes for the final deal?

    Would it be any more reliable?

    Would someone somewhere make large contributions to the Orange Order or their political wing?

    Would Ruth Davidson change her mind every ten minutes?

    And what if the British people voted to reject the government's deal (which they probably would)? What then?

    Is that fair to Europe. The whole process start over again with all the uncertainty that involves?

    The First Minister has said she will revisit our referendum in October, when I imagine she will know the outcome of the "final" negotiations, which will be put to national and regional parliaments in Europe.

    I imagine that there will be a debate in Edinburgh at that point.

    I notice that Mr Trump has told the Brits that if they want a trade deal they must be in accord with the USA over the Iran deal agreed by Obama and Europe a few years ago. Of course we know that Trump changes his mind as often as Ruth Davidson, but I did think... Is this what taking back control in about?

    1. The catalogue of woe about the last referendum is a laundry list of shame, as you point out. I would guess a rematch would be exactly the same. The only difference is that Remain understand their foe better and their winning tactics. Despite these omens, I still support a 2nd referendum. Brexit is an error without parallel.

      As it stands, if the UK rejects the "deal" then we leave the EU with nothing and little prospect of negotiating anything quickly. The EU have all along made post-Brexit negotiations contingent on an orderly Brexit.

      I would guess Ruth Davidson would support Remain again. I think she is a Remainer but also an opportunist. The money would be on a remain win and I would guess she would pitch her tent there.

      The First Minister is in a difficult position. She won't be able to declare in October that her red lines of EEA membership have been crossed or not. Truthfully, she won't have any further ammunition to support her claim to a 2nd indy ref. To be honest, this is do or die territory. We either have it some time in 2020 or never. I am getting worried that never will be the outcome due to prevarication and caution but we need to wait until October to learn more.

      It's not surprising that Trump is laying out all sorts of pre-conditions for a FTA. He smells weakness. Everyone smells weakness except for the buffoons responsible for all of this mess.


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