Monday 27 May 2019

Brexit Revisited

Well, here we are, almost 3 years on since we voted to leave the EU and not only have we not left, we have actually taken part in electing even more MEPs to Brussels! How on earth has it come to this?

In my article on the Brexit fudge last July, I covered the situation following the Chequers gathering and suggested the PM would struggle to get the agreement through parliament and would end up resigning. It took a little longer than I thought - three failed attempts to get the bill through the Commons, but inevitably Mrs May conceded defeat and will step aside on 7th June.

We have seen a number of indicative votes on a range of options discussed by MPs - customs union, no deal, revoke Article 50, second referendum - but nothing has a clear majority. The reality is that we have a remain parliament which does not really want us to leave the EU in any meaningful way and which has therefore been at odds with the country which voted 'leave'. There are many millions of people who are naturally frustrated and angry that the referendum result has not been delivered. There are also many on the remain side who continue to call for Brexit to be cancelled or at least for the chance to have a second referendum.

It is therefore no surprise that, with parliament in deadlock and unable or unwilling to deliver Brexit on 29th March coupled with the requirement for us to take part in more EU elections, we have the re-emergence of Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party.

The EU Elections

So, we had another vote last Thursday and it's fairly clear that people are rejecting the half-in/half-out compromise of the past couple of years dished up by the main two parties. The ruling Tories slumped to 5th place behind the Greens and lost 15 of their 19 MEPs and managed just 9% of the national vote - their worst ever election result in almost 200 years. Labour did slightly better losing 10 of their 20 MEPs mainly to a resurgent Lib Dems who gained 15 MEPs.

2014 EU Elections

The new Brexit Party were the outright winners however both 'remain' parties, Lib Dems and Greens also did well and therefore I suggest the battle lines are now clearer leading to the new deadline:

a) 'leave' come what may by 31st October, or

b) go back to the people to reverse the referendum and 'remain'

The results were:

1. Brexit Party        32%  (29 MEPs)

2. Lib Dems           20%  (16 MEPs +15)

3. Labour              14%  (10 MEPs  -10)

4. Greens              12%  (  7 MEPs   +4)

5. Tories                 9%  (  4 MEPs  -15)

6. SNP                    4%  (  3 MEPs   +1)

2019 Results

For someone who voted to leave back in 2016, my decision has not changed. The politicians gave us the referendum. It was billed as a 'once in a generation decision'. The question on the ballot was 'leave' or 'remain' and parliament promised to implement the outcome. We chose to leave with a majority of 1.3 million people. The problem has not been with the people who voted but with the remain politicians and civil servants entrusted with delivery of the decision.

If the result had gone the other way, I would not be jumping up and down demanding we withdraw a bit more from the EU to satisfy the 48% who voted to leave. No, I would have accepted the decision to remain - that's how democracy works...the losers have to accept the decision and move on. In the final analysis, democracy isn't really democracy if our politicians decide to just ignore the results they don't agree with.

We voted to leave and the wishes of the majority must be respected and those who voted remain should now accept the decision. Regardless of how the new PM and cabinet proceed, the simple fact endures that we cannot move forward as a country until the 2016 vote has been respected and we have left the EU. Therefore, the referendum outcome must now be delivered - deal or no deal.

Call me old fashioned but for me, it's all about integrity and democracy. I honestly do not believe a second referendum would resolve this issue. People would quite rightly ask "What did you not understand about the instruction we gave last time?" It would prolong the agony and would create more uncertainty and divisions.

We now need decisive action from the politicians to respect the result of the 2016 referendum...I'm not holding my breath.

Feel free to have a say on Brexit in the comments below. What do you make of the past three years? Has your position changed or does it remain the same? How do you see it being resolved?


  1. I guess the only other thing to add to your conclusion is what your thoughts would be if there were to be a second vote, and if the majority now voted to remain?

    1. As I say, I think a second vote would be even more divisive. Another vote with a narrow majority for remain...why should leavers accept that? There would be a call for a 3rd and then a fourth...where would it end? I just feel very strongly that when politicians turn to the people with a 'once in a generation' referendum and pledge to implement the outcome, they MUST respect the result and, as a matter of principle, take us out of the EU.

  2. I understand your frustrations, and the attitude of many on the Remain side has been disrespectful - but do you feel that the 2016 referendum created a mandate for a No Deal Brexit? Now that No Deal is the last remaining Leave option, is it not worth seeing if there is still a democratic majority for that?

    1. Thanks, but what do you think?

    2. I think given that no negotiated deal could match the potential benefits of a No Deal Brexit, or the concrete benefits of EU membership - the only way forward is a clear Remain / No Deal referendum. I don't relish the idea, but think in the long term it's the only way to align policy with a clear democratic mandate.

  3. Was it really last July? I remember commenting then. My main point was that Britain doesn't have a constitution that gives any role to referendums in its democracy, which leaves no one knowing quite what to do with a marginal result. Those countries that do use referendums have more clarity about their role: for example whether the outcome is indicative (but not binding) for government policy on a simple majority, or is the definitive decision on a constitutional matter in which case it would usually need a pre-decided substantial majority such as 67/33 or 60/40. In the latter case the legislation that was being voted on would be precisely specified in advance, in the former case it would simply direct the government of the day to develop a policy.

    Departing an international treaty that has for over forty years determined the principles underpinning the regulatory environment for the majority of business and trading, and created the mutual understanding that allows easy travel and things like police cooperation in fighting crime and terror, clearly comes under the constitutional heading.

    But once a poorly thought out referendum had taken place, it was always going to be almost impossible to know what to do with an outcome by a relatively small margin. Arguably Theresa May's "deal" was for a 52% exit from the EU, which might possibly have worked if she had obtained a consensus beforehand instead of waiting until talking to others was forced on her. But Labour's leadership haven't shown themselves to be statesmen either.

    And life hasn't been helped by the principle having been created at the time of the referendum that MP's views on the EU would not be on party political lines. That was another genie that couldn't be put back in the bottle. While parliament does contain some odd, and in some cases unsavoury, individuals I think they have each been trying to do what in their own belief was the best for the country.

    The question is what should be done now? The EU negotiated a withdrawal deal in good faith with Theresa May, and the effort it took not surprisingly means they are reluctant to go back on what was already agreed with what as far as they were concerned was the UK government. And in any case with the personnel changes that will follow the recent elections it will take them several months to be in a position to reconsider anything even if they wanted to. At the same time the sort of extreme (many would say suicidal) Brexit now being proposed by Johnson and Farage among others can clearly claim no democratic mandate since it was never remotely part of the discussion in 2016.

    Answers on a postcard please …


    1. Jonathan, yes July...where does the time go?

      I bviously agree this has been a shambolic process from the start. As you say, what should be done from here?

      I am clear the PMs WA is dead and buried. I am even more clear that the EU will not be re-negotiating another and it looks like they are not interested in any further extensions beyond the end October.

      The new PM therefore has few options. Parliament will not vote for no deal so I think it could well end up us leaving by default. Interesting times!

    2. My guess - pure guess, I have no inside knowledge - is that the EU would accept an extension if the UK was to call a general election, or if there was a public consultation by referendum provided it was for a predefined form of leave.

      But neither of those look very likely. The Tories have made it clear a referendum is the one thing they won't entertain. (My guess is that if when the parties "consulted" the Tories had asked for Labour support in getting the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament subject to a referendum Labour might have been happy with that provided they weren't committed to supporting it in the actual referendum).

      While a general election is something neither party would want in a hurry after the recent results, it might yet happen simply because it seems likely the Conservatives will elect a new leader who is so divisive that a significant number of their own MPs would vote against their own government if Corbyn called a no confidence vote.

      But I am not sure Corbyn's position is secure either, I wouldn't be surprised if he is seriously challenged over the next months.


    3. I agree. With both main parties doing so badly in the EU elections - Tories 9% remember - neither will be too keen on a GE. Obviously the results under PR do not translate over to a general election under FPTP but that was an almighty protest. My best guess is we find a way to exit before the end of the year and then a GE before the start of serious engagement over future trade talks...but who knows.

  4. A never ending story. Given the result there is little change in peoples views. At some point the next Tory leader will be so desperate to leave in an attempt to save their necks we will be out in six months regardless so we will be able to build Jerusalem.
    Remainers should not shut up and lie down thoughts, that will never happen, nor should it - its part of democracy - and Nigel Farage would never have shut up if he was on the loosing side. Half the country never really accepted Thatcher especially during the miners strike.
    That said there was a clear mandate to leave - although with hindsight the ballot could have been a bit more nuanced - that does need to be enacted.
    My next worry post a to my mind self inflicted economic shock will be JC moving into Number 10 to persecute those who are still in decent jobs.....

    1. Yes, there was a clear mandate to leave - do you want to remain a member or leave the EU? 17.4 million people chose leave and, yes that decision needs to be delivered. I suspect a broad agreement is now out of the question but with the right leadership from a new PM, maybe a series of mini deals can be agreed and we can move swiftly on to constructive trade talks after the end of October.

      As for a Corbyn government, I don't rate his chances very highly...

  5. Hmm,
    A vote in 2016 that was for what? I know from personal experience that people voted the way they did for numerous reasons, some connected to "real" reasons of dissatisfaction with the EU, some with petty regulations in respect of straight bananas et al, dissatisfaction with the government since the Financial Crisis, etc. Who knows why people voted the way they did and to assume they would all vote the same is pure folly.
    The mandate to leave is not a "clear mandate to leave", it is at best marginal as there was not an overwhelming majority. The referendum was entered into without any clear thought about the consequences of a Leave decision as the government didn't think it would happen. Whilst TM may go down as the worst PM ever, Cameron has to rate as a very clear 2nd for a disastrous negotiation leading up to the vote and the decision to go through with it.
    To follow on from the first paragraph, history teaches us a number of lessons with supposedly democratic votes. Hitler in the 1930’s, Mussolini in Italy 1922, Churchill not being elected PM after the 2nd World War, Wilson elected Pm 1974, Margaret Thatcher 1979, Jacob Zuma 2009, Hugo Chavez Venezuela 1999, Dilma Rouseff Brazil 2011, Vladimir Putin Russia to name but a few.

    1. Gareth, good to hear from you, it's been a while.

      A vote in 2016 for what? To leave the EU and take back control, to become an independent country once again...insofar as that is possible in out global interconnected world.

      Yes, there were many reasons but that does not de-legitimise the outcome in my opinion. Dissatisfaction with the EU project has been rumbling and growing for the past 30 years and has dogged several governments - Thatcher, Major, Cameron...and with the surge of UKIP in 2014, it was inevitable that something like a referendum would have to come at some point as the politicians were unable to resolve it.

      A binary choice, in or out. There are no half measures and I suggest the attempts to please the losers by offering a half-in/half-out solution has lead to the current shambles.

      The job now need to be finished as best it is possible to do it but with a remain parliament, remain Speaker and remain establishment throwing a spanner in the works at every opportunity, it's not making it easy for those trying to uphold democracy.

    2. Last time we looked, I thought we ran a 'first past the post' system. If memory serves me, we even had a vote on going for a 'proportionate representation' system which was defeated by a large majority against. Surely the whole point of a 'first past the post' system that was precisely to avoid deadlocks like this ... unless you don't get the result you want :D

    3. Hi DIY

      I agree with your comments about the rumbling and growing dissatisfaction with the EU over the last 30 years and as you point out mainly from the Tory party PM times, but I'm pretty sure it was no different when Labour were in power.

      The key point for me is that the vote was not a significant majority; at 48:52% is almost a split in the population, plus there were significant areas of the country that were significantly against leaving such as key Union partners Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, not too mention London.

      I mentioned some significant episodes in history that produced results that led to some very significant results that had been obtained through a democratic vote. History has judged them mostly wrong, so on balance do you always follow a democratic vote when the result will be questionable and you have the chance to pull back and reflect especially when you have Boris Johnson and Michael Gove as the leaders of the misinformation that came out of the Leave campaign.

      Whenever there are people hellbent on taking a particular course it normally does not lead to a good outcome, please see previous references, which I think we have with this situation.

    4. I guess the vote was always likely to be close but with a binary choice there was only going to be a winner and a loser and the fact is that remain lost the referendum. It is deeply troubling that three years on, so many from the remain camp refuse to accept the outcome but I guess there's not a lot I can do about that.

      We are the United Kingdom and every single person from every part of the UK had the opportunity to vote. Every vote actually counted whether you live in Wales (leave btw), Scotland, London or Wigan. We remain as a nation or we leave as a nation - that surely must be the case.

      We may have chosen the wrong course, it will not be clear for some years after we've left. But, for me, the most important aspect is that the outcome is respected and delivered by our politicians. However 'stupid' they think we are to have chosen to leave, they must accept that they gave the people the referendum, they subsequently triggered Article 50 and so they must now follow through and take the UK out of the EU, deal or no deal, for good or bad.

    5. How can one even start implementing something undefined? A binary choice yes. Where the option to leave meant different and sometimes contradicting things to voters?
      Even the two lead leave campaigners were on opposite sides of mays WA.

      So, leave at whatever price? That's what Remainers refuse to accept.

  6. As mentioned on another blog, you can either have a irreversible referendum or you can have a democracy. You can't have both. If there is still a majority in the country that thinks we should leave the EU, then having a second referendum to confirm this should be no problem. I think that Brexiteers are so against this because even they are beginning to see that there view amounts to a shambles at best.

    The reality of the situation has also drifted.The EU has become the repository of everyone's dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement. However, if we do leave the EU, that dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement will still be there. We will not suddenly start living on the 'sunny uplands'.

    Ask yourself, how will life be better outside the EU?

    1. I have never believed life would be necessarily better once we have left the EU. It may turn out to be a complete disaster and we end up going back, cap in hand begging to rejoin.

      For me, it's about respect for the millions of people who were handed the responsibility of making a decision. For politicians to give us a once in a generation referendum and then refuse to implement the outcome is totally unacceptable. I hope fair-minded people would agree.

    2. The problem with this argument is that it assumes the 52% (Remainers) wanted the referendum in the first place. They didn't. Only Leavers wanted the referendum. It was a decision forced on the country by an arrogant prime minster trying to deal with internal Conservative Party issues. Remainers are as angry about the first referendum as Leavers are about the thought of a second. There never will be a good outcome to this situation, but I hope 'fair-minded' people will agree that you cannot cannot criticise people for attempting to fight against a bad decision that was forced on them.

    3. Spot on. So we should leave the EU for a five year-term, then have another referendum ... that's how we normally do things in this country :)

  7. I do think we should have another referendum

    A. Leave with the deal agreed with the EU
    B. Leave with no deal

    Job done!

    1. The deal agreed has been rejected three times by parliament. It is dead so that just leaves B!

    2. I'm sure there are reasonable arguments against the propasal but the one given is flawed. Parliament has also voted repeatedly against no deal. Hence the argument applies equally to A and B.

      Full disclosure, I voted remain in the referendum. That being said I have reservations about a second one. If remain win by a similar margin then leave voters would rightfully insist on a further referendum. The matter would not be settled. Additionally, a general election may result in the Brexit party winning a large number of seats in Parliament. This is something that I would personally not like to see.

      I think the idea of a referendum on how we leave should not be dismissed out of hand. Take each point in turn:

      1. Leave won the initial referendum. On this basis, as it stands, we are leaving.
      2. Parliament has rejected the negotiated terms of our departure. On this basis, barring any other events, we are leaving with no deal.
      3. Parliament has rejected leaving with no deal. On this basis, and as shown by the free votes, Parliament is unable to decide the terms of our departure.
      4. The people have not stated the terms of our departure. Only that we should leave. As Parliament is unable to decide, wouldn't the most democratic option be to ask the people?

      This would uphold the first referendum result and provide an unambiguous view on how we should leave. If no deal won there would be limited scope for complaint. If the deal won, some may wish a better one was negotiated but that is what the government was able to manage. Again, if the majority voted for specifically that option there would be limited scope to provide reasoned arguments. This could help to draw a line under the issue (at least as much as one can).

      There are of course arguments against this approach. Fault can be found with any path taken. However the author's rebuttle is not a valid argument.

    3. Dan,

      You make some good points. I would be more sympathetic to a referendum on finding the best way of leaving and which did not include the option of 'remain'. However, I can envisage a few obstacles.

      It would need to be sanctioned by this parliament and the way things have gone over the past two years, I don't see them agreeing to a referendum which did not have the option of remain. There are also time considerations - Tory leadership should be over by mid July but then there would be the holidays until September and it would take several months to set up the referendum even if parliament could agree on having one.

      I really don't think we should be including the WA in a referendum as it has been rejected by MPs 3 times. In my humble opinion, the WA is dead and buried. The EU will not entertain any renegotiations so we are left with no deal or revoke A50, both of which parliament has rejected.

      The dynamics in the Commons will undoubtedly change with a new PM, and depending upon who is selected. We have the bye-election next week which could move things along one way or the other depending on the outcome - Lib Dems or Brexit Party?

      Interesting times but, for me, this must be decided by our sovereign body which is Parliament. In many ways, Brexit was all about taking back power from Brussels and restoring it back to our own MPs so they need to step up to the plate and show that they can handle the responsibility.

    4. How on earth could you justify a further referendum without 'Remain' on the ticket?? Why should that simply not be an option now? Should we not have Labour on the next GE poll because they 'lost' last time? What about someone who was fifteen at the time of the 2016 referendum and now wants to give their voice to remain in the EU?

      What about the fact that there have been *actual* *criminal* findings against the Pro-Leave campaigns from the 2016 referendum? What about the discoveries of Russian interference in the US 2016 election? Are you assuming that they just ignored Brexit? What about the brazen lies about Turkey joining/true cost of EU membership etc... I'm afraid that there was a lot wrong with the 2016 vote which lends ever greater legitimacy to a confirmatory referendum with the obvious option to change one's mind. This ossified 'will of the people' argument really has been discredited by now, surely.

  8. Had the 2016 referendum been legally binding it would be null and void due to leave campaign cheating.

    Any sane country would re-run the referendum

    "Brexit campaign group Vote Leave has been fined £61,000 and referred to the police after an Electoral Commission probe said it broke electoral law.
    The watchdog said it exceeded its £7m spending limit by funnelling £675,315 through pro-Brexit youth group BeLeave."

  9. If there is a second referendum and Remain wins. What then? Best of 3, so a third referendum? Or how about best of 5 just to be sure?

    1. If we have a second referendum and remain wins, we remain. If we have a second referendum and leave wins, we leave. At least the voters will be making an informed decision this time.

    2. I recall being told something similar before the first referendum...along the lines of 'think very carefully, whatever you decide will be implemented. You can't change your mind after a week, your say is final'. As for informed decision, I am really no clearer today than I was in June 2016. But this is not really about the information, but more about gut feeling...on both sides.

    3. This was just one of a long list of mistakes made by the Cameron government. When the 2016 referendum act was debated in Parliament the question of a supermajority was raised (either all 4 nations, or a 66% threshold etc. - fairly standard for a constitutional change) but this was rejected because the vote is only advisory. Whoever then penned that leaflet made a massive error because they in effect told the public that the vote was not advisory and automatic - by this point all the safeguards had been removed.

      If there is a confirmatory referendum and Remain wins, I think it will be because we will have looked into the abyss, we have lost jobs across the country, we have lost international power and respect, we have seen the benefits of EU regulations on things like the environment and taxing multinationals, we have seen the benefits on offer from trade deals being dictated to us by the likes of the US and China, and the country will decide that contrary to the lies of Farage, Johnson and co. it is better for all of us, for Europe, and for the World if the UK retains pride of place at the heart of the EU.

  10. Remainers are still in denial. So sad. So pathetic.

    1. Remainers might be in denial, but at least they're not delusional.

    2. Oh dear. If you say so.

  11. As far as I can see no one has taken me up on the challenge of democratic votes that lead to questionable results, that I posed, and lead to worst situations depending upon your point of view. So the argument keeps going around with both camps arguing for their position whichever way you look at it, irrespective of whether in a historical context, bowing to a democratic vote in favour of Leave, makes any sense just because it is a democratic majority.

    1. That would be a 'proportional representation' democratic vote, as opposed to a 'first past the post' democratic vote? Perhaps we should re-run a 'proportional representation' voting system referendum at the same time!

    2. @gareth. I’m not sure what your point is on the UK elections of 1945, 1974 and 1979. I’m not aware of any questions about their validity. Opinions would vary about the resulting government and policies, as it always would.

    3. I never intended to question the validity of the results, but to allude to the results that then followed. As you say opinions would be divided about the resulting governments and polices; that was my point. When a segment of the population votes the way it does and produces the results it does the consequences can be significant.

  12. Remainig in the EU was the status quo prior to the referendum of 2016. The referendum was the result of infighting in the Tory party. The referendum was advisory. A lot of people have built their lives and careers around employment opportunities created by membership of the EU, customs union and single market. Brexit and especially no deal Brexit will have a severe impact on jobs in the uk especially on industries/ sectors reliant on the single market. I respect the right of those people to fight tooth and claw to keep their jobs and do everything in their power to reverse Brexit.

    1. We voted to leave the EU. Uphold democracy, the wishes of 17.4 million people and respect the referendum result.

    2. The result was only marginal; 17.4 million voted in favour out of 65 million. I question whether the views of those outweigh the rest. Yes I will hear you say that the people who voted are those that matter, but as always those who shout loudest want the change and the silent majority are left wondering why and find themselves in a change they did not vote for. A democracy in the UK relies on a Parliament to make a judgement and the final decision. The courts have clearly said that the referendum was not binding. The vote in parliament did not give the referendum a final say. Even Nigel Farage has admitted that it is not binding.

      In most situations where I hear people "shouting" the loudest for a change normally leads a to a bad result.

      This is a significant change and when I hear Trump advocating it I worry, especially when they are saying that the NHS must be part of any trade deal with them. The US medical system is a complete mess from the point of view of cost and would cripple the UK system.

  13. The one thing I find missing from this discussion on democracy and implementing the decision of the referendum is that "the people" themselves muddied the waters from a clear binary referendum by electing a "Remain" parliament in 2017. Or, if not completely Remain, at the very least, we elected representatives who weren't in agreement in how to implement the referendum.

    Labour and Conservative manifestos promised to implement different versions of Leave. But each MP stood as a local representative for that constituency and many chose to emphasise versions (or indeed any version) of Brexit that they wouldn't vote for.
    For example, in my consitutency, the incumbent Conservative stood against a Labour candidate who promised in hustings and in his election leaflets to only accept a SingleMarket+CustomsUnion Brexit and to vote against other options. That was his version of what would be acceptable to the voters in that (Remain) constituency. He was elected and the Conservative lost. Other counter examples no doubt happened across the country.

    We (the people) didn't give either party a clear mandate, electing a hung parliament, divided between two incompatible versions of Brexit. The failure of Parliament reflects our divisions. The People may have given a decisive but close decision in 2016 but then gave an indecisive and close decision in 2017 for a parliament called by Theresa May to
    settle the Brexit divide and implement it.

    This talk of Parliament vs the People doesn't help. We elected those MPs, knowing the referendum result, with the job of implmenting Leave.

    I don't want a Second Referendum. But we do need a further election (whether General or Referendum) to ram this through, one way or another, given the contrasting "Will of the People" in 2016 and 2017.
    If it is a Second Referendum, it needs to be clear what form of Brexit is to be taken, with Legislative power, as opposed to the "advisory" (in form of law) referendum we had last time. I blame Cameron for that. He promised a referendum, he negotiated a remain option, left the alternative open to many interpretations, and didn't give the referendum force of law with accompanying legislation, because that would have forced open the divisions in his party.

    1. Some good points made there Tim.

      As you say, the referendum was close but decisive and in March 2017, just before the election was called, 500 MPs from both sides of the House voted to trigger Article 50 and set in motion the process to leave the EU by 29th March 2019 with or without a deal.

      In the GE of June, both main parties pledged to respect the referendum and deliver Brexit. Most of the MPs who were elected were the same MPs who were there before - a few less Tories and a few more Labour.

      The mandate for leaving the EU was given in the 2016 referendum. It was a once in a generation decision. Parliament promised to implement the outcome. That's really all there is to it. It could not be diluted by the subsequent GE as 85% of the people voted for parties which pledged to respect the vote.

      Over the past two years, our Parliament has lost its way and become bogged down attempting to square a circle which cannot be squared in trying to please remainers who lost the referendum. Much of the blame rests with the PM and her government, especially following Chequers.

      The Tories have the Brexit Party breathing down their necks - they are now in the last chance saloon and I think if they cannot deliver by October they will be a spent force.

      Interesting times...