I am grateful to Caroline Flint MP for providing such a clear and succinct statement of the nonsensical ‘second referendum = betrayal of democracy’ argument that we hear so often.
Pause this clip after the opening sentence and ask yourself what exactly she is saying
“The breakdown of trust in politics if we try to turn this over by a second referendum will be hard to repair.”
It is one of those statements that have the ring of something forceful and definite, yet if we consider it closely – by asking what is actually being said – it turns out to be utter nonsense.
There are two undefined terms here – ‘we’ and ‘this’. What does each stand for?
‘this’ presumably refers to something that could be overturned by a second referendum and probably means the decision to leave the European Union.
‘we’ could mean either those who have it in their power to call a second referendum – politicians in parliament – or those who, by voting in such a referendum, might overturn the decision to leave the European Union – the British electorate.
But if it is the first, how could politicians turn over the decision to leave the EU by calling a referendum? All that does is afford the electorate a chance to have their say; it is up to the electorate what they vote for.
But if we take ‘we’ to mean the electorate, then Ms Flint is saying ‘if the British electorate try to turn this over by a second referendum, then the breakdown in trust of politicians will be hard to repair.’ That does not make a great deal of sense either, since the electorate cannot try to overturn the decision by a second referendum, though they might well overturn it by voting in one, should the politicians grant them the opportunity. But if they did that, why would a nigh-irreparable breakdown of trust in politicians result?
That, perhaps, is the nub of it – what Ms Flint seems to be saying is ‘If we, the politicians, grant the electorate a second referendum and they overturn the decision to leave the EU by voting to remain, then there will be a breakdown of trust in politicians that will be hard to repair.’ – but on whose part?
Should parliament belatedly decide to grant the people a chance to have their say on the grisly shambles that has resulted since the first referendum, I can well imagine that they will vote overwhelmingly to remain in the EU; after all, as I never tire from saying, the 2016 referendum showed that only a minority had any desire to leave in the first place. But rather than causing a breakdown in trust, such an outcome might begin to heal the breakdown that has already taken place.
No: the only people who will be disgruntled if the British people vote to remain in the EU will be the minority who want to leave, who thought – against all expectation and reason – that they were going to get what they wanted. But if the British people vote to remain, what grounds would they have for complaint? And who is Ms Flint, or any politician, to deny the British people that opportunity?
If there is anything that is undemocratic and liable to further destroy our faith in politicians, it is denying the people a chance to have their say now that the true shape of Brexit has emerged for all to see.