Tag Archives: People’s Vote

Time to stop this ‘Carry on’

Careless talk, as the war time poster tells us, costs lives.
9781844861293 It may not have reached that point yet, but there is no doubt that what the Prime Minister sloppily calls ‘the Brexit process’ has been bedevilled from the outset by much talk that is careless and some that is down right lying.

And as for Fougasse’s warning that ‘you never know who’s listening’ – well, in our case, we know who isn’t.

It is not ‘the Brexit process’ that the British public are tired of, nor are they deeply frustrated (as Mrs May seems to think) by MPs’ failure to support her deal. What they are tired of is the sorry concatenation of errors and misjudgements, most of them made by the Prime Minister personally, which has seen her commit the country to a timetable it could not hope to meet by prematurely invoking Article 50 – something that she did not need to do – then calling a General Election (again, something she did not need to do and indeed said she would not) in the mistaken belief that she would increase her majority, only to find herself reliant on the goodwill of the DUP; then, having committed the country to an unrealistic course and weakened further her ability to deliver what she had promised, instead of admitting failure and accepting responsibility, she simply carries on.

It is ironic that ‘Carry On’ – best known as the title of a succession of uniquely British film farces – should have become Mrs May’s sole strategy. It becomes apparent, on the promised date before Christmas, that her Withdrawal Deal will not gain the support of Parliament; her solution? Postpone the vote and carry on. When the vote is held and she suffers a defeat of historic proportions, what does she choose to do? Carry on. When, unsurprisingly, the same proposal meets the same fate a second time, what does she think it best to do? Carry on. When the Speaker points out that parliamentary precedent does not permit her to put to the House the same matter that it has already rejected, her highly original solution is to carry on.

Last night, in response to the Prime Minister’s attempt to blame the crisis on everyone but herself, one Brexit type said that to delay ‘would be a betrayal of the 17.4 million’ (who voted for Brexit). Up and down the country, people must have been urging the the interviewer to make the obvious response –‘yes, but what about the 48 million?’ that is, the remainder of the population – the great majority of the British People so often invoked in this debate but so little heeded – who have expressed no desire to leave the European Union but who will suffer the consequences of the government’s insistence on heeding only the wishes of an ill-informed and misguided minority. Sadly, with the ineptitude that has characterised the great majority of our political journalists, the interviewer failed to raise the point.

If there is one thing to be singled out from the great many that the British People are tired of, Mrs May, it is your contradictory insistence that leaving the EU is something the British People want and your refusal to give them any voice in the matter. Of course, you are not alone in that – the entire Brexit camp claims to be acting to implement the will of the people yet are curiously unwilling to put that claim to the test.

What they know, of course, is what the referendum of 2016 has told us all along – that there never has been a majority of the British People in favour of leaving the EU: at most, only 17.4 million – 38% of the electorate, 26% of the population – wish to do so; I think it highly likely that the number is even smaller now.

Yes, the British People made a mistake in 2016 – many of them complacently assumed that the vote was a foregone conclusion, that we would never be so daft as to abandon something so self-evidently beneficial for something that we had no clear idea of (and we still have none).

But that was one mistake – given the myriad blunders that you have committed since, Mrs May, I do think you owe it to the British People – on whose side you claim to be – to give them the opportunity to correct it.

The petition I signed last night when it had around 160,000 signatures now has (about twelve hours later) more than 700,000 and rising steadily (depite an interval when the Petitions site was down, which I hope was due to nothing more sinsister than overload). It calls on you to revoke Article 50 and hold a second referendum.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584

I think it is time you listened to the People whose interests you have so signally failed to serve.

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Was there ever such a fine piece of nonsense?

 
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.

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Where now?

Given her past form, it is reasonable to assume that Mrs May’s assertion that she will fight the leadership contest with all she’s got is a sure sign that she’ll be resigning shortly; but however it plays out, it is difficult to see how the Tories will this time avoid the split they have postponed so often in the past in the name of party unity, or as the Tories like to call it, ‘the national interest’ and ‘the good of the country.’

But what then?

As I see it, all the likely permutations in the leadership contest point to the same end, which is that either one side or the other in the Tory party will be unable to support whoever is chosen:

  • if Mrs May wins and stays on, the Brexit faction will remain unreconciled;
  • if she loses or resigns (like Margaret Thatcher before her) because her margin of victory is too small, then no candidate that the Brexit faction chooses will be acceptable to the rest, and vice-versa.
  • In the event of May going, it is hard to see that there is any sense in running another candidate who takes up where she left off, and pursues her already discredited Brexit plan against a hard-liner, so the only realistic alternative is a People’s Vote candidate, who more or less admits the folly of all that has been done and says the only solution is to ask the people if they still want to do this; and that will be anathema to the Brexit faction.

It is very hard to see how any single candidate will unite the party as long as Brexit remains in contention, so whoever wins, the downfall of the government and a general election seems almost certain to follow.

Given that the Tories would enter such an election split along the lines described above, with a right-wing pro-Brexit faction seeking alliance from the other unsavoury elements and the centrists reaching out to the Liberals, will Labour be tempted to stick with Brexit in the hope of winning back their disgruntled traditional followers who voted for it, while taking for granted that they will have the support of most other anti-Tories? And in that eventuality, would the party remain united?

And don’t forget that Scotland is heartily sick of being patronised with sickly sentiment about ‘our precious union’, particularly given the way our clearly-stated view of Brexit has counted for nothing – as has Northern Ireland’s. The Republic can no longer be portrayed as a priest-ridden catholic theocracy, and a united Ireland might strike many in the North as preferable  to continued alliance with Brexit-obsessed England. This could be a seismic moment in the politics of these islands.

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