A response to the first referendum and hopes for a second from Francis Lovering, a concerned Portsmouth resident and European.
The recent referendum has left more people distressed than the aftermath of any general election or political process I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. My children and many of my friends, including many who come from another EU nation, were first upset by the result and now are increasingly worried – and rightly.
The nation is divided as never before and the divisions are becoming ever more visible by the day.
When the Tory government announced the terms of the EU referendum, I was worried because I believe such a big constitutional change requires absolute certainty. I was deeply concerned about the principle of deciding the nation’s fate on the basis of a single referendum.
Britain does not have a single constitution but an unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament, court judgments and conventions. Brexit has a major effect on these and for that reason represents a major constitutional change.
A referendum for a decision of this magnitude seemed problematic to me from the start.
I was also concerned that this referendum was one of ‘taxation without representation’ – with many UK nationals who pay taxes unable to vote at all, including the EU spouses of UK nationals, many of whom have lived in the UK for decades. The inability of 16-17 year olds to vote in a referendum that will arguably affect them more than the rest of us was also problematic to me.
Beyond who could vote, the implications of this vote seem to me more profound and long-lasting than in a ‘normal’ election. In any general election the winner is only there for a term. The outcome does not result in a huge exercise in law making and an irreversible decision that could devastate our economy, even if, as some believe, only in the short term.
But even if one accepts that the referendum was the appropriate mechanism by which to make a decision on our membership in the EU, the outcome that should have been required was surely a very clear majority. Countries like Germany, for example, require a majority of two thirds.
By contrast, the narrow margin of the EU referendum has left a literally divided nation in its wake, unsurprisingly, when one considers the divisiveness and deception of the overall campaign.
The Leave campaign was repeatedly attacked for its controversial tactics, including spreading misinformation on how much membership of the EU costs, for example, or on the likelihood of invading Turks. Our own MP for Portsmouth North, Penny Mordaunt, insisted that a Remain vote would see terrorists and Turks on our doorsteps overnight, causing the Prime Minister to describe her comments as ‘absolutely wrong’, and others to accuse her of ‘plain and simple lying.’
What these controversies concealed was that the sheer complexity of the question of our continuing membership of the EU requires a huge amount of study to even vaguely understand. Coming to an informed conclusion would always have been hard work, but it was made more so by the negativity of the Remain campaign and the increasingly apparent dishonesty of the Leave campaign. I spent many hours looking into Brexit claims, most of which turned out to be false.
So here we are, post-referendum, and the nation finds itself with no plan. The main protagonists who promoted Leave are all gone and we now face an indeterminate period of uncertainty before we truly find out what Brexit will and won’t deliver – on trade, immigration or our sovereignty.
This is why I support the current calls for a second referendum – a “confirm we’re sure” referendum at the last possible moment, before we shut the door. Few MPs support the idea of a second referendum, and the government recently rejected a petition from over 4.1 million signatories calling for one.
But if the government decided to implement a second referendum, a general election campaign could then follow to decide who we want to implement the decision.
In the meantime, the Brexit investigatory process can continue, so that by the time we have a second referendum, we all have a clearer understanding – unlike the first time – of what the decision really means.
Image by Sarah Cheverton.