Let the people judge whether a Brexit deal is fit for purpose
As members of the legal profession we act for people, businesses and institutions across the length and breadth of the UK. Our clients and the law are profoundly affected by the terms of the UK’s relationship with Europe. We support a People’s Vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations for two main reasons.
First, democratic government is not frozen in time. Parliamentary sovereignty means that today’s parliament cannot bind tomorrow’s parliament. Nor can yesterday’s referendum bind us today.
In 1975, a referendum was held after a renegotiation of the UK’s accession to the Common Market. The UK voted 67% in favour. In 2016, voters were closely divided (52% voted leave), and different parts of the UK voted differently. When breaking down the registered vote, 37% voted leave, 35% voted remain, and 28% did not vote. Majorities in England and Wales voted leave; majorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar voted remain. Additionally, there are serious questions about the validity of the 2016 vote. But the reality is that neither of those past votes binds us today.
Second, voters are entitled to know what they are voting for. There was a key difference between 1975 and 2016. The earlier referendum was held after negotiations were complete, so voters knew what they were voting for. In 2016, the nature of the negotiation process and its outcome were unknown. Voters faced a choice between a known reality and an unknown alternative. In the campaign, untestable claims took the place of facts and reality.
When negotiations conclude, the terms of exit will be known. Voters should then have a say on whether to exit on those terms – just as a home buyer may reconsider an offer after receiving the survey, and a patient must be informed of risks before consenting to surgery.
The meaning of such an informed vote will be clear to all and can help reconcile voters on all sides to the final decision.
A People’s Vote is the most credible and democratic way to ensure the legitimacy of a decision that will profoundly impact generations to come.
Helena Kennedy QC, Philippe Sands QC, Helen Mountfield QC, Konrad Schiemann Former judge, court of appeal, and European court of justice, David Edward
Former judge, Court of Justice of the European Communities, John Davies Chairman, UKLegalFuture, Jonathan
Cooper Lawyers for a People’s Vote,
Felicity Williams Lawyers Against Brexit, Shoaib M Khan Human rights lawyer, SMK Law Solicitors, Susan D
Shaw Managing partner, Living Law, Scotland and more than 1,500 others