Ten com­pelling rea­sons to stay

Even among those hor­ri­fied by Brexit, many re­main un­will­ing to back a Peo­ple’s Vote. For­mer Europe min­is­ter DE­NIS MACSHANE ad­dresses their ob­jec­tions, in a bid to push them off the fence

The New European - - Agenda -

Their main ar­gu­ment is that the peo­ple have voted and de­cided. Yet the peo­ple vote and de­cide in ev­ery elec­tion or ref­er­en­dum. And then another elec­tion or ref­er­en­dum comes along and the peo­ple de­cide dif­fer­ently. In the words of David Davis: “A democ­racy that can­not change its mind, ceases to be a democ­racy.”

Some pro-eu crit­ics of a Peo­ple’s Vote ar­gue we should come out of the EU, ei­ther via Theresa May’s deal or even a no-deal, and let Brexit take ef­fect be­fore we re­think it. The prob­lem with this ap­proach is that the po­lit­i­cal dec­la­ra­tion agreed be­tween the UK and Brus­sels paves the way for years and years of ne­go­ti­a­tions to bring out any of the vague am­bi­tions pro­posed. In that time, no in­ter­na­tional busi­ness will have cer­tainty and no Bri­tish cit­i­zen can be sure of his or her rights to live, work or re­tire in Europe. Po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions will worsen with the lack of clar­ity or fi­nal­ity on Brexit.

“If we hold a sec­ond vote, we are im­ply­ing that the peo­ple were duped or stupid the first time around.” This line of think­ing is non­sense. But we do now know that the Brexit vote was based on lies – about Turk­ish im­mi­gra­tion, for in­stance, and the idea that we would have £350 mil­lion a week more to spend on the NHS

We also now have ev­i­dence of breaches in elec­tion law dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum, as well as fur­ther al­le­ga­tions still be­ing in­ves­ti­gated

“The vot­ers, es­pe­cially Labour vot­ers, have moved on and are not in­ter­ested in another ref­er­en­dum,” say those re­sist­ing a Peo­ple’s Vote. Yet ev­ery opin­ion poll now shows a ma­jor­ity for not leav­ing the EU. There are also opin­ion polls show­ing sup­port for a new vote. To be sure they are not con­clu­sive and most are within the mar­gin of vot­ing er­ror. But in a democ­racy wait­ing un­til you have mas­sive ma­jori­ties for change is not pos­si­ble.

There have also been im­por­tant de­mo­graphic changes since 2016. About 1.5 mil­lion el­derly peo­ple who voted for Brexit in June 2016 have now died. The old voted over­whelm­ingly for Brexit. More than a mil­lion young ci­ti­zens have reached the age of 18 since June 2016. Four out of five 18-24-year-olds sup­port stay­ing in Europe. One can re­spect the 2016 vote but one should also ask the new elec­torate, es­pe­cially young peo­ple who will be the most dam­aged by Brexit, if leav­ing Europe is what Bri­tain’s fu­ture should be.

The cost of Brexit in eco­nomic terms will mean a ma­jor re­duc­tion in fi­nan­cial and other ser­vices which earn the UK a trade sur­plus, as well as a de­cline in in­vest­ment from for­eign firms not sure they can stay in UK when they lose mar­ket ac­cess. May’s deal does not guar­an­tee mar­ket ac­cess which is not cov­ered by stay­ing in a cus­toms union. Busi­ness now has a much clearer sense of what is on of­fer – so does the pub­lic. A new ref­er­en­dum cam­paign would be noth­ing like the last one.

The ‘prob­lem’ of free move­ment is find­ing its own so­lu­tion, as there is a mas­sive ex­o­dus of Euro­pean ci­ti­zens from Bri­tain as the EU econ­omy picks up and the devalued pound is no longer worth so much for re­mit­tances back to fam­i­lies in poorer coun­tries. In 2019, eco­nomic fore­casts place the UK 28th out of 28 EU mem­ber states in terms of growth ex­pec­ta­tion. There are good pro­pos­als, some ad­vanced by for­mer home sec­re­taries Alan John­son and Charles Clarke, on how to change the rules of the UK in­ter­nal labour mar­ket. These in­clude reg­is­tra­tion, ID cards, no res­i­dence with­out a job, end­ing em­ploy­ment agen­cies hir­ing East Euro­pean work­ers be­low UK wages, proper ap­pren­tice train­ing, pri­ori­tis­ing UK ci­ti­zens in state em­ploy­ment etc. These can give UK ci­ti­zens con­fi­dence the in­flux of Euro­pean work­ers can be con­trolled with­out los­ing ac­cess to the sin­gle mar­ket.

Yes, there would be anger and dis­ap­point­ment. But ev­ery ma­jor de­ci­sion chang­ing the set­tled or­der of things in the UK – from abol­ish­ing corn laws, re­form­ing par­lia­ment, al­low­ing Ire­land to be free, bring­ing in votes for women, re­duc­ing the power of the House of Lords, al­low­ing gay rights, end­ing fox-hunt­ing – have been di­vi­sive and pro­duced coun­ter­demon­stra­tions and an­gry de­nun­ci­a­tions. This is democ­racy. The Swiss, who know about ref­er­en­dums, reg­u­larly re-vote them or hand the de­ci­sion to the Swiss par­lia­ment if new facts emerge not known at the time of the first vote.

Even with May’s deal, pol­i­tics and good gov­ern­ment will be blocked for the fore­see­able fu­ture, as Brexit is a po­lit­i­cal su­per-glue squeezed into the ma­chin­ery of pol­i­tics, busi­ness and gov­ern­ment. A new elec­tion will re­solve noth­ing as par­ties will be split on what Brexit of­fer to make to vot­ers. A new pub­lic vote cuts this Gor­dian knot.

De­nis Macshane is the for­mer min­is­ter for Europe. In Ja­nu­rary 2015 his book Brexit, How Bri­tain Will Leave Europe

(IB Tau­ris) pre­dicted the out­come of the ref­er­en­dum

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