Is There a Case For a People’s Vote on Brexit?

Is There a Case For a People’s Vote on Brexit?

With the prospect of Britain leaving the European Union without any deal looming, is there a case for a second referendum on Brexit?

Since the Salzburg summit ended in humiliation for the Prime Minister with hints from Donald Tusk of a Brexit rejection, it is possible and perhaps likely that Theresa May’s Brexit plan could trigger a second referendum. Is there now a moral case for a people’s vote?

Brexit is just over six months away, but many decisions are yet to be made; new trade arguments still need to be forged, finding a solution over Ireland’s potential hard border is required, party united is needed. There is a mammoth task ahead, especially now as the EU has rejected the Chequers proposal. Fortunately, Theresa May has managed to make some advances this year in striking trade agreements with African nations, allowing Britain to work with countries around the globe to strengthen economic links.

Some call this progress, but striking bilateral trade agreements do not seem to be her only deepest fear; now, more than ever, supporters of a people’s vote will ensure their voices are heard on the biggest issue impacting Britain. Her fear is being realised – there has been a major push for a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal by MPs, celebrities and business leaders. The most recent advocate has been the London mayor, Sadiq Khan. Other MPs supporting a vote include Conservative, Anna Soubry, Labour’s Chuka Umunna, the Greens’ Caroline Lucas and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran.

As a student at university, I have seen the popularisation of this idea, but the reasons behind many worry me. The National Union of Students (NUS), the Student Publication Association, New Generation For People’s Vote, For Our Future’s Sake and countless other groups have combined forces to promote a people’s vote, obtaining over 815,091 signatures for a people’s vote petition.

Firstly, I think it’s great and positive to see more and more students getting actively involved in politics and thinking about the future. The arguments they are making, however, are not so great. Fellow university students have made emotional videos stating: “I feel hurt for the friendships I am going to lose, the people I will never get to meet or work with. I’ve met fantastic people all around the EU and I would not for a second rid that experience for futur generations.” Well, what about the thousands of leave friends that you might lose by broadcasting your political alignment? Brexit does not mean you can’t work in the EU, or that people can’t work in Britain, even if there are stricter regulations. Regarding student relations, the university abroad programs are guaranteed to be in place after Brexit as well, so I don’t know how many people they were intending on meeting.

Secondly, NUS comments that they represent about one million students on a people’s vote. This is a lie – they represent one million students but not on Brexit issues. NUS exaggerates the engagement and alignment of its members. Students like Tom Harwood for example, who while at Durham University campaigned for Brexit, objects a second referendum. There does seem to be a political hijacking of student-oriented groups and student publications. The NUS treats the student population as a homogenous body and not a diverse population with a range of views.

Surprisingly, I am not personally against a second referendum, but I am concerned about what the advocates would include in a people’s vote. Students I have spoken to want to include the possibility of remaining on the ballot. It sounds like hypocrisy as they seem genuinely oblivious to the 1975 Referendum on the European Community with a 67% vote in favour of continued membership. In this referendum, there was no second referendum. Not forgetting the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson saying: “I ask you to use your vote. For it is your vote that will now decide. The Government will accept your verdict.” Are we living in a time of double standards?

However, if we could unpick the agendas behind the people’s vote, would there still be a moral case? Perhaps it would give us only two options: either endorse the Government’s deal or Leave without a deal. Well, that wouldn’t be much good. The Government’s deal could be a total sham. That doesn’t automatically mean that a no deal would be popular, so it all depends on the post Brexit forecasts and realities. If a no deal occurred leading to the automatic default of WTO rules and consequently thousands of businesses closed in the short and long-term with irreconcilable damage, then yes, we would need to consider affected stakeholders opinion.

A people’s vote could represent a fairer and more accurate representation of the population. In addition, It would make leaders and politicians more accountable to provide information for each scenario on the ballot. However, keep in mind that the result of people’s vote would be binding. If you didn’t like Brexit in the first place and WTO ballot proposal got the majority vote, then tough. If you think UK politics is in a mess? Believe it or not, it could be worse but if a people’s vote was clearly laid out and made consistent across the political parties, perhaps it could help bring the divided voters and parliament together.

Alexander Finer is an undergraduate in Business at the University of Exeter and an editor of the student newspaper. He specialises in the circular economy and it's impact.

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