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Paul Vallely: No one should be disenfranchised

21 September 2018

Any Brexit deal should be put to the people, argues Paul Vallely

PA

Mrs May and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet other leaders at on informal summit in Salzburg, on Thursday

Mrs May and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet other leaders at on informal summit in Salzburg, on Thursday

THE original Brexit referendum, it was said, re-enfranchised large swaths of the electorate who had felt alienated from the British political process. For decades, they felt that their votes had no impact upon the views of an elite who proceeded with policies that left behind those at the bottom of society — and, in some cases, actually worked against them. The Brexit referendum was a revenge on the politicians. The elite wanted to Remain so a No vote would bloody show them.

I think there is some truth in this analysis. But there is also truth in its obverse: the post-Brexit situation has effectively disenfranchised the 48 per cent of us who voted to remain. At the General Election after the referendum, both parties sought to pander to the marginal majority by promising to implement Brexit, even though most MPs thought it a disastrous strategy. Anyone who voted Conservative or Labour at the last election is thus now spuriously deemed by the Brexiteers to have endorsed the Leave vote. The only way to register dissent, as I did, was to vote Liberal Democrat, and the demographics of most constituencies rendered this an impotent protest.

Opinion polling is an inexact science, but it suggests that there are significant numbers of Leave voters, here in the north and in Wales, who have changed their minds. It may well be that there is now no longer a majority for leaving the EU.

There are two reasons for this. One is that the Conservative Government has spent the past two years, when it should have been negotiating with the EU, squabbling among itself in an extraordinarily myopic manner. It has come up with a proposal, the Chequers plan, so late in the day that there is now very little time to see whether it forms the basis for a deal that the other 27 EU members can agree on.

The sight of a British government in such unedifying disarray has made many Leave voters think again.

Perhaps more persuasive has been the steadily unfolding catalogue of disastrous consequences that, we’ve learned, will follow our leaving the EU. There is not room here to list the literally hundreds of adverse effects that Brexit looks likely to have. And our economic growth has already been retarded.

The Brexiteers, of course, airily dismiss all these as the propaganda of Project Fear. There are none so blind as those who will not see. Instead, Brexit zealots repeat: “The people have spoken; a second vote would be undemocratic.” No one uses that logic to argue that we cannot have another General Election since the 1945 Labour programme of government, or the 1979 Thatcherite one, was never fully implemented. As the economist John Maynard Keynes reputedly said: “When the facts change, Sir, I change my mind; what do you do?”

When it comes to an issue as momentous as leaving the EU — after 40 years in which our social and economic fabric has been interwoven with that of Europe — no one should be disenfranchised. That is why, once a deal has been negotiated, or a No Deal is the outcome, it must be put to a second referendum. Only a People’s Vote should decide whether or not we want to accept the final outcome of the negotiations — or remain in the European Union.

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