On March 11th 2017 I suggested that, following the finalisation of a Government deal on Brexit, there should be a preference based referendum offering choices between deal, no deal and remain. At the time of posting this suggestion I was filled with naive optimism that this idea would immediately catch fire, which it most definitely did not. There has been some enthusiasm, though also much mockery of the proposal for a second referendum offering just two choices, exit with Government deal, or remain; but including a third option to leave with no deal has not been discussed. The idea however is showing itself to be more of a slow burn, and now Justine Greening has advocated something similar and it is suggested that “other senior Conservative MPs also support the idea.”
Philip Davies, commenting in the Guardian says “her suggested three-way preferential voting scheme promises to be more obscure and confusing than the Brexit options themselves.”
Really? Is this task of assessing three options, and selecting two of them on a preferential basis, really such a difficult or “obscure” task? Is it not fair to say that, for all the controversy and dispute surrounding them, the options at this point are in general better understood than hitherto? A valid choice would of course be to put an X against just a single option, though that would squander the opportunity to influence the outcome if that choice proved the least popular.
We are frequently assured that those who voted for Brexit knew what they were voting for; politicians of all parties are fond of telling us, the the electorate are not stupid. Whilst I may have some scepticism on this point, they are certainly not that stupid.
Still, I would myself admit that the choice offered in the first referendum was far from simple. I voted to remain, but would not pretend to understand all of the issues or possible consequences. My decision, I can see, was based on a range of considerations, at least some of which one might even call prejudices. I acknowledge that Europe is a flawed project, but then I feel that the British constitution too is far from perfect, and do not see this as a reason to give up on it and support the SNP in Scotland, where I currently live.
The Brexit debate it seems to me is characterised by unhelpful hyperbole on all sides, and I will take this opportunity to challenge the apocalyptic predictions regarding an extreme Brexit, made by many of those who, as I did, voted to remain. The idea that we may be reduced to some medieval backwater in the event of crashing out into the world of WTO rules seems to me as unlikely as that the average citizen of the UK will regain any significant sense of control over their lives, or that their sense of British identity will somehow be burnished as a consequence of the UK striking trade deals across the coming years. There will of course be winners and losers, whatever may be the outcome, and I don’t doubt that that leading figures on both sides of the argument have clear sight of their own advantage, without necessarily offering a balanced view of the larger picture.
In the end I believe what will matter is that British people accept the outcome of our current predicament, and currently there seems to me a real danger that we are going to exit on a basis which will leave a majority of people frustrated and feeling that they have been duped. Democracy will be weakened by such a fiasco. It is in the interests of an outcome which will be widely accepted as fair, that a preference based referendum is necessary. The three choices: to remain, to go out on the basis of a government deal, to go out on WTO terms: whilst I will still vote to remain, whatever might be the outcome, the result would be clearly democratic and I would gladly accept it, even should it be Government fudge or the probable roller coaster ride[as it seems to me] of a more radical separation. A third referendum in search of a different result will not be required.
And by the way: as someone who grew up in Northern Ireland, the possibility of a border, hard, soft or virtual, would seem to me an unfortunate regression, very vulnerable to the kind of attacks on customs infrastructure, which were perpetrated by the IRA in the 1950’s. But that is very different than a full scale resumption of the campaign of the Provisional IRA, beginning, as it did, in the 1970s. This campaign was built on unrest following the failure of the Civil Rights marches of 1968 to bring an end to the unjust basis of the devolved Unionist Goverment. The conclusion of the IRA at that point, and the justification for the escalation of murderous attacks on the British State and its agents, was that Northern Ireland was an irredeemably sectarian state.
Lest there be any doubt: it is my view that, had it not been for the campaign of the IRA, needed reforms to the Government and administration of Northern Ireland would have gradually been accepted at an earlier stage, without the need for bloodshed.
Whilst there is still much progress to be made, Ireland has changed, both north and south of the border.